If You’re in Product Management, You’re in Marketing

I’ve heard something disturbing in recent conversations with product managers and product management leaders. As soon as the word “marketing” comes out of my mouth, there’s an almost-instant reaction: “Oh, I think you’re talking to the wrong person.” “I don’t deal with that.” “I’m not in marketing.”

Well, I’ve got news for you – if you’re in product management, you’re in marketing.

Maybe you’re not part of the marketing structure on the org chart. Maybe you’re not in the marketing department. But you are most certainly in a marketing role.

Go back to your Marketing 101 class in college. Remember the 4 P’s – Product, Place, Price, Promotion? It’s right there – Product. Heck, it’s usually the first one!

Maybe product managers react this way because they don’t want to associate themselves with a function they see as late-stage and tactical – designing brochures, planning trade show exhibits, sending email blasts. That’s valid to an extent; there are situations in which marketers are more tactical and less strategic than they should be. But a lot of these conversations have been with product managers whose companies’ marketing organizations are set up the right way and do a lot of the right things. And many of the topics we’re discussing are issues product managers absolutely should care about – go-to-market strategy, thought leadership programs, launch planning and expectations for demand generation.

Product managers are responsible for the overall success of the product. They need to care about everything that influences the overall success of the product, including marketing activities. Product managers may not be responsible for leading or delivering on each individual element, but they should participate in, or at least have input into, most of the marketing activities and deliverables. After all, the success of their products – and their paychecks – depend on it.

Product management is a unique, distinct role unlike any other marketing role. Still, a product manager should be aligned as closely with her or his product marketing counterpart as with the engineering/product development lead, if not more closely. When a product manager hears “marketing,” instead of “I think you’re talking to the wrong person” the response should be, “That’s something that’s very relevant to me – tell me more.”

On a related note: At SiriusDecisions, we talk a lot about aligning product, marketing, and sales. In fact, it’s the theme of our upcoming SiriusDecisions Summit 2013 (May 8-10 in San Diego). We will have a number of sessions on how marketing and product management can effectively work together, including a session I’ll be presenting on aligning product management and demand creation. If this topic is of interest, consider joining us in San Diego in May.

About the Author

Jeff Lash is Research Director, Product Management, at SiriusDecisions. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 10 years of experience in product management, portfolio management, product development, and user/customer experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.


7 Comments

  • Steve Johnson, 11th March 2013 at 11:02 am

    Reply

    Great post! Perhaps the chief area of conflict in roles is that many product managers are in fact product owners and think of themselves as part of the development team. Meanwhile, many marketing teams are so involved in the promotional part of marketing and haven’t embraced the more strategic role. Maybe that’s why I’m see more and more product marketing managers leading not only the go-to-market aspects of product management but the business stuff too.

    I’ve written about this conundrum in my free ebook, Product Management Expertise at http://www.under10consulting.com/writing/expert

  • Geoffrey Anderson, 11th March 2013 at 11:28 am

    Reply

    Great point and topic. I think there are two aspects at play:
    1) Product Managers who come from an engineering side probably have a strong bias against the “M” word. I have been in organizations where the tension was just festering under the surface, but led to open warfare. (I always quickly moved on to some other area). If you come from the ranks of engineering, you likely have a negative opinion of marketing and all things marketing related. But as you point out, the “product management” / “product marketing” roles are strongly intertwined with the technical aspects of marketing. (topics like segmentation, market sizing, competitive analysis etc.)

    2) As the traditional “marketing communications” role has evolved into being more focused on the “pretty butterflies” (promotion, social media presence, and generating/validating leads), the underlying marketing tasks (what I call “real marketing”) really need to be handled by the group that best is placed to succeed with that charge. And Product Management is a pivotal role, hopefully with the skills and drive to do all that low level, critical marketing that leads to developing the right product(s) and ultimate demand in the market.

    Regardless of where I sit in an organization, I have always considered myself part of “marketing” and work very closely with marketing throughout the product life cycle.

  • Abhay, 11th March 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Reply

    There is not doubt that product management is a marketing function. I too have observed this on many occasions where product manager tend to relate themselves more closely with engineering than marketing. Moreover, from my observation such product managers are largely seen in technology companies (software product companies). While they do carry the title of a product manager, they end up doing mostly release management activities, requirement management or are better termed as technology product manager. They do product management in bits and pieces but they really never own a product as such and do not understand the role of product manager in the larger picture of the organization.

    @mathurabhay

  • Tom Evans, 11th March 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Reply

    Great thoughts Jeff – My favorite way to emphasize that is by a quote from Peter Drucker.

    “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

    Sounds like Product Management to me.

    I like to call this the big “M” of marketing vs the little “m” which is what most people think of.

  • Jeff Lash, 12th March 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Reply

    I’m glad you brought up the Drucker quote, Tom. Unfortunately I’ve seen the quote get misunderstood or misused. Some interpret “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself” to mean that marketing and sales is unnecessary — that you should just “understand the customer” and then create a product which “fits him,” and if you do that, it will “sell itself.” People who take this view ignore marketing and sales even more, figuring if they can just create the “perfect” product, then that’s all that matters. I call it the “Field of Dreams” fallacy of product development — the belief that if you simply build it, buyers will come.

    The reality is that few if any products can sell themselves. Especially in a b-to-b environment, even the “perfect” product won’t sell without the right marketing and sales tactics and activities to help it move through the buyer’s journey. This is just too important of an element of product success to be ignored or delegated, so product managers need to ensure that they’re involved and aligned with marketing throughout the innovation and go-to-market lifecycle.

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  • Sarah, 9th April 2013 at 10:20 am

    Reply

    Great article Jeff, I could not agree more! As a user experience designer and strategiest, I always tell my clients that “the product is the brand”. Today, you can’t separate the two because if you do, you end up with a very inconsistent consumer experience – your marketing says one thing and the product delivers another. It might also be worth reminding people that there’s a 5th “P” … People! It seems obvious, but many times we quickly get wrapped up in the details of a product’s function or the copy in a marketing campaign, and we forget to take a step back and ask if those details are really mapping to People. One solution I see is to figure out how to make storytelling part of our processes so that we’re always focused on People. Here’s an article I wrote about the topic: http://bit.ly/YICnN7. Again, great post, thanks for sharing your ideas!


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