The basics

Name: Tim Johnson
LocationScotts Valley, California
Title: Product Marketing & Sales Enablement Contractor
Company: Self (Consultant)
Education: MBA, UC Irvine
Social handles: LinkedIn

Tell us about your path into the tech world and your product marketing role.

I started work in a high tech retail store right out of college. I eventually moved to sales roles at various software companies. My last job in sales got eliminated when I was 180% of quota but got moved into a Solutions Architect role where I created the messaging and offerings for several compliance initiatives.

How did you know product marketing was for you?

When I found out it was as much fun as sales without having my head in a vise every 90 days.

How did you learn about product marketing and gain specific skills?

I spent a lot of time in my sales career creating own materials that worked so I applied that experience to product marketing. I took a Pragmatic Marketing class in 2006 which helped quantify- through repeatable frameworks – a lot of what I had been doing intuitively.

How would you describe product marketing? To a peer? To your parents?

It’s about figuring out who cares and why is that important to them and then building the marketing strategy and campaign around that. On a simplistic level, product marketing is about helping to get your stuff sold.

In your words, how is product marketing different from product management or traditional marketing?

Product management and product marketing should be joined at the hip when it comes to voice of the customer, market dynamics and knowledge, etc. Product management takes that to the executive team and engineering. Product marketing takes that to sales, PR, etc.

Tell us about your current role as a product marketing & sales enablement consultant.

I’m currently a product marketing contractor at Aerospike, initially I updated the core messaging and am now creating a competitive campaign. I’m also working on the next major release which will change the whole concept of databases.

What challenges are you currently facing as a product marketer in your current role?

Our architecture flies in the face of conventional wisdom so a lot of what we are doing here is convincing people that the Earth does, indeed, revolve around the sun. The current best practice is no longer valid or wise given what our architecture provides and enables.

What’s a particularly fulfilling project you’ve worked on?

I successfully turned around a product that had not been launched or positioned properly. It involved repositioning it, refactoring the operations team, retraining the sales team, and then convincing them and the market that the product was legitimate and worth selling. Sales doubled each year I worked there.

What’s your secret to staying productive?

There’s no lack of distraction and temptation in the world and the workplace. Discerning which ones are important and which ones aren’t is a lifelong process.

What’s your favorite recent read?

Scoutmaster Musings. It’s a book that delves into and expands upon the 12 points of the Scout Law (Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent) through quotations and practical stories. I’m the Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 614 in Scotts Valley and I pick one of the points and pass along one or two of the readings at the end of each troop meeting. They’re not just lessons in being a good Scout, they are life lessons in being a good person.

What’s your advice to someone interested in breaking into product marketing?

  1. There are several methodologies out there. Learn about them, pick the best bits from each and use what works for you.
  2. N.I.E.H.I.T.O – Nothing Important EVER Happened in the Office – get out and talk to real customers and prospects. Marketing automation/AI/Machine Learning tools are great but will never replace the value of hearing it and seeing it in person from real people.
  3. Treat your sales team as a customer – because they are. If they don’t understand the value to them, they won’t sell it.
  4. If you use phrases like “Next Generation,” “Leading Provider of,” “Actionable Intelligence,” or “Quickly and Easily,” I will hunt you down and slap you.
  5. There’s no direct path into product marketing (or product management). Treat yourself as a product and do a proper launch to get yourself into the profession, understand market needs and dynamics, current product state, gap analysis, etc.

Why do you think product marketing is an important function?

Silicon Valley is littered six-deep with the bodies of great products. People don’t buy great products, they buy solutions to their problems, wants, needs or desires. It’s product marketing’s job to understand this and execute on it.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

My superpowers:

  1. I ask awkward questions. Lots of them.
  2. I turn features into messages that make sense to the right people.
  3. I turn boys into young men of integrity who can lead. (Scout leader)
  4. I make useful round things (pens, pencils, pepper mills, etc.) out of wood (my wood turning hobby)

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