Product Management and Marketing: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

For this blog post I’ve asked long time friend and colleague, Robert Lonadier to share his insights on the role of product management and the dynamics of its relationship with marketing. Robert’s career spans the gamut of IT hardware, software, and services with an impressive record of achievement as both a product management and product marketing professional – he currently serves as a Senior Product Manager at EMC.
The roles of product management and product marketing have evolved considerably in the 20+ years that I have practiced them. Early in my career, product management and product marketing were largely left to their own devices. Thinking that the positions and function were somehow temporary, we were left to pretty much do as we pleased. Product Management’s job was to tell the engineer’s what the build. “Develop the requirements” they would say. But where to look for the source of the inspiration on what customer’s really wanted? “Talk to Sales and Marketing, they are the ones closest to the customer”.

And the textbooks were not much value, either. They either focused on consumer product management; large numbers of customer’s whose preferences were measured in tenths of a percentage of market share. Does anyone remember the Cola Wars? It’s no surprise these techniques did not transfer over well. A few innovative researchers, including Eric von Hippel of the Sloan School of Management, looked at how lead users identify the source of innovation, often in very surprising and unpredictable ways. Product Marketing grew out of the need to support sales. Help make Sales go more smoothly by greasing the skids. Provide “air cover” to Sales. It really took the classic microprocessor battles of the late 1970s (a good read on the subject is “Marketing High Technology” by William Davidow) for Product Marketing to hit its stride

Given how the disciplines evolved, product management and product marketing often have an uneasy relationship. So many functions can easily fall into each other’s bucket. There is even a well-respected product management body of knowledge called “Pragmatic Marketing”. So, it’s no surprise that many practitioners are confused about the proper roles between the two functions. And management is not making this easier by often times lumping the functions together and not properly defining the roles.

Product Management and Marketing’s Guide to Harmonious Co-Existence

So, what is a product manager and product marketer to do? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Reach out to your product marketing/product management counterpart(s). Do not wait for management to step in and suggest this. Seize the initiative.
  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities up front. Especially if there is nothing already documented.
  • Be flexible. Depending on the skill level and capability of your product management/marketing counterpart, you may need to adjust what your contribution is in order to ensure that there are no gaps.
  • Remember you’re both on the same team and the real goal is to help your company reach its sales numbers.

The future of both disciplines is bright as the roles of product management and product marketing are critical to the development and marketing of successful products.  Companies that can clearly define and embrace both roles are more likely to see better overall results in bringing sellable products to market.

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