July 21, 2023
Product Management
Product Marketing

An Unbeatable Team: Product Management and Product Marketing

In this blog, we explore the similarities and differences between product managers and product marketers through the eyes of a veteran in each role, Adam Shulman (Product Manager, or PdM) and Carl Blume (Product Marketer, or PMM). In Q/A format ranging from humorous to contemplative, we’ve asked each of them to share insights about the role, skills, career path and the occasional misunderstanding. We promise that no marketing assets, PRDs or feelings were hurt in the process of making this interview!

How would you describe your job to your mother?

PdM: As a product manager, it’s my job to figure out what we should make. This means I study our customers, their jobs and businesses, and trends in our market to try and understand what needs they will have next. I then work closely with customers and the development team to develop a product that will meet those needs.

PMM: I’m responsible for making my product successful in the marketplace. This means I have to drive marketing programs that make customers and influencers aware of my product and the value it provides. Also, I work closely with my company’s salespeople and partners to help them become proficient in selling my product.

This isn’t to say that I’m solely responsible for marketing my product. In fact, the opposite is true. I get a lot of help from marketing specialists who promote my product on social media, the web, at industry events and other channels. What makes my role different from others in the marketing department is I have product focus. I work with the rest of the department to ensure the product is accurately described and positioned to highlight its strengths.

What are typical career paths to and from your role?

PdM: Product managers reach their roles through all different paths. Often, they ‘fall into’ the role of product manager because their organization does not have it as a formal function, and it becomes a sort of catch-all for the organization’s needs around product planning (i.e. roadmapping), product definition and development. And so many product managers find themselves in these positions with little or no training.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! A number of organizations now exist that can provide an academic path into product management. This gives product managers an opportunity to learn skills and best practices before they are in the heat of battle.

PMM: Product managers can become product marketers. But there are lots more routes to this role. I’ve seen people successfully transition from other marketing roles, such as competitive analysts and technical marketing. People also move into product marketing from positions outside the company. For example, analysts at market research firms (e.g. Forrester, Gartner, etc.) and account executives at marketing agencies become great product marketers.

The product marketing role is a good stepping stone to leadership positions in marketing and sales. For example, a product marketer could become a leader of content marketing, marketing communications, or technical marketing. A product marketer could become a leader within the sales department, including sales enablement, sales support, and customer success.

What are the skills and attributes of a great product manager and marketer?

PdM: We have written previously on the traits of a good product manager, But ultimately, they must be objective and unbiased investigators. A product manager's job is fundamentally to spot and root out bias in judgment that would lead to the wrong product decisions – at the strategic, product or feature levels. It is their job to see through subjective opinions in order to truly understand what customers need and fulfill those needs.

PMM: Product marketers have to be experts at how the product works and how customers use it to solve their problems (use cases). In addition, they have to be really good at communicating this knowledge to many different audiences and using a range of media. This combination of product expertise and communication skills are fundamental to the role, with advanced skills and experience allowing product marketers to command a premium in the job market. Senior level personnel may have many years of industry expertise and/or ability to create compelling messaging.

Empathy is an important attribute because it enables product marketers to understand the perspectives of the many audiences they are trying to reach. In B2B industries with complex products and long, multi-stage buying processes, a single sale may require approval from many buyers within the customer organization. Product marketers must understand and position their product for each of these buyer personas.

Name a famous person who would make a great product manager/marketer and why.

PdM: You probably thought I was going to say, “Steve Jobs”, didn’t you? That would have been appropriate, but perhaps cliche. Instead, I’ll pick Fred Smith, founder of FedEx. He was not technically a product manager, but he built the company based on a product management insight which was that sometimes, people needed deliveries faster than they were getting them. While the solution to this involved massive logistical innovation and required the transition from a point-to-point delivery model to a hub-and-spoke one, ultimately that doesn’t matter to the customer. The product he offered customers was simple: quicker deliveries. “When it absolutely, positively needs to be there overnight”. Clearly, he had identified an unmet need in the market.

PMM: Jim Nantz, sports broadcaster. He has called countless memorable sporting events, including the New England Patriots SuperBowl LIII win over the LA Rams that featured a key interception by Stephon Gilmore. His excitement for every game and ability to communicate exactly the right information in the moment would make him a great product marketer. Similar to product marketers whose skills elevate the go to market strategy, his call is additive to the video and audio telecast. Plus, he has demonstrated an ability to travel thousands of miles to distant cities on a tight schedule, which is a critical product marketing skill 🙂.

Describe an instance when your role was misunderstood.

PdM: The role of the product manager is often misunderstood. Frequently, it is misconstrued as just “the people who write the PRDs”. But writing product requirements is only the manifestation of a complex process of market discovery, and an even longer process of understanding human bias and why we, as people, make bad decisions. Writing requirements is challenging, but equally (or perhaps more) challenging is the investigative work that must be done before it (and on an on-going basis) to understand the market, customers and identify their unmet, urgent, pervasive needs that the market will pay to solve.

PMM: Here is a great example: Without warning, a salesperson dumps a 40-page RFP into the product marketer’s inbox and expects he/she/they to fill it out under a tight deadline. No-one likes writing customer proposals and when a salesperson receives an RFP, a game of “tag” typically ensues. Product marketers are an obvious target, because of our writing skills.

Responding to an RFP is the responsibility of the Sales Department in most companies. But, I’m not unsympathetic to the sales person’s plight. They are typically big, complex projects that require contributions across many departments. I’m glad to collaborate on a proposal. Especially, if we can learn from the questions the customer has asked and reuse the responses in other customer RFPs.

How do the two roles complement each other?

This is a topic on which we can agree! Like a great tennis doubles team, our skills are complementary. We share a strategic vision for how our product creates value for the customers we serve. The product manager’s job is to work with the company’s resources to manifest the vision in the product, while the product marketer’s job is to bring the product and its value to the customer.

At a tactical level, we’re constantly exchanging insights that make each of us better at our jobs. The product manager informs the marketer about product features and capabilities, while the marketer shares feedback he/she/they receive from the market (customers, salespeople, partners and influencers) about use cases and competitors.

Carl Blume is principal consultant at Atlantic Marketing Advisors, a marketing consulting firm serving the B2B software industry, and has held marketing leadership positions at Oracle, HP and several Boston-based startups. He has been a BPMA member since 2018.

Adam Shulman is a Product Manager with extensive experience in software/hardware systems and a passion for music and audio technology. He currently leads the Installed Systems business at Bose Professional and has been a member of the BPMA since 2016.