I often get questions about product management and product marketing from potential clients and employers: what they entail, how they’re different from one another, how they work together, what are the important skills for each one, etc. In my previous posts on marketing, I’ve covered this topic to some extent. Here I want to get into some of the finer points around product marketing and its relation to product management and sales.

Product Cycle: Define, Plan, Build, Market, Sell, Support

The graphics below shows how different groups within an organization work together to create a product and deliver it to the customer. At the outset, product management defines a product, development builds it, product marketing (and the rest of marketing) markets it, sales sells it, and the support team supports it.

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An important factor that I have not made explicit in this graphics is the primary research, strategy and concept work that is required before getting to product definition. I have covered this aspect in other marketing posts. Let’s look at this in more detail:

Product Management

Product management (PM) typically owns the product definition and is responsible for the product requirements and specification. Product management may also drive the product design. While the key force behind defining a product is product management, product marketing should provide input to product management in terms of market needs and requirements, so that the product is market-driven. That is, the product solves a problem and provides a business value for the intended audience. Product management must work closely with product development to plan, project manage and build the product.

One of the important responsibilities of product management is requirements and feature prioritization. There are often more features than there is time and resources to design and implement them. This hold true for the initial product and more so for the subsequent releases of a product. Product management must collect requirements from various sources such as customers (users); prioritize them per business objectives, release goals, product themes, and technical cost and feasibility; and then schedule the the features for upcoming and future releases defined in the road map.

A product manager should be a good designer, planner, and project manager. Good analytics skills should also serve her well. She must have a deep knowledge of the relevant technologies and must be a good communicator. Product management is often referred to as being inbound as it deals with development. Product management may also be involved with early strategy and research work.

Product Marketing

Product marketing is responsible for identifying the target market, segmenting it, and defining the appropriate positioning and messaging for each targeted segment. Product marketing may also be responsible for product launch, creating content and collateral for the product, supporting the programs and campaigns, and enabling the sales with content and tools so that sales can effectively sell the product. A product marketer may also have responsibility for competitive intelligence (CI), though nowadays there are often dedicated resources to that. Product marketing is often noted as being outbound since it deals with the market, sales and customers. Product marketing may also be involved with early product strategy and research along with product management. Though in most organizations this is not the case.

Important product marketing skills include good writing, presentation, and story-telling. A product marketer must have enough technical knowledge to be able to work well with product management and enough knowledge of the customer and sales to effectively enable and support the sales team.

Processes, Best Practices, Methodologies and Tools

Each group in the graphics has its own processes, best practices, methodologies and tools to carry out its responsibilities, as well as metrics to measure its success. For example, product management may use project management methodologies for product requirements specification and planning. Development may use agile (scrum) development methodologies. Sales may have sales process (based on solution selling or other methodologies defined in a CRM system. And support may use a system for logging and tracking issues.

Interdependencies Among Teams

There are touch points across different groups. Product marketing should provide input (market requirements) to product management, and in turn product management provides input (product definition) to product marketing. Product marketing supports and enables the sales. Support needs to work with product management and development to fix bugs and plan for enhancements based on customer requests and issues.

Customer Touch Points

No useful product can be designed in isolation from a market. As one of the Pragmatic Marketing rules says, “The answer to most of your questions is not in the building.” In the graphics all groups (other than development) have direct customer contact. Product management must identify and understand the user personas, communicate with them to document use cases and collect requirements from them for the initial product. She must also collect feedback and feature requests for the subsequent releases of the product. Product marketing must understand the customer needs (for market requirements) and profile the buyer circle (which may involve different groups) to craft appropriate messages and value propositions. Other groups in marketing such as lead gen also talk to potential customers. Obviously, sales and support are directly involved with customers.

Organizational Support and Potential Issues

Typically there are dedicated and separate resources for product management and product marketing. In fact each product within an organization may have its own product manager and product marketer. Product marketing is often under marketing while product management is within its own organization, or it may be part of the development. However, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes product marketing is also within the same organization as product management and is not part of the marketing.

Product management often is broken down to multiple roles. For example one software organization has product planners in addition to product managers. Another large software company has product management function broken down to inbound product management and outbound product management. The former is a more technical role and works closely with development, while the outbound role is more like product marketing in other organizations.

Some companies try to combine product management and product marketing into one role. This often doesn’t work well since there is a lot to do and the skill sets for the two roles are not the same. Either the person is too marketing oriented in which case at best she will produce high level requirements. Development will assume the product management role as well as engineering and the produced product may not be what the market wanted. Otherwise the person in responsible for both product marketing and product management is more of a product manager in which case there is not proper market segmentation, positioning and messaging being done. In most start-ups and small companies product marketing doesn’t get its dedicated resources. Product management may have to take on the product marketing tasks either implicitly or explicitly.

Sometimes proper communication and collaboration across various product teams may not take place. For example, product management defines and specifies the product without adequate market requirements from product marketing. Product marketing (if it exists) focuses on messaging, content generation, programs and sales enablement. But the product then may not meet the market needs as it is not properly understood. Similarly if product management and development team don’t properly collaborate, the product that development delivers may not even be the product that product management defined and specified.

Product marketing must play an active role in positioning and messaging, and providing the sales with the right content, sales plays, and tools. If product marketing fails to proactively do so, its role may be minimized or marginalized. Sales then may do its own messaging, or go directly to product management to get it. Sales may also promise capabilities to the customer that are not in the product. If a company fails to effectively position itself, the market — customers and worse competitors — will do it on behalf of the company.

Executive support, organizational and process alignment, open communication and collaboration is required across all these teams to ensure that a successful product is created and delivered to the market.