MKG Marketing MKG Marketing Logo Quotation Marks
Podcasts > Tea Time With Tech Marketing Leaders

The Keys to a Great Product Launch

Kerry Guard • Wednesday, February 8, 2023 • 54 minutes to listen

Subscribe to the Podcast or listen on...

Spotify iTunes Anchor

Join our weekly newsletter

We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.

Sandy Hawke

Sandy Hawke is the Cybersecurity Product Marketer at Cisco.



Hello, I'm Kerry Guard and welcome to Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Gosh I loved this episode. Did you ever meet someone who is truly authentic? They march to their beat and you can’t help but want to pick up your own instrument and join in? That’s Sandy Hawke. I was just beaming through this whole conversation in talking with her. Just beaming. What a great conversation.

Sandy is a product marketer and we dig into this concept of cart before the horse essentially… when do you actually start marketing a product? Believe it or not, there are so many times when marketers are required to start marketing something that isn’t even usable yet?! Seriously. Sandy gives a few examples of when this has happened to her and the challenging outcomes she faced when this happens.

It’s a great question. An important one and Sandy has just the answer.

Before we get there, a little about Sanday Hawke

Former infosec geek turned marketer and energy healing artist. She uses her high emotional intelligence (EQ) to tune into her clients' core needs - whether for creating messaging (cybersecurity marketing) or for personal transformation (energy healing).

If you need to reach a cybersecurity audience (tech buyers and business buyers), she’s your gal. She can go from the strategic to the tactical and back again without missing a beat... all designed to craft the perfect message that captures your audience and compels them to action. It's the dream, isn't it? It's the dream. The perfect message to really pull your audience in and will be part of what you're doing, and she's got the answer to this important question of when you start marketing a product to your audience.

Here is my authentic, inspiring, important conversation with Sandy.


Kerry Guard: Hi, Sandy, thank you for joining me on Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Sandy Hawke: Hi, Kerry.It's great to be here.

Kerry Guard: I'm excited to have you and for our conversation today. Full of opinions that we're about to unpack. But before we get there, tell me, Sandy, what's your story? What do you do? And how did you get there?

Sandy Hawke: I love to explain it. I'm not a big fan of titles, because my title doesn't really explain what I do. I'd much prefer to talk about my world, the world I inhabit. I'm responsible for crafting, socializing, and amplifying the Zero Trust story for Cisco. It used you here for your podcast, a technical marketing audience. So basically, I specialize in B2B, cybersecurity marketing, from the product marketing perspective, but Zero Trust isn't a product. So that's my challenge.

Kerry Guard: We're gonna get into many challenges. Don't give the game away.

Sandy Hawke: I’m so sorry. I don't want to kill or bury the lead or steal my phone thunder. But, hopefully, that makes sense, Kerry, hopefully that explanation of my role makes sense.

Kerry Guard: It does. I'm curious how you got there, though. What was your journey in finding this interesting role that you get to enjoy every day? l Sandy Hawke: I wish I could say I had planned it, but life just happens by accident. Long ago and far away before there was even this thing called cybersecurity. Back in the mid-1990s, there was a company called AOL or America Online.

Kerry Guard: Dating are here we go.

Sandy Hawke: I don't want to date but, that gives you a sense. And of course, I was a little older than adolescent age at the time. So that tells you how old I am. But I had a friend on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, which is where I grew up, and I needed health insurance desperately because at the time there was no Obamacare. I had a pre-existing condition and no insurance company would cover me and I at the time was working part-time as an overeducated temp in insurance company, putting envelopes on stamps, stamping envelopes, filing, and doing various things. I couldn't get insurance to save the life of me. So he's a friend, and he's like, “I'm hiring.” You work at AOL. What do you do at AOL?” And he's like, “I'm in charge of this little company inside of AOL.” And it's a firewall. We do firewall tech support and they have their proxy-based firewall for the tech folks in the audience. It was next-gen firewall technology before they called it next gen but it was proxy-based. We were the alternative to checkpoint stateful inspection and even pix firewall, which is the company I now work for says Go, which is no longer a product at Cisco. I don't know anything about that stuff. I'm a liberal arts degree. I have a liberal arts degree and I have my graduate degree in political science. And he's like, “It doesn't matter, you'll figure it out, just come on board.” And I started as an administrator. I was an Office admin, literally getting coffee for people and maintaining the customer database, and entertaining customers when they came for training. These are admins that would come for training. I would get the coffee and I would make the training room nice. And then six months later, someone quits, and the other woman on the team quit. And he said, “Sandy, you're getting on the phones, you're figuring out how to do tech support.” I have to learn Unix System Administration, TC/ IP firewall, and how to set up a firewall rule base on a firewall that's very difficult to administer, because it's proxy-based. So every single jo, know all on the job with people from the strange thing.

We had customers that were all on Wall Street, and they were wall street level customers. Those were the folks that in the wild west of the mid-1990s, when people were using the internet was a nice to have and who were the folks that were using at first. It was the financial industry. The way the sales folks would sell our services, they would say, “Oh, you need an internet connection.” “How fast and how big?” “ What’s the bandwidth you needed and how fast the speeds you were willing to pay?” Do you want to be secure? And if they said, “We want to be secure in the company, the little skunkworks project department I worked in, was what you got the firewall. If you wanted us to manage it for you, then it became the beginning of the MSSP market back pre 2000. So that's where I got my start. That's a long-winded answer.

Kerry Guard: So users in cybersecurity essentially since it was even an industry.

Sandy Hawke: It was the beginning of the interwebs. It was the wild west. You would not want to know some of the ways that we maintained customers, firewalls, and deployments. And when we did, you did. And thankfully, the attackers weren't wise to hit as hip as they are now, because they're a lot smarter now, and we are too, though. But that's why I have job security.

Kerry Guard: It's unusual to come across. I feel so honored to come across folks who've been part of this industry for so long because you've seen the evolution of it, and where it is today. So what are you working on? You mentioned that you socialize and amplify the cybersecurity within Cisco. Is that a Zero Trust story?

Sandy Hawke: Yeah, Zero Trust story.

Kerry Guard: Have you always been in cyber then? Or did you take a break and sort of explore elsewhere and then come back? Or is it has it always been where your hardest?

Sandy Hawke: I've tried to leave. Cybersecurity burnout is real. I tried to leave for a while and did something radically different for a bit. For the last eight years, before I started at Cisco. I was a freelance product marketer and it was part-time and so in the rest of my time, I got training to become a certified clinical hypnotherapist and Reiki practitioner. I have my own business. I have a website, stay food, energy healing, if you want to check it out. I just found that there's a lot of stress and anxiety being a woman in this profession. And I needed a pause, I just needed to take a pause. I took a pause for a little bit, became a freelancer, and did product marketing as a freelancer. And then I was a little bit more of a free agent, which gave me that time to pursue that personal transformation interest. I had a bunch of clients and I did try to launch my own private business, but it doesn't pay as well, cybersecurity and product marketing. I have a family to support. I consider my retirement career my hobby slash retirement career, so that was something I did pursue. Other than that, it has been cybersecurity and I've had different roles inside the industry, but I've always been on the vendor side. That's one thing that stayed the same. I was a sales engineer for a while. I was a security consultant and analyst. Customers hired us to come and assess their environments, and I would be the one that would come on board and scan the network and run reports for them. I've done a variety of things like that, but I've been in product marketing longer than anything else.

Kerry Guard: How did you make the leap from this building of firewalls and customer support to becoming a product marketer? Was there a specific transition that happened for that?

Sandy Hawke: That's a really good question. When you're in a 24-by-seven security operations center environment, and it's only so long you can take, and I became the manager of a group of junior engineers. It was my responsibility to get them from zero to 60 because I did it myself. So my boss was like, “Well, you figured it out, you can teach them how to do it.” I'm like, “Okay, so I was a manager.” And that meant all I could talk, all I did all day was listen to angry customers and have to train people from zero to 60. It just stopped being fun. I left to try to stay in security, but be an analyst, meaning not 24 by seven, but more of on-site support and consultant. We were a consultancy like a security services company. People would buy us basically to extend their security staff and we had this thing like a certification process called Secure Certification. This was before compliance was a thing, and they would hire us to just endorse that their environment was secure from a physical security standpoint from every avenue. And that was fun. I did that for five years at that company, but for the last two years, I was a sales engineer. I would scope and present and sell the solution that I had been delivering for the three years prior. So that's kind of fun, to be on the sales side after delivering something.

Kerry Guard: I mean, who better to sell than the person who was building it and running it to begin with? It sounds like a natural transition.

Sandy Hawke: Totally. And then there was a merger there. Then they stopped listening to. I discovered that I started doing product marketing before it was called product marketing of the company because I was a sales engineer with an opinion. I would write up all these reports that no one asked for, and I'd say we need to change the name of this product to this. We can't call this product perimeter, because there is no perimeter. But then I realized that's part of marketing. Maybe I should leave, maybe it's time to leave after five years, and the merger made it easier. I did, and eventually, they got bought by Verizon business, a company through secure slash Cybertrust. The thing is, when you're in this company, this industry, as long as I have been, I know so many people. It's really a small little pond for swimming. It's most of the jumps I made, were people calling me saying, “hey, you need to come over here.” So yes, I tried part of marketing at a variety of different companies. And then landed here at Cisco after doing freelance for a while, but after the sales engineer was product marketing, and that was in 2005.

Kerry Guard: So you've been a product marketer for cybersecurity now since 2005?

Sandy Hawke: I believe so.

Kerry Guard: Two questions for you. One is, why product marketing? Let's start there. You sat and you figured out product marketing, and then you stuck around.

Sandy Hawke: Stuck around for a long time. I'm still stuck around. I wouldn't want to leave. There are so many ways to answer this question, Kerry, but I'm gonna start with a customer. I love to be in the marketing domain. Product marketers are storytellers and that's the word probably should start. I'm just been always a natural storyteller. I have a guitar behind me. I like to write songs. I like to sing songs. I like to listen to them. My favorite stories are the ones that are character driven. I like stories and product marketers are the only people inside of a company especially when you work for a vendor that can tell stories. I also love supporting sales. I'd love the sales experience as a sales engineer but I'm not tough enough maybe for it. There's a lot of highs and lows when you win it but then you lose a deal and you put your heart and soul into it.

Kerry Guard: Just the leading up to potentially closing the deal. Will it or will it not and then they keep asking more questions. Is that a good sign or is that not a good sign? I'm the same way. Sales are the roller coaster that is really hard.

Sandy Hawke: It's like being a fan. I don't know any Philadelphia team. It's where I grew up. The Eagles and the Phillies, you know they're in right now. They're doing well. They're not breaking our hearts yet, but they're still time.

Kerry Guard: So storytelling and product market.

Sandy Hawke: Product marketing, so we get to be the advocate for the customer and for the seller. Product management on the other side is there. I have so much respect for product managers. They have such a tough job because they're the advocate for the customer to engineering. It reminds me of when I was a waitress being the advocate for the customer at the guests with a table for the chef or the cook, because these chefs and cooks, especially the geniuses are not necessarily customer friendly, or on this filter between what's possible with engineering and what the customer wants. And often those two things are not very close together. But for product marketers, we just get to get sales excited about selling the product or the service. And we let the product managers and engineers hash out the details. So that's my confession.

Kerry Guard: Lovely cultivation of all of these things you've done and your journey of how you've ended up where you are. And so my second question to you is, and we sort of alluded to this, but you keep coming back to cyber. You took a detour for a second try and launch your own business. But when you came back, you came back to cyber, not just product marketing, but cyber. What keeps pulling you back into the industry?

Sandy Hawke: I like solving problems. I like being part of a solution that solves really important problems for humanity. You can't get much bigger than this and that's what attracted me to work for a company like Cisco, because for so long, so much of my career was, a startup in quotation marks, smaller companies. It's only been a handful of publicly traded companies I worked for my curl career. But Cisco is in a position to make a difference in a problem that needs to be solved, to make living as a human on this planet better.

Kerry Guard: And why cybersecurity? Cyber as a whole is worse, is there a specific issue within cyber that you're well?

Sandy Hawke: When you think about it, it's such a thorny problem. It's like climate. It touches everything. It's like an inner, everything is connected. And when everything's connected, you can't just pigeonhole and go. It's fixed, solved, and sorted, done. Move on. It's a really important problem to solve across every single industry in every aspect of life, not just technologically-wise. But that's not cyber, necessarily. It affects all of our life. Then we get into trouble. It's Cybersecurity Awareness Month's last day. I know this probably won't air until after that, but today's the last day. I didn't know your day is almost over there.

Kerry Guard: In terms of being a product marketer in cybersecurity, what's one challenge you're currently facing?

Sandy Hawke: Being at Cisco, we have a very varied, diverse, really talented, and hungry Salesforce. We have a lot of different sales teams inside Cisco. And when folks talk about sales enablement, I always have to double-click on it and say, “Okay, now which sales organization do you mean? How are they incentivized?” Sometimes they're incentivized by the solutions they sell, like a Zero Trust solution, which comprises more than just one product or service. Sometimes they're just focused on Duo Security, which is the business unit I happen to be in. And so both of those things I need to enable as a product marketer, that's a different conversation with a customer, they're a very different type of customer, and buyer persona. The best product marketing content and product marketers are those that let the audience drive the message. It's still the same. Musicians. I'm gonna go back to this, it's still the same, you're still playing in the same key, meaning it's the same essential story. But you're maybe arriving at it from a different angle, maybe you go to the bridge faster than you would, maybe you have a couple of verses, maybe you have a different tempo, but it's still the same key. It's not like you're changing the story, but you're entering the story in a different way. You're playing different notes, or you're adding intervals in different places that you would normally do because of who you're playing to.

Kerry Guard: And why is that a challenge with your current sales team?

Sandy Hawke: Because I'm only one person. My manager and I are really the only ones that have Zero Trust specifically in our title that united in our charter. There are other parts of marketers who are fitting their product inside of the Zero Trust story, but they're taking direction from us. It's up to us to make sure that we're scalable. Our message is scalable and digestible by each one of those sales teams, and then it's landing in the right way for those customers.

Kerry Guard: The engineers over there. If you're creating your little decision trees, this is a general message. But if you're talking to this audience with these problems, and you want these new odds. Kings are on it. You got to think through not just the overarching message, but then how that plays. And to your point, if they have an existing problem right now, and getting that deal over the line a bit faster, versus somebody who's a bit greener and still mulling and looking at competitors, versus it's two different tracks.

Sandy Hawke: Yes. And what we found is that there's such urgency and interest in Zero Trust, and then in Duo Solutions, specifically, that was happening to tell sellers to how do we ignore the stuff you won't win as quickly. As it was like you go, here are the fish that can jump in the boat fastest, and here's how to get him in the boat fastest, because that's a great problem to have. But it's still a problem. It's still something to think about. Whereas I have Cisco sellers that need to be enabled to understand Zero Trust from a more strategic perspective. So which solution should I play too? Which notes do I accent most? We know that's a richer and faster source of value for the customer. For some customers, it's going to be OT, ICS, or Internet of Things, environments, or operational environments. For others, it's going to be it and it's not always industry vertical alignment there. It's still fun for me, and that's why you asked me why I'm still doing it. It's because it's still challenging and fun. We finally have the mic, we finally have the attention of business leaders, and we as security professionals haven't been invited yet to the table. And now we're not only being invited but we're also given the mic. So that's why I want to make and it's exciting to have the mic. But now that I have it, I want to make sure again that we're giving the message to the right audience so that they can get the most fish in the boat and help the most people and achieve the outcomes.

Kerry Guard: That is exciting. Totally challenging. And with only two people at the helm trying to get the different decision messaging down the tree.

Sandy Hawke: There are only two people at the helm, Kerry. But let's just be clear, we have a lot of supportive teams. We just updated our messaging. My boss and I just updated it. But we had cross-domains from everyone from the sales course.

Kerry Guard: You have to go out. We had a hole in it, and frustrated, and then deliver it.

Sandy Hawke: It was a commute. It would take a village. It wasn't like Sandy coming up with it in a vacuum. It was very much of a village it took off, and it took a long time, it took twice as long as I thought it would take.

Kerry Guard: Do you find that it took twice as long? I just wonder if the messaging, I'm sure it's relevant. But did you have to go back a little bit over it or a little bit to refine it? Because maybe a little bit went out of date and took a little bit longer than you anticipated?

Sandy Hawke: It's a good question. It's such a high-level strategic conversation, the Zero Trust conversation that we had. There were a couple of bullet points here and there. But mainly it was still relevant. I've rolled it out to several customers these days. I'm continuing to hone, just slightly like a little bit each time got it.

Kerry Guard: My last question in terms of your challenge. At the same time developing the messaging around the products and for your audience specifically in their challenges, correct me from wrong because I love being corrected. It's my favorite thing about this. But it sounds like you're also teaching the sales team a bit on not just the products but also cyber as a whole or do you bring in people who are pretty well first?

Sandy Hawke: It's a great question you asked. There is the sales team, the Cisco account manager team that gets to sell everything Cisco sells like think switches, think routers, think firewalls, non-security products, think Wi-Fi access points, WebEx, and collaboration tools. There's a whole suite of WebEx solutions hardware and software appliances that they can buy and sell securities. One small segment of the whole thing they can sell. They might have sold it before, they might have had one or two deals in the past few years. They're wide open territory in terms of mindshare that I want to capture and say, “Hey, this is what Zero Trust is, and here's why it's going to be fun for you to sell to it.” It gives you a roadmap for security because you are trusted. At the end of the day it’s just a good way of doing business. It's just good security. It's thinking about always verifying that someone is who they say they are, and making sure they only get stuff, access to stuff they need to do their job. It's a way of simplifying security so that business leaders see value in it.

Kerry Guard: It was just around teaching the sales team about cyber. It's such a small part of what they're doing that you do have to educate them on cybersecurity and Zero Trust for them, thoughtfully to their customers on why they need it.

Sandy Hawke: They're not even and what's so interesting is they're not even needing to tell their customers why they needed their customers are saying. We know we need it. I'd love to have this conversation. When I just had a meeting with a customer last week, I see a CIO in the public sector and he said, “I need an education on Zero Trust. Please tell me all about it. Tell me the story. Tell me what Cisco's story is on Zero Trust.”

Kerry Guard: I wish I had that request. I wish.

Sandy Hawke: Every customer came to me and asked me that question. Because that means they're ready and willing. Most CIOs wouldn't admit that they need an education on this stuff. But he's a very friendly customer of ours. It was nice to hear him ask that question. It's interesting. The Cisco account managers that can sell anything they want, are coming to us and saying, “Hey, my customer wants to look at security, what can we do?”

Kerry Guard: It’s a good challenge to have. It's a challenge. But it's not necessarily some bad challenge. It's going in the right direction. You give a couple things you need to maneuver to get to the other side.

Sandy Hawke: Make sure that I can set the table for them so that they can feed their customer the right meal at the right time. I'm mixing metaphors. Kerry Guard: We got music, and we're having a whole dining experience. This is fantastic. We have the ambiance of food, the music, it's great. Let's switch gears here and talk about what we want to talk about today. Because I loved our conversation in our prep meeting, and you got so fired up, because you have all these opinions, and I can't wait to unpack them.

As cybersecurity continues to grow as an industry, it's exploding right now. And as more customers are actually saying, they need this thing that's important to the well being of our global economy and world. These companies are starting to pop up. From a startup standpoint, they're finding these small challenges that need our solution. They're building the solution, and then they're getting into the world. And then it's being bought out essentially by these other conglomerates that are then sort of stacking there. That’s how I've seen the evolution of how cyber move.

Sandy Hawke: A lot of innovation happen.

Kerry Guard: So much innovation. But there's a point of, when it's too early, and when is too late, get the product into the hands of the customer and actually start marketing it. Companies come to us and they're a little too early. They're still pivoting so much around who they are and what they stand for and what solution there is a product is still like way in alpha, not even anything so buggy, nobody can actually use it. But they know that they need to start marketing it because they need more money to go build it before the horse thing that happens. So in your experience, what has that been like for you on that journey and launching these products? What have you seen it go too early or too late? And what sort of the happy medium of when to put a good product into the world?

Sandy Hawke: That's a really good question. First is to acknowledge the drivers. So oftentimes a company will want to show a prototype to gain venture capital. And that's not necessarily that the prototype is ready for primetime. I'm or that prototype is ready to sell to a customer and deploy in production. That just means you can sell a VC on it and there you go. They'll get a good valuation, etc. You can do it to try to hire an engineering team and say, this is what we want to build towards. We're working on getting VC fund, getting excitement about it. That's not a viable product. Let's be honest, that's just a prototype. Let me be clear about what your objectives are, and that's a successful prototype. But that's not a product and it's not ready to market.

Kerry Guard: Is a successful prototype clearly shows what it can do? Even if it doesn't necessarily work completely on its own? What's the product?

Sandy Hawke: I also want to put a caveat on this, because when it's a cybersecurity product, I'm going to put more stringent controls around what I consider ready for primetime and what I won't consider, . If it's a security product, you better be able to demo it to me using real data. You got to show me that if it's a security product. There's a prototype that you want to do. There's always a different goal with any prototype or any product. So is the goal of the prototype to get VC money. The goal of the prototype is to establish that the protocols that we use, there's a future in the protocol to get excitement about the protocols or the developer community so to get some momentum around a set of protocols in use for different use cases. Is that what the prototype goal is doing and saying? Don't get confused about what the prototype goal is. We released and announced a prototype at RSA, Cisco in June. And that was the goal of our prototype was to show the capability and to get more excitement with other vendors around the set of protocols that we had for this new standard shared signals. So that was the goal, the prototype, but if every time a sales rep came up to me and asked me about it, I always say, “Oh, you mean the prototype? Not the product?” Because it's not a product yet. It's a prototype.

Why would we do that?

We would do that to get the excitement about our vision. And to be honest, rolling out any deployment of security can often take 6 to 8 or 10 to 12 months. And by the time we're ready to go after planning is done, scoping is complete, the procurement is complete, and all the due diligence is done. We're talking large enterprise deals, by then we will have a product and they're going with us because we were putting our credibility when we put out a prototype. We're putting our credibility on the line because we're saying, this is the direction we're going, and we will get there by this time. As long as we stay to those commitments to market a prototype, as long as you're clear about the objectives.

Kerry Guard: Cisco is a bit of a different example because you have so much clout in terms of having delivered product after product. It's not just a standalone startup trying to market a product.

Sandy Hawke: That's so true. We have more risks in a startup because we have this rich brand and reputation to maintain that's super valuable. But then also with a startup, they can swing for the fences, because they got one hit at-bats or a couple and VCs. If they can excite a VC then and then they'll get the investment that they need to hire the engineers to actually make it a reality.

Kerry Guard : It's true. I can see that being interesting, it does put Cisco on the line to now. You can't just market a prototype, especially at an event like RSA. You have to be confident and not only what that product can do, but that you're going to hit those marks in terms of actually delivering it. You do have more on line that way, especially when you make a big splash. It's such a big event.

Sandy Hawke: That makes us to task. They're going to take us to task if we don't need it. We're noticeable, everyone in the room. We gotta get it right.

Kerry Guard: If you're not a big Cisco, when would you market a prototype? Or would you just walk around to VCs and say, “here's this initial thing I have. Are you interested in helping me?”

Sandy Hawke: I had a situation in my professional career, where I had the CTO who was my boss's boss, who told me that I needed to market something, our product a certain way. And I was like, “Can I demo that functionality? I don't think we could demo that. Can we?” And he's like, “It doesn't matter if we can demo it, I want you to add it to the story. I'm going to add it to the messaging now.” And I was like, “I'm sorry, but I have this rule that I follow that I will only mark it or message something if I can demo it.” Because we were targeting the small and medium business market. It was really important, to be honest with him about what the product could and couldn't do. And I wanted to show everything we said we could do. I wanted to show it in the product. He said, “Well if you won't do it, I'll get a product team.” We'll all get a product marketing team who went on. I was like, “Okay.” This is why it's fun sometimes to be a freelancer because then you can go, “oh, okay, you want me to lie?” Sorry.

Kerry Guard: Not aiming. You have to have a strategy and a vision for even just a prototype. Is that when you market a prototype isn't just about the functionality or is it your storyteller? How do you tell that story of something that's working, or will work in the future?

Sandy Hawke: You just have to be clear and crisp about what story you're telling. Is this a visionary story? Here's why we're different because we have in it. Our perspective is innovative in this way. This is where the roadmap is going if he's to use words like roadmap and vision and aspiration, and are clear about the fact that's not currently on the cart, especially when you're talking to sell salespeople. You just have to be honest about it. That's all. But there is a time when a vision story is needed for big companies, small companies, and everything in between, for sure. You got to get people inspired.

Kerry Guard: At any point in time, not just that it can start as soon as you're talking to a VC. Why you did this thing and why this thing exists?

Sandy Hawke: I gotta get him interested. Kerry Guard: It's more than you push this button, and this thing happens. It's to your point that aspirational thing.

Sandy Hawke: It always starts with pain. It always starts with a sad story. Don't we all hate x y, z? We have this magical thing that fixes the thing you wish you had. Guess what? It's here. Let me show you how it works.

Kerry Guard: We look forward to bringing it to you in the next six to 12 months.

Sandy Hawke: We can't take ourselves too seriously.

Kerry Guard: Not at all. The world's too dark and grim. For that, we have to keep the honesty and humor flowing. So at what point? Do you translate it? What point does it translate into an actual product that you can mark it in? When does that flip happen from prototype to working product when you can demo it with real data? Is that the point where you're like, “Okay, we have something here.”?

Sandy Hawke: Proof of concepts. I worked at a company big fix a while ago, and we had great customer relationships where they were on advisory board where they would try out new versions of our product. And they would help us with the direction of the product also. They were friendlies. And so when things would blow up, we at least knew that they wouldn't leave us in the lurch because they were partners with us. You gotta cut a couple of customers. It depends on the type of product, obviously, and how easy it is to get up and running. But I would recommend that you just really try to get as many hands on it and different use cases, QA the crap out of it. Make sure you have the licensing setup. It's good to have a setup especially if it's a software as a service. If there's a trial window, an automatic trial subscription thing turns on on a specific date, and it automatically becomes paid. Those things are all considerations. Before you can consider a product done. I have a friend who's like it needs to be documented too. It needs to have great documentation. This is a product manager that thinks about all these things, but just a high level. It's ready when you've tested it and it works as documented as promised.

Kerry Guard: I love what you're saying that we've known that's coming. The product manager will figure that out, but as a product marketer, and even a marketing manager, it's important to know what all those sorts of dominoes are. If somebody's coming to you and saying, okay, we're ready to market. It’s great. Let me see the working product with data that with real live data. Let me see the demo. Let me see the free trial. Let me see the documentation, and have a clear checklist of when is it ready. Because you're about to pour money out into the market and flooded with free trial users.

Sandy Hawke: There's some great training by Product Management Institute, and Product Marketing Institute. They have a whole launch strategy training, where you learn all the different checklists. Making sure that you've set up the website, you've set up the ordering process, and you've enabled the customer success team, and there's a whole launch craft. It's not my favorite part of marketing, product marketing. I'm gonna be honest with you, but it is something I respect. That's a needed part of any product marketing team.

Kerry Guard: Especially when he gets to the marketing team, and they need to make sure it's all measurable. Where are all the data going to end up? How do I know that these channels are working in the right deals coming out the other end? And how is that MarTech system set up on top of the actual product system? But they can't know that unless they know all the steps to go and buy the thing.

Sandy Hawke: It's important to make the distinction between launch and GA. Launch is a marketing deliverable and function, and GA is a product management deliverable and function. You can launch before GA, you can launch after GA, and sometimes they happen at the same time. The launch could be, “Hey, we're going to be GA in a month.” The launch could be last month and no one noticed, and now we're having a launch.

Kerry Guard: GA, general access.

Sandy Hawke: Yes, general availability. So that means I can start buying the thing you’re marketing.

Kerry Guard: Anybody can start buying.

Sandy Hawke: Anybody. It's generally available to anyone. Sometimes there are some limitations.

Kerry Guard: That was a good big moment, when that launch or no launch, the fact that it's a real live thing that people can die.

Sandy Hawke: I've just had folks internally get confused about those two. If you're not clear about what you mean by launch and what you mean by GA, because sometimes they happen at the same time. Sometimes they don't, often they don't happen at the same time.

Kerry Guard: What's the ideal order?

Sandy Hawke: It depends on the market context you're talking about. If you’re competitive, a lot of times it is event-driven for security people, it's the RSA conference in the US here in San Francisco. But if it could be a trade show, that is the impending milestone that you want to build your launch around, sometimes you even build GA around it sometimes if you can, but hopefully, you're letting product management and engineering decide that stuff for when it's ready. Not when RSA happens. I worked in startups and how it works, I would say it's not for a customer from a vendor standpoint, that's how I answer from a customer standpoint, I think happening at the same time is optimal.

Kerry Guard: What if, if you you get an all access, but then something's broken, and you launch it at the same time? Isn't there more opportunity for more to go wrong?

Sandy Hawke: That's interesting. I was thinking from the standpoint of when I hear something is available, I want it now. I don't want to have to wait. It was available last month. I could have had it then. I think about it more from a communication standpoint, rather than from a product probably breaking on the first rep. You must be a product manager.

Kerry Guard: My husband's a developer. And so, I just go when things don't quite go and he's getting products down and things are broken and stress and to have that, something's finally accessible to everyone. I guess somebody asked you this in terms of a launch. How big of a launch do you want to do? Do you want to go all out and make a big splash like at an RSA or do you want to test the waters and make sure your systems are all working and you can get the funnel going and then pour more in?

Sandy Hawke: It's such a good question, Kerry. Sometimes people do soft launches, sometimes they'll do a soft launch to like I mentioned the customer advisory board or a bunch of friendlies. He'll do a soft lunch, and then you'll get those that are influencers, maybe some of them were analysts somewhere in Florida, and then they get the word out, and then they get the word out a few weeks later, or a month later. Then there's the bigger push to get it out. It depends what your competitors are doing. A lot of times launches are dictated not by your customer but by your competitor because you want to steal their thunder, or you want to drown out the noise of their announcements, or there's an analyst magic quadrant that came out. Maybe you didn't position and you didn't get positioned where you want it and you want to create a diversion. There are all kinds of reasons why people time their launches the way they do. I hope I don't know. Sometimes soft lunch, and then a double punch, a soft, and then a bigger one. Sometimes it's helpful because then you can also test the message on the soft launch, and then maybe pivot things around and tweak it a little for the bigger one.

Kerry Guard: This is so fascinating for me because as an agency when clients are coming at us 100 miles an hour for things that they needed yesterday, and we're trying to not necessarily slow the roll, but make sure that we can put all those building blocks in place and be intentional and thoughtful about it. It's sort of that question that we always ask if where's the pressure coming from, and why all of a sudden does it feel like they're going from? Everything's good. So we did it yesterday and this is starting to make a lot of sense in terms of these hot deadlines in the Magic Quadrant, the events between RSA black hat. The trade shows are creating that energy and it always feels like it's happening a little last minute. It's just we're so far down to let the line of information that it feels that way for us when I'm sure it's happening much faster within the organization.

Sandy Hawke: It could have been. It's like a VP or the CEO, or someone said, “Hey, what about that thing?” And then they're like, “I can talk to you about it.” Because they finally got the execs, sponsorship, or whatever it is that they need.

Kerry Guard: That's so interesting. As attending on the marketing side, we see such a small sliver of how all of these things come together. And so, when you start to unpack, going from the prototype, to launch to general access, and we've barely scratched the surface of all the moving pieces that go into that, and then you put these tight deadlines on the edge of it. It just is fascinating. I could sit here and talk about it all day.

Sandy Hawke: We can get nerdy though, it's fun.

Kerry Guard: Oh, this was so so good. Sandy, I'm so grateful that you joined me and shared, what it means to you when products should launch and when that makes sense, how to build that up, and then when to take it to market, and your challenges with the sales team. Thank you so much for sharing those with me.

Sandy Hawke: And if you have any answers or any of your community has answers, I'm on LinkedIn, find me.

Kerry Guard: Link is in the show notes, we will make sure that you are easily accessible for all those reasons. And just great to connect with you, Sandy. I hope that other people do too. Before we close out, I do have my people first question because you're more than a marketer and you shared with us your journey, which has been fascinating, and a little bit more about you in terms of your music. I have three quick questions for you. First question for you: Have you picked up any new hobbies in the last few years since COVID?

Sandy Hawke: Not new hobbies, but new relationships with existing hobbies. I see an acoustic guitar in the background here on my wall. I got really into the electric guitar over the last couple of years and I got into this electric guitar pedal obsession. These are things you plug your guitar into, and then they plug into the amp and then you get all kinds of groovy sounds so yeah. I've been enjoying that quite a bit.

Kerry Guard: My dad played the guitar when I was growing up, and he had all the things. He had the slider and he had the pedals and he has three different guitars. One was acoustic, and then another one was a Les Paul. I grew up listening and I loved when he just enabled a chord. He wasn't trying to play a song or read music he was just playing around was just so fun to listen to.

Sandy Hawke: We call that noodling.

Kerry Guard: If you could be with your team, this is always a tricky one for my music people. So I appreciate that it might take you a second to get there. But if you could be with your team, and you could all be hanging out together and listening and brainstorming, what song would you want playing overhead to set the vibe?

Sandy Hawke: Such a good question. And you're right, it's a tough one. I'm gonna go with Grooves Is in the Heart by Delight. I don't know if you know it, but it's old like the 1990s. Be ready to rock your booty, because it's quite groovy.

Kerry Guard: My daughter loves a good dance party. So I'm gonna rock that out tomorrow.

Sandy Hawke: You can't sit there and not move. You have to actually get up and dance when you hear it. And I feel that way about our team because I just love them so much, and they're so groovy and so cool. They make me want to get up and dance.

Kerry Guard: That's the best thing about brainstorms. Sometimes you got to move it out. You gotta got it. Last question for you, Sandy. If you could travel to anywhere in the world without any red tape, or long lines or booster shots for all of the things where would you go and why?

Sandy Hawke: Also a very difficult question because the world is very large, but I would have to say somewhere I haven't been before the Maldives because I love water. I'm named after a beach. So, of course, I love the water and the ocean. They say the snorkeling is great; you could just jump off where they have hotels that are on the water. You can jump into the water from your little hotel room at any time of day or night.

Kerry Guard: What beach? We're using that for our specific beach.

Sandy Hawke: You know the name Sandy? I joke. I'm not really named after

Kerry Guard: My husband and I met on a beach. So I'm fascinated with all the different features and we talked about maybe naming or giving our kids a Hawaiian name for that reason, but we didn't.

Sandy Hawke: There are a lot of great Hawaiian names to check out.

Kerry Guard: We didn't name her house. Guernsey has this funny quick story. Guernsey does have this funny thing where you don't have a house number, you get to name your house. It's always really fun giving the addresses to people. They get very confused or in your house somewhere. It's so Ohana. That's the name of the house. It sounds so did well. That's a great name. We didn't even know how supply name for that reason.

Sandy Hawke: Ohana. Doesn't it mean family? That's so beautiful. I love it.

Kerry Guard: Sandy, this was awesome. I'm so grateful. Thank you for joining me and for sharing all the things.

Sandy Hawke: If you need anything else just let me know.

Kerry Guard: I will.


That was my conversation with Sandy Hawke. If you are in need of identifying your own product marketing fit and ensuring your launching something ready to launch, then connect with Sandy! Link is in the notes.

Ugh. One of those conversations I was sad to end. So good. Thank you so much Sandy.

And thank you to our listeners! If you found this episode helpful please like, subscribe and share!

This episode is brought to you by MKG Marketing the digital marketing agency that helps complex tech companies like cybersecurity, grow their businesses and fuel their mission through SEO, digital ads, and analytics.

Hosted by Kerry Guard, CEO co-founder MKG Marketing. Music Mix and mastering done by Austin Ellis.

If you'd like to be a guest please visit to apply.

Join our weekly newsletter

Get industry news, articles, and tips-and-tricks straight from our experts.

We care about the protection of your data. Read our Privacy Policy.