Are you asking the right questions in your hiring?

outsideinview.comI thought it would be interesting, and fun, to put the shoe on the other foot for a change.

I was asked by a colleague to help him out. He has been asked to interview candidates for an open product marketing position in his company. Since that is in my domain, he asked me to provide a list of ten questions I would ask.

The list wasn’t hard to develop. I thought about what questions I wish interviewers were asking of me, and really anyone interviewing for a product marketing role. That was not a mistake, I wrote “wish”. From recent experience talking with hiring execs, and others recently interviewed, I can honestly say only one interviewer I have spoken with, actually seemed to focus on not just what I’ve done; but, more importantly, how I think about what I’ve done. How do I express my achievements? How did I gain that knowledge? They were focused on not just the what, but the how. So here are the easy ten questions to know if your product marketing candidate has real chops and has the “how” you need:

  1. Ask them to explain the difference between a buyer journey and a buying process. A buying process is the mechanics – how does your buyer get approval and support for a purchase. The process information should be owned by the sales team. The buyer’s journey involves the information learned in the persona phase – the goals, attitudes and behaviors that influence the how, why and when of a decision. There is a difference. A big difference. This question will help you understand if your candidate understands this. (For information on buyer personas, read this post.)
  2. Ask your candidate what is their experience with a product marketing roadmap. No, not a product roadmap, a product marketing roadmap. Again, a subtle difference, but big. A product roadmap outlines the features of the product that are in plans (or thoughts) for development for the next 18-36 months and can include technical. A product marketing roadmap is the bridge between the product roadmap and the marketing plan. It gathers information from the product roadmap, and translates these attributes, features and abilities into actions that support the marketing activities needed to enable sales. It is needed in every organization, though most have never heard of it. (Read more about product marketing roadmaps here, or download my e-book, for more information.)
  3. Ask your candidate to explain the difference between a go-to-market plan and a launch strategy. If a candidate thinks that they are the same actions with different names, run away. Fast! A launch strategy sets the framework. The document outlines the positioning, highlights competition, talks about risks and budget, and even addresses roles and responsibilities. On the other hand, a go-to-market plan is the operationalization of the launch strategy. This document will contain the information about what activities and actions will be done, when and by whom. It will outline what needs to be done for the product to be available for sales in the market.
  4. Ask the candidate to explain when they developed an “aha” moment and what they did with it. Why? You are looking to understand how a candidate discovers their own learning moments. Think about the Challenger Sale model. (I explain it in this post.) The model explains that in a “ In a Challenger Sale”, you, as the sales organization, disrupt the norm by creating a teachable moment that provides insight for the customer to consider a new way of thinking. In product marketing we are responsible for the content. Once the aha moment is learned, it becomes product marketing’s job to fill it with a teaching moment. Ask the candidate about their aha moment. What did they do when it was discovered? How did the turn it into a teachable moment?
  5. Ask the candidate for an example of when they took an item from strategy to operational. You may have covered this in the launch strategy to g-t-m plan. But, if you haven’t ask. Many candidates will say that they do this all the time, going between strategy and tactical activities all the time. But, unless you’re hiring for a VP of Product Marketing (and, if you are, why haven’t you called me,) then I would put money that most individuals have actually not done this. All of your candidates will lean one way or the other. Neither is wrong. But, you need to understand what you need and then lead the candidate down this path to learn if they are the strategic leader you seek or the operational enabler you need. If you find the candidate that is truly a balance and can prove that they can manage both sides well – hire them!
  6. Ask about what have they done for thought leadership. You’re not looking for just the standard response, “I promote our leaders for …”, but look for what success has been given. And, you really need to understand what thought leadership they have done for themselves. Do they have a blog? For how long? Are the topics relevant? Well thought-out? How is the candidate’s other social media presence? Are they complaining about restaurants on Twitter or Instagram? Or, are they adding to a community conversation about a relevant subject? You’re simply looking for public posts, not crammed into one month, which show the candidate can present information that is well thought and gain respect.
  7. Enough about the ideals, let’s talk data. Ask the candidate to give actual #s and/or % on retention data. Not simply “drove sales.” How much did they drive sales? What was the result? If you really want to dive in, ask for a reference to validate those numbers. (A bit cruel, but how the candidate responds may be telling.)
  8. Of course, you’d be remiss if you don’t ask a candidate about their experience developing and using personas. Ask when they’ve built them, for an example of one that was built, and how it was used. For added bonus points, ask the candidate how long it took to build, and when they knew they had enough interviews done. The hint here – you’re looking for them to give you actual persona names in the example. (For more information on buyer personas, you can refer to my e-book here.)
  9. Let’s go back to the basics here. Ask the candidate what is the difference between value proposition and positioning. This is another question that if they can’t provide a strong answer immediately – run far and fast! This is a core question, a basic initiation. A value proposition is the overarching promise of the product. It absolutely should be aligned to the business strategy. Positioning statements reflect a subset of the value prop, and are targeted to specific segments, personas, that you are trying to reach. Any candidate who can’t clearly differentiate the difference, easily, is really not qualified to move forward. (IMHO)
  10. Finally, I love this one. I think it may be my favorite. At the end of the interview, ask the candidate “What is your personal distinctive competence?” (a DC) Then, listen. Listen carefully. As a professional, a distinctive competence a unique quality or skill that adds a specific value to the team where you work, and differentiates you from the other team members. Ask the candidate why they feel that is a DC for them, and again most importantly how do they this in their work history? Why do they stand out? (Fore more on this subject, read this post.

I like this list. I wish I had interviewers for product marketing roles ask me these questions. I feel that there is a blend of strategy and tactical, actual versus conceptual.

Looking in from the outside, if more interviewers asked questions like these, I feel that we would raise the game for product marketing as a whole. We will have stronger candidates. We will have more product marketing professionals focused on the big picture. We’ll shine the light on what we, as product marketing pros, can add to the picture. (And, of course, there is a post on that concept too. Or, you can read Rule #40 in 42 Rules of Product Marketing.)


and…of course, if you have more, please add them in the comments and we can look at those too!


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