Whom should Product Marketing report to? A short quiz for your startup

A product marketer is like a Swiss army knife for your startup. A good one possesses a potent blend of marketing chops, product knowledge, and business development skills. This combination of superpowers helps your startup achieve strong product-market fit, build an effective go-to-market strategy, and drive product adoption. Because of their intermediary role, product marketers are like chameleons; they can “speak the language” of the customer, product management, sales, and sometimes even engineering.

But their cross-disciplinary nature also creates a bit of a dilemma: whom should product marketers report to? Predictably, the most common answer to this question is either product or marketing, and there are fiercely held opinions on both sides. According to a 2020 report from the Product Marketing Alliance, product marketers report to marketing around 62% of the time, product around 16% of the time, and directly to the CEO in around 11% of cases.

In our experience, there isn’t one right answer to this question. It can depend on a combination of factors like your ARR, your ACV, the type of expertise you already have on your team, and of course, the background and goals of the specific product marketer.

If your startup is ready to kick things up a notch and hire a product marketer, congratulations! We’ve put together this short quiz to help you determine where they should sit within your organization. Unfortunately, product marketers don’t come with simple instructions like “water 2x a day” 😉, but at least this will help you decide where to put them…

Quiz: Whom should Product Marketing report to?

1. Is your startup at ≥ $10m ARR? (We’re using this slightly arbitrary number as a proxy for determining whether your product has a strong product-market fit.)

Yes: Proceed to question 2

No: Product marketing should report to the product team and help them establish product-market fit. This role should require brainstorming use cases, building a roadmap, and building technical documentation alongside your product manager(s).

2. Does your marketing lead have product experience?

Yes: This new hire should report to marketing, since your marketing lead can contribute more on the product side. Together, your marketing lead and PMM should collaborate on building a multi-channel marketing strategy and calendar that will serve as the source of truth for all marketing initiatives.

No: Proceed to question 3.

3. Is your ACV over $100k? (Again, an arbitrary number used to determine whether your product is a complex platform, or a tool with only a couple use cases.)

Yes: You have a complex platform that needs more attention and expertise. It’s also likely that you have a longer sales cycle, and will need support on the sales side, too. This product marketing role should report to the product team with an emphasis on developing customer empathy and understanding the competition. 

No: You have a tool that isn’t complex enough to warrant additional help on the product side. Instead, your product marketer will have the most impact working with marketing. This role should focus on messaging: translating what your product does into a strong value proposition that will motivate your customers and help your startup scale.

Now that you know where this role should sit within your organization, you can better prioritize the skills you’re looking for, and identify good candidates more quickly. If you already have a product marketer, you can help them develop in ways that will most benefit them and your business.

The bottom line

For the burgeoning B2B startup, product marketers are a powerful asset, but knowing where they fit in can be a challenge. By taking a few factors into account, you can determine where your new hire will make the most impact.

Marie is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Blue Seedling. She’s also a runner, a painter, and a grad student.

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