How should I staff my marketing team?

I'm often asked by marketing leaders about staffing levels compared to other departments. Like them, you probably feel there are never enough resources to cover everything you want to do, much less everything you should be doing. So more is better, right? Not necessarily. Staffing levels cannot be considered in a vacuum and to add to the difficulty, many companies are staffed with a variety of roles that overlap. For example:
  • Product requirements and roadmaps are maintained by product managers, technical product manager, and product owners.
  • Marketing plans are created by product marketing managers, industry managers, and marketing specialists.
  • Product launches are led by product managers, product marketing managers, and release managers.
  • Product demos are performed by product managers, product owners, and sales engineers.
Actually this may be good news. To get a clear picture of the staffing needs for your organization, look beyond your own department; consider marketing roles in all departments. So while you may have fewer product managers when compared to other companies your size, you might find product and market expertise on other teams. A development organization with business analysts or product owners has accepted responsibility for some of the technical activities of the Pragmatic Institute framework. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing—as long as they base decisions on market data. Some sales and marketing organizations have created their own “product manager” roles—often called product marketing managers and sales engineers—because they are starved for product expertise. If the other departments support themselves with product and market knowledge, the number of strategic product managers focused on business and strategy can be small—perhaps one per portfolio of products, or one per vertical market segment. Conversely, many companies have built large product management and marketing organizations with multiple product managers, technical product managers, product owners, and product marketing managers. In this format, the product manager focuses on strategy, the technical product manager or product owner coordinates with development to build the right product, and the product marketing manager works with marketing communications and sales to get the product into the market. So if you have product and market expertise in other departments, your team can be small. Conversely, if your company lacks these related functions, product management might be a large team filling multiple roles.

Company revenue

Our surveys show the number of product managers range from just a few in smaller organizations to 30+ in companies over $1 billion. It would be great if there was a general rule, say, $10 million in product revenue per product manager, but revenue-per-product manager increases with company size, from $1 million per product manager in a $1-10 million company to over $40 million per product manager in larger companies. [caption id="attachment_11589" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Team size by company revenue"][/caption] If we combine all product management and marketing roles into one team, we see companies of less than $50 million have a team of 10 or fewer, climbing to teams of over 70 in $1 billion companies. Logically, staffing increases at a slower rate than the increase in revenue.

Development resources

Our surveys show one product manager works with four to eight developers—a wide range—but a more consistent correlation is one product manager to one development lead. [caption id="attachment_11590" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="ratios to development team"]ratios to development team[/caption]

Sales resources

A ratio to watch carefully is that of product managers to the sales organization. Our data—and personal experience with thousands of product managers—indicate too much time is wasted on low-value sales support activities, especially answering basic product questions via phone and email. In many cases, product managers are fulfilling the role of sales engineer.* Our surveys show a ratio of three or four salespeople per sales engineer but our experience tells us most companies should have only two salespeople per sales engineer. [caption id="attachment_11591" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="ratio to sales resources"]ratio to sales resources[/caption] If eight salespeople have only two sales engineers, as in the case of the $250+ million companies, salespeople call on product managers for sales support. But, who will execute on strategy when product managers are supporting individual salespeople? * A sales engineer is a field-based product expert who serves as the primary “go-to” resource for local sales teams. They’re most often in a business-to-business environment, particularly those with a complex product and a direct sales force. There are several common titles including sales engineer, pre-sales consultant, application specialist or product specialist.

What Does This Mean to You?

It’s great to have comparisons to other companies your size. But remember, common practices are not necessarily best practices. The way to determine optimal staffing is to look at the activities you expect your team to perform and how many hours per week you’d like them to spend on these activities. For more, see Pragmatic Institute's annual product management and marketing surveys.
Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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