Product Management vs. Product Marketing

Most of the product teams we’ve met have a varying definition of what product management includes in terms of both job description and responsibility. More often than not, entrepreneurs fuse whatever activity doesn’t fit elsewhere (but still is directly product-related) to a mystic “PM” role.

The List

Such activities include – but are not limited to:

  • project management (often Scrum mastership)
  • product marketing
  • positioning against competitors
  • representing the customer internally
  • customer development
  • messaging towards potential customers
  • validating shipments against customer expectations
  • having a deep understanding of the market and all competitors
  • supporting sales with their pitch to customers
  • owning the go-to market strategy

Some of the tasks seem pretty straightforward, others are a tad confusing; in general the list appears long and diverse. Yet unless you’re a jack of all trades, you’d find it increasingly difficult to execute against this list of ever-expanding – and diversifying – responsibilities.

Dilbert seems to have a passing toon for nearly every article these days!

The Setup

To be crystal clear, we believe that every product needs a single, accountable product manager, who is responsible for defining the product – but also another single, accountable product marketer, whose responsibility would be to crank interest and pump up leads in the sales funnel.

The Question

Do we really need two separate people, you ask?

Our experience roars a resounding “YES”, and the reason for that is that the roles are so different, it is often difficult to find someone sufficiently capable and effective at both.

Product management requires one to be extremely detailed-oriented, preferably with a technical background and good understanding of software architecture. UX/UI skill or team management experience are two additional traits.

Product marketing, on the other hand, requires one to be extremely communicative, presentable, should be good mentors of the sales force and have experience in pricing and market strategizing. Did I stress mention spending most of your time dissecting competitive products and strategies?

Another good reason to get two people in is time limitation – even if you happen to have a jack-of-all-trades on your team, he’ll be unable to execute at speed and scale.

This is often the case – and a hurdle – for corporate spin-offs, where supporting sales is the top priority, while all other functions can be pushed to the background; product managers are not needed, just a pre-sales marketer.

It is our belief that is also part of the reason most MNCs fail at building sustainable products that customers love.

Our Experience

It probably wouldn’t be surprising if I told you that largely successful organizations like Philips, SAP, Pfizer depend on well-defined job definitions – and leave few gray areas for interpretation. From our experience, however, having strictly compartmentalized roles leads to a lack of ownership, especially for newly emerged tasks or responsibilities. Improvisation, after all, is another part of the job.

On the other hand, as much as we are evangelists of lean approaches, certain jobs simply can’t be merged in a single profile, because they are fundamentally different. Probably a rough example of that confrontation would be the everlasting friction between sales and development teams across time, space and organization.

Now imagine the lack of clarity being transferred to the  priority list of your product…

Closing Thoughts

Product managers and marketers need to work hand in hand and complement each other’s work – especially in common areas like studying the competition and being the voice of the customer throughout the organization. But that doesn’t mean a team could or should squeeze the time and job description to only have one person in lieu of two highly-specialized professionals.