Navigating Uncharted Territory: How We Developed a Strategic Product Marketing Role

By Dave Morse August 02, 2007

The trouble with the outbound role of product marketing is that we have an identity crisis on our hands—we’re misunderstood, misguided, and misaligned—and as a result, great products are either failing altogether or missing their potential. Executives and other members of management have wide-ranging expectations of product marketing that are almost never focused on strategy or the bottom line. Thus, we are usually confined to a tactical role supporting Sales and others, expending enormous resources on too many urgent tactics that are never measured and rarely appreciated. Uncertain about where our “turf” is located, we work in a state of reaction and firefighting, unable to contribute in a way that is meaningful to our companies or our careers.

It is time for product marketers to push the “reset button” on our activities and expectations. Before we began my company’s effort to redefine our product marketing role, our executives had varied ideas about product marketing and felt that it should be part of the product management organization because (following common logic) “they need to know the product in order to market it.”

In this article, the first of a two-part series, I’ll tell you how we redefined and revitalized product marketing as an organization responsible for strategies to influence potential buyers and sales channels. In the next issue, I’ll walk you through each of the steps we took to get this change approved and implemented. You’ll see that with the right definition and promotion of roles and processes, outbound product marketing can be a truly strategic group that is recognized for its impact on the company’s most critical goals.

The trouble in product marketing today

Compared to positions like Sales or Engineering, Marketing is an odd bird. As a way to prove just how different we are from our cubicle counterparts, here is a simple yet effective test: Ask anyone (and I mean anyone) in your company the following two questions about Sales and/or Engineering:

  1. What is the [Sales or Engineering] team responsible for delivering?
  2. How are they measured?

The responses will be relatively uniform. You’ll hear things like, “Software developers write and test code, and are measured by the quality and timeliness of their delivery.” And, “Sales people are responsible for calling on prospects, closing deals, and attaining or beating their quota.”
However, ask those same two questions about Marketing, and you’ll find a wide range of answers. “Marketing is … *pause* … well, they write content for our website”, “They generate our leads”, “Dave is great on customer calls”, “They plan our trade shows”, or my favorite, “The golf shirt and coffee mug department”!

Granted, Marketing may perform these activities. But do any of them capture the true and complete essence of the role? What is our real purpose? Why is the company spending so much money on this stuff?

We are misunderstood

Most people don’t really know what marketing is and believe it to be a “necessary evil” that eats up budgets and provides little-to-no return-on-investment. Others see it as an artistic venture, populated by creative people who are simply tasked with creating memorable ads.

With components that may include advertising, public relations, websites, lead generation, internal communications, collateral, media planning, branding, event planning, customer retention, channel training and so on, marketing is often defined by whichever activity the company has invested in most heavily. Individually, these tactics may not be that confusing. It is the absence of a cohesive strategy for applying these tactics and how they’re organized within the company that causes perplexity.

When executives have pre-existing (and wide-ranging) ideas about marketing, it can lead to mixed expectations. Bob, VP of Sales, believes (and therefore expects) marketing to be a lead generation machine, while Mary, CEO, believes (and therefore expects) marketing to keep the website up-to-date as well as be the voice of the company through effective press and media relations. If executives can’t comprehend the marketing big picture, how can they be expected to effectively delineate between product management, product marketing, and marketing communications?

Specifically for product marketing, these varied beliefs and expectations can lead to the role serving as product expert, sales support, “technical liaison between Product Management and Marketing Communications,” collateral production, lead generators, event planners, and the “t-shirt and coffee mug department.”

We are misguided

We have a “misinformation proliferation” on our hands. Business schools seem to lack the focus needed to define the product marketing role and delineate it from other marketing functions. I have not yet met a b-school graduate who has been trained in the basic roles and responsibilities for product marketing.

Another example is the lack of decent books and publications. Go ahead and browse® for the term “product marketing.” You won’t find anything of true relevance, other than books clearly (or not-so-clearly) targeted at product management. One of the books claims that, “Regardless of the industry, product managers… are responsible for the marketing of their product.” See what I mean?

We are misaligned

As a result of being misunderstood and misguided, the product marketer gets misaligned within the organization in a number of ways, including:

  • Reporting to inappropriate functions/departments like engineering, sales, or marketing communications
  • “One position, two hats” performing both inbound product management and outbound product marketing functions
  • Not existing at all

I suggest you read the article “About Titles and Responsibilities” by Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Institute. Steve says, “Titles really are a mess in our business. What one company calls a product manager, another calls a product marketing manager. Technology businesses have generally ignored the standard terms used in other industries.”

How true! Go ahead and peruse the hundreds and hundreds of “product marketing” positions listed through career portals like After five minutes, you’ll quickly reach the same conclusion: job titles and descriptions for this role are all over the map.

Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, offers no help either. Search for product marketing and you’ll see that this function is generally responsible for outbound marketing “tasks.” Responsibilities include the market requirements document (a product management function) plus the tactical roles of “hot sheets, beat sheets, cheat sheets, white papers and case studies.” As Wikipedia is developed through the combined input of “everyone,” this leaves no doubt about the general chaos around titles.

A by-product of misalignment is what I call the “silo effect.” In my company, it was common for individual functions, like product management or marketing communications, to work sheltered from each other in their own “silo” for an extended length of time. Most often, we were all blind as to what everyone else was working on. Even if we did hear about something happening in another department, we didn’t know how our individual tasks fit into the big picture. Inevitably, the silos would burst open when, just before the release of a new product, Sales would demand training and collateral. Then Marketing Communications would need to know how to position the product. At the last possible moment, Product Marketing would get a brain dump from Product Management and be on the hook to quickly turn around a checklist of datasheets, website content, presentations, etc. (Sound familiar?)

Press the reset button—primary responsibilities & objectives

The primary responsibility of the product marketing manager is to be the company’s audience persona expert—to deeply understand the people that impact decisions about which products to buy (buyer personas), and which products to sell (sales personas).

What is a buyer persona?

Adele Revella, author of the Buyer Persona Blog ( and instructor of the Pragmatic Institute Effective Product Marketing seminar, says that a “buyer persona is a detailed profile of an example buyer that represents the real audience—an archetype of the target buyer. Marketers use buyer personas to segment and target different types of buyers, using individual profiles to understand the goals, concerns, preferences and decision process for each part of the market they need to influence.”

Buyer personas allow marketers to step out of their role as product evangelists and see the world from their buyer’s perspective. Through this profiling process, product marketers can be the “proxy” for the buyer, identifying how each solution addresses the most urgent problems for any particular persona, what role each will play in the purchase decision, why they have not looked to us to solve their problems, and where this persona will go to get new ideas and information.

Product marketers who are persona experts can break out of the tactical marketing role and identify a messaging and campaign strategy that will be relevant to the target audience. No more reverse engineering your messaging by aligning with your existing functionality. No more “shot gun” or “cookie-cutter” style marketing by creating one campaign or collateral piece to resonate with everyone. This new type of product marketer isn’t a creative genius; this marketer has the insights that make it simple to get the right message delivered in the right place at the right time.

What is a sales channel persona?

Similar to the buyer persona, the sales channel persona is a detailed profile of the different types of sales styles within a direct and indirect sales channel. Simply acknowledging that all sales organizations are “coin operated” isn’t enough.

For example, if you introduce a new product that involves new technology, has a higher price point, and is targeted to a new type of buyer, your sales people will naturally prefer to sell the products that don’t require change. One of the hallmarks of the new product marketing manager is to understand the changes that we ask the channel to make and delivering tools and insights that ease the transition.

It’s common for marketers to say, “We already have a product with compelling features and purported benefits, so if we communicate them properly, people will understand and want to buy. And our sales team should know how to sell this stuff—that’s why they get the big bucks!” Imagine how effective product marketers could be if we stop making up stuff and start aligning our messages and programs with the way real buyers and sales people think.

Product marketing responsibilities

The correct role for product marketing is to know each and every buyer persona better than anyone in Sales does, and intimately understand all channel personas. As a result of this expertise, product marketing is responsible for

Aligning with sales channels to prepare them to:

  • Relate to buyers of all types
  • Focus on the most effective messages and programs
  • Developing outbound marketing plans/programs that:
  • Generate awareness to get prospects into the sales funnel
  • Drive revenue and help prospects through each/every stage of the sale funnel
  • Increase customer retention/satisfaction to ensure customers remain happy and loyal

Product managers and product marketers have a few things in common but are ultimately quite different. Adele Revella makes these distinctions about the roles; “Product managers develop expertise in the market and then rely on this perspective to influence the product strategy—they are always thinking about how to bridge gaps between the market and the product. Product Marketing needs to understand the products too, but its attention needs to be on people, developing personas and using this insight to influence markets full of people—business peoples’ decisions to buy and the sales peoples’ decision to sell the company’s products. This results in a cohesive go-to-market strategy that Marketing Communications can execute through its competencies in the individual marketing programs.”

Many commonly engage in the “one position, two hats” debate, or “can product managers also be effective product marketers?” In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore defines and recommends two separate positions for inbound and outbound activities:

“A product manager is a member of either the marketing organization or the development organization who is responsible for ensuring that a product gets created, tested, and shipped on schedule and meeting specifications. It is a highly internally focused job, bridging the marketing and development organizations, and requiring a high degree of technical competence and project management experience. A product marketing manager is always a member of the marketing organization, never of the development group, and is responsible for bringing the product to the marketplace and to the distribution organization. ...It is a highly externally focused job.”

He goes on to say, “Not all organizations separate [the two positions], but they should ... the type of people who are good at one are rarely good at the other.” Well said, indeed.

[read part 2 of this article]

Categories: Go-to-Market Leadership
Dave Morse

Dave Morse

Dave Morse is an expert in the areas of software development, product management, and marketing within high-tech companies. Having worked for successful organizations such as Aspect Communications, GetThere, CoolSign,, and Made2Manage Systems, he has developed a detailed framework that can help companies reposition and revitalize the role of product marketing. To learn more, feel free to contact Dave at

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