Product Management Job Titles

We’re frequently asked who owns what in an organization with product management, product marketing, and marketing communications?

A typical email reads:

I am wondering how you have defined product manager and product marketing manager in your salary survey. One of our employees has picked up your survey with the goal of identifying a delta between her comp and market rates. I’ve gone back to look at the data on and found that her job definition matches better to product / brand manager than product marketing manager. She is more involved with outbound marketing as it pertains to field support rather than inbound marketing as it pertains to product definition. Can you give me insight into the survey definitions?

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. In our compensation survey we asked people’s titles and reported incomes based on the titles without defining what we think they are. We also asked them to report responsibilities.

The survey result show that product managers are more inclined to research the market and write requirements while product marketing typically plans go-to-market strategy and writes collateral.

A PM listens to the market; a PMM talks to the market.

Typically the title ‘product manager’ is used to signify people who listen to the market and articulate the market problems in the form of requirements. And the title ‘product marketing manager’ is usually assigned to those who take the resulting product to the market by defining a product marketing strategy. (I actually use the title product manager for both of these). Yet clearly, this delineation is not consistently applied. PMs and PMMs are both equally involved in writing business cases and researching market needs.

And what about marcom? Marketing Communications (marcom) is a service department to product marketing, focusing on the execution of the product marketing strategy. Marcom specializes in programs such as web, direct mail, trade shows, and collateral production. Product marketing knows which of these programs to run; marcom knows how to execute them.

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoff Moore defines and recommends two separate positions:

‘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.’

Moore goes on to say, ‘Not all organizations separate [the two positions], but they should be… the type of people who are good at one are rarely good at the other.’

But titles are meaningless; actions are meaningful. The Foundations course introduces the activities often associated with product management and product marketing. Some of these activities are intimately linked. In particular, distinctive competence and prospect problems drive both product requirements and product positioning. Virtually all other product related activities stem from these two.

Requirements are written by those who understand the market. The Market Requirements Document (MRD) is comprised of the problems that are in the market. Notice the language: there are no marketing requirements; only market requirements. The market-driven product manager spends time out of the building gathering requirements rather than sitting in a cubicle imagining what the market will buy. By calling on various segments of the market, product management can articulate exactly the product features that will create a product that will sell.

Market requirements and positioning documents are written by those who understand the market. Yet in a recent survey, 90% of marcom people claimed responsibility for positioning, although 0% reported having any customer experience. Who best to write these documents than the product managers who have gathered requirements? Positioning documents define the features in terms that the buyer will understand, using language the buyer would use. Technical buyers need technical details; user buyers need information about how the product will improve their daily lives; economic buyers want to know how the product will improve the bottom-line. Recently a development executive said, ‘All of our collateral should be written as if I was the reader.’ But does this executive represent the buyers? Doubtful. Instead, collateral must be written in the language of the reader (the buyers)–not for employees of your company.

Product management is the messenger of the market. Product marketing and marketing communications should be involved in creating market messages but the market-savvy product manager has final authority over the positioning.

Market requirements and positioning documents are owned by the person who best knows the market. Who is this in your company?

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