The basics

Name: Rahim Kaba
Location: Montreal, Canada
Title: Director of Product Marketing
Company: eSignLive by VASCO
Education: B.Sc., MBA
Social handles: LinkedIn, Twitter

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

I owe my career path to the co-op intern program at the University of Waterloo. By the time I graduated, I had worked for two software companies and gained almost two years of work experience – touching on all aspects of product marketing.

My first set of co-op work terms was at a chemistry software company in Toronto. At the time, the organization didn’t have a dedicated product marketing function, but their sales team needed help in understanding the competitive landscape, including pinpointing key weaknesses and threats. That’s where I learned to “fish” for competitive intel and how to use those insights to enable others in the organization. I also worked for an ECM provider and was mentored by the head of marketing content. He taught me the basics of product positioning and messaging – a critical skill for every product marketer.

I owe a lot to my colleagues during these formative years. They helped me gain a foothold in product marketing and accelerate my career as I entered the full-time workforce.

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

When I try to boil this down for my family and friends (it can take 2 or 3 tries), I describe the role of a product marketer as the expert of the buyer. I often get asked, “but aren’t you supposed to be the expert of the product?” While product knowledge is essential in the role, product marketers need to first understand who they are marketing to and the buyer’s challenges. Without this basic understanding, it becomes extremely difficult to develop the right messages about how your products and services can solve the buyer’s particular challenges.  

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

I’ve worked in organizations where product marketing reported into product management, and others into marketing. And to make things more complicated, in some organizations (especially smaller ones), there may not be a dedicated product marketing function (usually product management or marketing take on that role).

When the role is clearly defined however, it encompasses all phases of product marketing – from market requirements and positioning to competitive analysis and sales enablement. It’s the product marketer’s responsibility to work with their product management counterparts to deliver products to the market, and with their marketing peers to drive product awareness and deliver compelling value propositions to buyers at all stages in the buying cycle.

Tell us about your current role as a Director of Product Marketing for eSignLive

I joined eSignLive by VASCO as Director of Product Marketing about 3.5 years ago. While eSignLive (formerly known as Silanis) pioneered the e-signature market back in the 90s, mass adoption of the technology only began a few years ago with the rise of the cloud and mobile. Since then, according to analysts like Forrester, three providers have emerged as clear market leaders – DocuSign, Adobe and eSignLive – and my team and I play the critical role of developing actionable go-to-market plans that differentiate eSignLive in the rapidly growing e-signature marketplace.

I wake up every morning determined to help the company and my colleagues deliver clear and compelling messages to buyers and customers, and ultimately ensure that the product is easy to find, evaluate, buy and use.

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

Product marketers can and should be playing a larger role in customer growth. In the e-signature market, the “land and expand” approach is critical for long-term success. Once a department or line of business has adopted the solution, there are huge opportunities to upsell and grow the existing customer account (it’s truly one of the rare technologies that customers see immediate ROI benefits after implementation). This is an area that our company recognizes as a critical success factor and is leveraging product marketing to support expansion efforts alongside the sales, services and customer success groups.

What’s your secret to staying productive?

Focus and discipline are critical in this role. It can be easy to get lost in the many objectives that product marketers need to meet, but make sure the extra hours you put in aren’t counter-productive. Give yourself time outside of work to recharge and maintain focus through a hobby or sport. I achieve this through crossfit, which is not only incredible for physical fitness but also boosts mental focus, and helps me keep a competitive mindset. One of my favorite sayings is “every day is a competition” and I apply this in all aspects of my life.

What’s the future look like for product marketing?

This is an exciting time for product marketers and the future is certainly bright. It is a foundational go-to-market function that is increasingly being recognized as a strategic stakeholder in the organization. Without a clear and deep understanding of the market, the buyer and how to differentiate in the marketplace, a company risks becoming a “me too” provider and will likely have a difficult time proving out its value vis-à-vis competitors and new entrants in the market. Ultimately, I believe the product marketing function will become more defined and the traditional blurred lines between other product groups will disappear.

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

Without some experience under your belt, it can be tough to get into product marketing. If you’re in an organization that has a product marketing group, ask your peers how you can get involved in (or shadow) a typical product launch. I recommend a product launch because it is a multi-faceted process that will give you exposure to the various groups (e.g., product management, marketing, sales, support, etc.) that need to collaborate closely in order to achieve a successful launch. This type of on-the-job training is the quickest way to: 1) determine if product marketing is really for you, and 2) give you visibility into the skills you’ll need to be a great product marketer.

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