Some professions, like police officer and schoolteacher, are self-explanatory and leave little or no room for confusion. But what exactly does a product marketing manager do? And is the job going to be the same at every company?
One of the difficulties of careers in product management and product marketing is that most people — sometimes even these professionals themselves — aren’t sure exactly where their responsibilities begin and end, and where they might overlap with each other. This challenge is compounded by the fact that the roles of product managers and product marketing managers can vary significantly across companies and industries.
In some organizations, a product manager and product marketing manager will both struggle to own responsibility for a given function. At the same time, another important function might fall through the cracks because neither product management nor product marketing assumes responsibility for it. Failing to properly define the responsibilities of product management and product marketing can hamper an organization’s ability to develop the best products possible and bring them to market successfully.
Although there are rarely such clean lines of responsibility, we can define these two roles for a hypothetical organization in the following way:
What is a Product Manager?
A product manager has ultimate responsibility for the product. A product manager’s responsibilities will often include owning the product’s strategy, developing and maintaining the product roadmap, and conveying the roadmap to the development team to ensure they build the product according to plan.
What is a Product Marketing Manager?
A product marketing manager’s primary responsibility is to communicate the product’s value to the market. A product marketing manager’s responsibilities could include training the sales force on how to sell the product, creating marketing materials that communicate product features, and developing the marketing tools and campaigns to attract new prospects and customers.
Of course, that’s in a hypothetical company, where these roles are well defined and don’t overlap in any area. But you don’t work in a hypothetical company, and you never will.
“Don’t let initiatives fall through the cracks because neither product management nor product marketing owns them.”
So how can we develop a broad-strokes understanding of product management and product marketing — an understanding that allows for the likelihood that if you work in either of these professions, your specific responsibilities will change from company to company?
We believe the best way to understand these two roles is that when they’re handled properly they represent a team — indeed, one of the most important teams in an organization.
The Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager are a Team
In a healthy organization, product management and product marketing work closely together, and their complementary responsibilities help take a product from the earliest strategy sessions all the way to successful market adoption.
Here’s how this works.
Product Management’s Role (Strategic Oversight)
The product’s inception will be driven by the product manager (with the help of product marketing), who will first drive the development of the product’s strategy. She’ll gather market research, customer feedback and stakeholder input — and arrive at a strategic plan for the product.
(In some cases, however, the product manager will simply have the product strategy handed to her by an executive or other senior-level stakeholder. This might be fine, or it can be a disaster. In either case, the result is the same: The product manager will be responsible for executing the strategy.)
With a strategy in hand, the product manager will then communicate it to her development team, work with them to build a plan to execute on this strategy, and oversee the product’s progress throughout the development phase.
Also, during development the product manager will have ongoing responsibility for communicating the product’s progress to the executives, sales teams and other stakeholders.
Product Marketing’s Role (Messaging Creation)
In parallel with the product manager leading the product’s development, the product marketing manager will be responsible for learning the product’s strategy, getting to know its customer and user personas, and developing the tools and campaigns that the company will use to introduce and sell this product to the market. This is why it is helpful to think of these two roles as complementary and forming a team.
Internally, product marketers often manage their own marketing roadmaps to keep track of overarching marketing goals, strategy, and initiatives. The product manager will collaborate with product marketing to clearly articulate the features and benefits to the market. Product marketing is then responsible for communicating these benefits to customers, industry analysts, the media and the public.
The tools that the product marketing manager chooses might include webinars, advertising and public relations campaigns, taking the product to tradeshows relevant to the product’s target customers, getting the product covered by relevant industry analysts, etc.
An Important Clarification
Although we describe these two roles as part of a team, and although neither the product manager nor the product marketing manager necessarily have any organization authority, it’s worth pointing out that in most companies the product manager has more leverage than the product marketing manager. Ultimately, the product manager is responsible for the product’s success or failure — which is why she is often called the product’s CEO.
Why the Product Manager and Product Marketing Manager Shouldn’t Be the Same Person
If these two roles are so complementary, you might be wondering, can a single person perform them both? It’s possible — assuming you can find a superhuman who doesn’t need to sleep. But we wouldn’t recommend it.
Just as the number 1023 looks very similar to 1024 — even though it’s significantly larger — the titles “Product Manager” and “Product Marketing Manager” appear to be similar even though they actually each serve different functions in the product development and sales process. More to the point: Each of these roles demands an intensive workload.
If one person tried to perform the duties of both a product manager and a product marketing manager at the same time, here’s just a portion of what that person’s workload would include:
- Gathering all market information
- Working up detailed user/customer/buyer personas
- Developing product pricing strategies and structures
- Developing and managing the product roadmap
- Managing the product backlog
- Synthesizing all internal and external stakeholder input on features and priorities
- Performing win/loss analyses
- Conducting competitive research
- Implementing and then analyzing customer surveys
- Overseeing the creation of sales and marketing tools
- Working with public relations team (or outside firm)
- Working with analyst relations firm
- Creating and delivering training for sales and support
In most cases, it would be simply too much work for a person to assume both roles. And because a PM/PMM role would represent too large a workload, some of the tasks listed above — each of which is extremely important to the product’s success — would simply not get done.
What Product Marketing Skills Might a Product Manager Want to Develop?
Still, as we stated in the introduction, the roles of product management and product marketing are fuzzier than most. Which means that in some companies you might find your areas of responsibility as a product manager dipping into what your previous company thought of as “product marketing’s job.”
In other companies, you may find your role as a product manager to be largely yours to define.
“You may find your role as a product manager to be largely yours to define.”
For either of these reasons — and also because it is valuable for you as a product manager to understand what your product marketing counterparts are doing, and how they’re doing it — you might want to expand your skillset into some of the areas of product marketing. Here are a couple of suggestions:
The product marketing team is typically responsible for developing the internal training presentations for sales and support, and then delivering these training presentations to those teams.
But what if your product marketing manager isn’t comfortable standing in front of a group? What if he’s simply not a very effective speaker or trainer? This is a function you might want to prepare yourself to take on as a product manager. Public speaking and training are highly prized skills to possess.
Here’s another area most product managers leave to product marketing — and as a result never fully understand themselves. But understanding how your product marketing team determines which keywords your customer personas use to find your products, or those of your competitors, is another valuable skill to add to your arsenal.
Learn how your marketing teams use customer discussions, competitive research and traditional SEO tactics to arrive at the right words to form the right messaging for your products. You’ll become a more well-rounded product manager.
Do you have other ideas? What skills should product managers — or product marketing managers — develop that are valuable but outside the traditional boundaries of those roles? Please share!