Roles Before Titles
The job titles product marketing manager and product manager are confusing enough to start raging debates about who does what. Organizations often transpose the job titles, adding to the confusion. I’m not going to tell you that if your job title is X then you do Y. But I can give you some guidelines that generalize the areas of accountability. You can take it from there.
The Three Horizons of Sustained Growth
In the book The Alchemy of Growth, the authors propose that a healthy, growing organization needs to focus simultaneously on three things. The first is sustaining the business. The second is growing the business. The third is the future of the business.
From a product perspective, we can simplify this as current products, next products, and future products. Current products sustain your business. Next products assure growth and future products assure long-term viability.
All of the products and services you have today, and those that are on your roadmap, are represented by those three circles. Now, let’s use those to delineate the roles of product marketing and product management at a generalized level.
Clarifying the Roles
The product marketing role is focused on current products and next products. Think about that for a moment. They’re either helping to figure out how to sell more of what’s in the portfolio (current products), or planning to introduce new products (next products). Let’s put a rectangle around the first two circles. That represents the big area of responsibility for the product marketing role.
The product management role is focused on next products and future products. They are working with the product marketing role to plan a product launch, or they are conducting research to anticipate what the future will bring. Let’s put a rectangle around the second two circles. That represents the big area of responsibility for the product management role.
When the two rectangles are combined, it’s simple to describe which roles focus on which of the three product areas. It also shows where there are overlaps, representing areas of collaboration.
The overlap between the two roles is apparent for next products. A hand-off occurs between product management and product marketing to plan go-to-market (GTM) strategies, launch products, and oversee readiness activities.
Product marketing managers focus on today. They work toward achieving the business goals for current products. They also plan and execute the go-to-market strategy for the next products (or new versions of existing products).
Product managers focus on tomorrow. They work to deliver the next products and create a vision for future products.
Who Does What?
The big question that many people ask is, “Who does what?” That is, by job title. I won’t give you an explicit answer to that question. I ask that you consider the broader “swim lanes” I’ve offered. Think about the people in your organization who have the skills and temperament to work most effectively in each role. Then strive to get to a state that works for your organization.
Be mindful that product marketing isn’t product management and vice versa. Also, be mindful that if your product managers are spending too much time on today activities, they aren’t planning for tomorrow. You will pay for it sooner or later.
It may be time to introduce a product marketing role into your organization, one that isn’t product management or marcom. Use the responsibilities graphic to help you find a good fit.