More than a decade of grousing about product management

You Can’t do Product Management w/o some Product Marketing

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Debates between product managers and product marketing managers are futile; both roles are essential and must work together for success.

I am in between league games, and I thought that I would do a little posting. If you follow the #prodmgmt hashtag on twitter, no doubt you have seen an (at time) lively debate about the differences in the two titles, “Product Manager” and “Product Marketing Manager”. The two sides square off and really sling some mud (figuratively, of course) about how different, and distinct the two roles are.


The only certainty is that even in a small organization, by any definition that you care to prescribe to, a product manager has more work to do that any one person can conceivably perform. The fact that as an organization grows, and, more importantly, the product revenue grows, there comes a time when some division of labor is needed, and an added headcount is essential.

Some will argue that at this point, you create segmented roles. Product Managers become more closely aligned with the Blackblot “Product Planner” role. Head’s down, turning requirements into a product. Product Marketers take this product, and put in place collateral, sales enablement material, segmented strategy, marketing and promotion plans, and track revenue and sales.

This. Does. Not. Work. I know someone is going to jump in and swear that their group has implemented just such a division of labor. I am convinced that they are fooling themselves or are truly not partitioning the role such.

The Product Manager

If you ascribe to the Blackblot view, that the product manager is the product planner, there are problems. You are tasked with creating a set of product requirements (or a backlog if you are agile), defining the priorities, and using the user personas that have been built to create rocks, macro, and micro stories. You are also likely the product owner (another overloaded operator, and a topic for another posting), working with the development team.

It is assumed that you have little or no direct interaction with customers, and not much more with the sales team. you are like that relative that you would prefer that you didn’t have, darkening part of your family tree. Your life is spent inside the business unit, dealing with development, operations, and senior management. If you are in a regulated industry (think: Medical Devices) you do endless paperwork and regulatory filings.

The problem with this black box view of the product manager role is that it is impossible to truly do your job like this. How do you set priorities without direct knowledge of the market? How do you grok the true nature of the persona if you weren’t part of creating the persona in the first place? How do you define value if you are part of the evolution, and genesis of the use cases? If you rely on a “product marketing” person to hand these to you, with little else in the realm of context, you are truly constrained.

I posit that to be an effective product manager, you have market authority. You understand the business needs that your products address. You are familiar with the user personas (either as being party to their creation/maintenance or having been a customer at one time). You know how to dive into the CRM tool and extract nuggets of market segmentation and targeting. You know how to get into the organization’s Business Intelligence cube (Dynamics, Cognos Powerplay, or similar) and extract reports on revenue, backlog, and regional performance by product, SKU, sales territory, and others. You know how to calculate a CAGR.

You also need to be able to augment marketing (the communications side) by drafting data sheets, tech specs, white papers, brochure copy, and more.

You might argue; “Yeah, but … Isn’t that why you have Product Marketing?” Yes and no. Often product marketing people are less technically close to the product. They are not able to get to the deep level of understanding that makes drafting a data sheet a breeze. Or, they may not have the deep analytical skills to generate reports, and present data to the executive team. And that is OK. As your product grows in revenue, you need more assistance to the sales team. More and better collateral. Sales training. High value deal intervention. Presence at professional societies. Working with industry analysts.


In the dark past, the product manager was the one man stop for all things product related. The title was often “Product Marketing Manager” and reported into the marketing group. This person had strong technical credentials, communications skills, and a knack for both promotion (marketing) and analysis that bridged the gap. In this epoch, the Marketing Communications group was an equal partner, sharing responsibility, and collaborating on the outbound marketing goodies.

Today, the Marketing Communications function has been radically altered. It is more of a service (think “Kinkos”) and has little capability to partner on development and delivery of high impact material. This has led to the rise in the responsibilities of Product Management to own almost all of the content creation, promotion definition, and outbound marketing thinking. Hence the trend to split the roles.

However, because there are two people doing an expanded role doesn’t equate to the ability to have a hard delineation of the job roles. Both sides need access and experiences to cross the chasm between them. It is this bridge that makes them synergistic.

Time to roll my third set. Wish me luck.

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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