More than a decade of grousing about product management

Product Management vs. Product Marketing

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The author reflects on their experience in contract product management and product marketing. They observe that product management requires a longer-term focus, while product marketing can be compartmentalized into specific projects. They emphasize the impact of their shift into the contract world on their understanding of these roles and their importance in different business models.

I have noodled in the past about the differences and commonality between the two roles: product management and product marketing. Regardless of the definition that you apply, whether it is the Pragmatic Marketing view, the Blackblot view, or some hybrid, there is some component of inbound versus outbound that is a pretty crisp delineation.

However, recent personal history has adjusted my thinking. Having started a contract position, and being product management has opened my eyes to some other differences that weren’t obvious to me in a prior life.

Product Management and Time Bound

Working in product management as a contract employee is interesting. Technically, I have a rolling 3-month horizon (contracts via a third party “head shop”). When I started, it seemed pretty crisp, there were products in development, there were tasks to accomplish, largely picking up mid-stream, and deliver results.

Not much different than any other product manager role that I have held.

However, in the middle of my second 3-month stint, I am becoming more embedded. Defining new programs, integrating closer with the development organization, working with finance on forecasting, and costing, creating a strategy for the next 18 – 36 months. Suddenly, I feel like I am a full-time employee, and that I should ignore the short time horizon of my contract.

But can I really? The uncertainty that February 1 comes and I am off to a different company is really there.

Product Marketing and Projects

Compared to the life of outbound product marketing, where the work is often focused around a tangible deliverable.

A product launch package. A promotional program. A lead generation campaign. A technical roadshow.

While I have mostly worked with dedicated, FTE product marketing people (where we had them), I can see how the product marketing function can be compartmentalized and tied into neat packages. A good product marketing manager can swoop in, do a flurry of work, deliver a result, and depart without there being much disruption of the organization.

In short, many of the expected deliverables of the PMM function are self-contained, and if you have a strong marketing organization to drive strategy, and continuity, it is possible to use PMM’s for hire to achieve your goals.


Breaking into the contract world has been enlightening. It has changed my views on the roles of product management and product marketing, while not reducing the importance, it has highlighted the foundational difference in the two, how they are implemented, and how important they are.

The PMM role seems a natural fit for the contractor or “gig” model, around fixed time frames. Whether that really saves the company money or not is a different story.

The Product Manager role feels different. To be effective, the role really needs a time horizon that isn’t 3 or 6 months out. I understand the rationale of a flexible work force, and how contractors contribute to that strategy. Still, my experience is that much of the work isn’t amenable to a 3-month horizon. Each day, I find myself making decisions, and commitments that will extend long beyond my current contract end date. I assume that it will be renewed, but perhaps it won’t? What then?

Final thoughts

While the Product Marketing role seems amenable to being broken into contract, “piece work”, there is an ongoing thread that is expected of the outbound product marketing. If you don’t have a permanent, dedicated product marketing person or role, then your Product Manager needs to be able to provide that function. Be sure to acknowledge that some fraction of their time will be spent on the outbound marketing that would normally be the function of product marketing.

Written by

A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude