You'll do better today and make smarter career decisions tomorrow if you understand the experiences of those who've gone before you. I've been lucky to meet many professionals at the top of their game, and on occasion I've chatted with them about their secret sauces. Have a peek at some of my notes and benefit from the guidance that's helped me for years.

Meet Jason Young

Marketing leader, adept communicator, and snappy dresser.

Jason Young leads Facebook's Product Marketing Communications for their Global Business Marketing Team. That means when Facebook talks to businesses, it's Jason who decides what they say. Suffice to say, his are some pretty big shoes. Before joining Facebook, Jason was the VP of Product Marketing at ad-tech juggernaut Marin Software. Jason has launched, managed, and marketed a variety of enterprise software products; and he's regarded as an expert on early-stage SaaS ad-tech and product marketing.

I met Jason during his time at Marin Software. He was kind enough to offer me invaluable advice and support as I began my transition from product management to product marketing several years ago. While contemplating the jump, I asked Jason out for a coffee ☕ ☕ and picked his brain. Our conversation launched a new chapter of my professional life, and for Jason's support and guidance I'll always be grateful.

While we discussed many things, here are five important questions I think any new or aspiring product marketer should ask of respected mentors. Following each are my notes paraphrasing what Jason told me.

1. How did you get into product marketing?

I interned at Microsoft (Keynote) from my MBA program, and they had me do product management. I owned my own line of products, which I liked, and I was responsible for both the traditional product management and product marketing components. It's not uncommon for companies to call someone doing both roles a "product manager." So I knew I loved writing, sales, and design, and I had no intentions of becoming an engineer. From there it was easy for me to focus my next role on just the product marketing component.

2. What do you like least about product marketing?

I liked product management because when you can also do the product marketing component, you're like your own mini-CEO and it's fun.

But what is hard in product marketing is that you don't have control over the product. The product team determines what gets made, and sometimes you're stuck waiting around for the output"”like a doctor waiting for a baby to arrive. And frankly, sometimes that baby turns out to be totally ugly. And it's your job to fix up this unappealing product and make it sale-able. Even if you don't really agree with it.

Due to competitive factors (and the ultimate reality of finite resources), you're never marketing a perfect product. So you find yourself in uncomfortable positions trying to explain to a prospective buyer why your product is missing something that the competitor's has.

3. What skills do you rely on most to meet these challenges?

Frankly, it comes down to pretty tactical things"”like techniques and tricks of the trade. I tend to rely on messaging hierarchies and my ability to summarize many different elements and features into a concise value proposition. I work to create confidence in my buyer, and teach others (mainly Sales) how to do the same.

And I'm responsible for maintaining the consistency of the many, many sales touch-points that can be a part of the buying process. These can include the website, white-papers, a webinar, the sales meeting, and any other collateral the client receives. So I do a lot of communicating, and I focus hard on creating quality messaging grids.

4. What skills do you most value in a product marketer?

The ability to synthesize information. And not just about the product, but also about your competitors and your prospective users and what's going on in the space. You need to form your own unique opinion, your point of view on the market. Comfort with public speaking and presenting is important, and when I hire I look for enthusiasm and real interest.

5. How much does travel (and the willingness to do so) matter?

That can vary with the company. You'll probably see more travel in enterprise firms. But you really just have to ask: where is the sales force? Is it just one team in one location making calls? Or are they all over the world? Do they meet buyers in person? Is the sales process long and complex, or do people just swipe a credit card and go? That'll give you a sense of how much travel you'll likely have to do, because you need to support these people.

Golden Conversations

My professional experiences following our conversation bore out Jason's advice to a T. Product marketing is indeed a variable role; each company can define it quite differently. Sometimes, as a product marketer, you do get stuck "putting lipstick on a pig," and your creativity gets tested in a big way. And tight tactics can absolutely make or break you, because as a marketer you manage a huge number of moving parts.

A coffee worth its weight in gold.

"Forewarned is forearmed," as they say, and my coffee-chat with Jason prepared me well to face a new array of exciting challenges. I urge you to reach out to someone whom you respect, someone who's doing something you'd like to see yourself do someday. Have a chat with them and get their take on your career or your industry. These conversations are easy and fun, and the learnings you get from them are great confidence-builders and guideposts.