Product Management vs. Product Marketing
In the olden days, there was less distinction between product management and product marketing. Today, it is important to staff both adequately for success
There has been much said on the roles of Product Management, and Product Marketing. There are firms who have well developed frameworks, and extensive training to help you get to a “good” state. In particular, I am familiar with the Pragmatic Marketing work, and the Blackblot BOK1. Both frameworks provide an excellent foundation for the role of product management. But there are others.
When I started in product management, there really wasn’t a BOK to draw upon. There was literature, but the vast majority in the pre-Google2 days was centered around packaged consumer goods, and product managers were much more like General Managers of a business, or business unit (today, they would be better described as “Brand Managers”). I bought all those books, and read them, but they weren’t too helpful.
I was a new product manager, climbing a steep curve. We didn’t have the luxury to separate out product marketing and product management. I had to know and understand my markets. I had to know the dynamics of my business and its cycles. I had to know my product inside and out. I had to know enough of the technology to talk to the engineers (the first product I managed was an electron microscope for measuring photomasks. My background in physics was immensely helpful). I had to be the point of sales enablement. There was no segmentation of the role. No delegation of the responsibilities. It was just me. Sure, I had peers, but they all had distinct businesses to run. We all learned together, and we all eeked out our path forward.
In short, it was overwhelming.
It is comforting to see the frameworks, bringing to light the scope, and enormous list of responsibilities. Clearly when you stand back and look at it, you see how it is truly impossible to expect a single person to accomplish all that is defined by “Product“.
With this early career background, I will admit that I had reservations about splitting the responsibilities. I felt that to be effective, I needed to have and hold control over all aspects of the task map. However, my last couple of career stops have given me a more nuanced view.
The classic interplay between product management and product marketing rages on, and we continue to deal with the fallout
I spent over two years in a product marketing role, a somewhat of a downgrade in experience, but it opened my eyes. Being able to focus on only one area of the Pragmatic framework was liberating. I was able to better prepare, to create more content, and I wasn’t harried or rushed. In short, I appreciated the ability to focus.
Having two dedicated team members to handle both the product management and the product marketing function is increasingly important. As the Product role continues to grow both in stature and responsibility, the sides clearly have different desired traits, something that is much easier to account for with two personalities to handle the roles.
Comparing the two frameworks I am familiar with, Pragmatic and BlackBlot, there are some differences in how the two frameworks partition the roles, but essentially it boils down to outbound versus inbound.
Referring to the Pragmatic Framework the outbound, or “Product Marketing” role starts at the “Planning” column and entails all on the left side. Of course, there is some overlap with the Marketing Communications function, that group that executes programs.
In the same framework, the “Product Manager” role covers everything from the “Business” column and the left side of the framework. A meaty role to say the least.
Of course, for your organization to be performing at its peak, you need staff with the right mentality and capabilities in both roles.
Blackblot breaks this down a little differently, essentially calling the product marketer as handling all the inbound data flows, processing and passing them to the product manager, who creates requirements, and drives the development process.
Regardless of whether you gravitate to one of these two frameworks, it is clear that there is plenty of work to justify two different people for these roles. It is my view that success requires both halves of this equation to have aligned goals, and shared objectives. They need crystal clear targets to achieve. Do this with shared MBO’s3, or combined performance targets, regardless, make it clear that success is needed in both sides, and a shared destiny.
This leads to my final point, and possibly the most poignant. As the “Product” function often has a reporting structure to some other group, Marketing for instance, it is increasingly imperative that the two product functions, marketing and management, need to report to a single leader or executive level person who has the vision to set goals and objectives, and keep the progress on the path.
Increasingly, Product Management and Product Marketing role are crucial for success, whether you have formally defined roles, or other staff performing them. While Product Marketing is marketing in the truest sense, it truly is a component of the product management continuum, and the combined goal is to build kick-ass products, that delight customers, are easy to sell, and are widely adopted.
Both the Pragmatic framework and the BlackBlot PMTK offer great guides, breaking down the chief roles – marketing, product marketing, and product management – highlighting how crucial is to have all parties on the same page, rowing towards the same destination.
To me, that is what defines a great product management organization. Do you have it? What are you doing to get there if not?
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Body of Knowledge
I started my product management career at a semiconductor equipment company in 1998
MBO is management by objectives