Product Teams

Data Unifies Two Product Roles

Published Jan 28, 2016

Product Management, Product Marketing, and Product Data

There is a wealth of information, discussion, and opinion out there on the role of a product manager versus that of a product marketing manager. It’s an interesting discussion because the responsibilities of each role can overlap when they are not defined well, and both functions are critical to the ultimate success of a product. It’s a very interesting discussion because these roles can vary significantly from organization to organization. Having spent a fair amount of time in both product management and product marketing roles, I thought I’d weigh into the discussion with some slightly tortured analogies and an added dimension that we’re passionate about at Pendo: how each role can and should consume product data in the course of their day to day activities.

Product Manager: The Sculptor

We’ve discussed how the role of the today’s product manager has evolved and some of the different “hats” that he or she wears on a daily basis. I’d like to add one more descriptor to the list and talk about the product manager as a sculptor. I like the analogy because it nicely encapsulates the visionary role that great product managers serve. They look at the proverbial block of stone (or in our case an undeveloped, or minimum viable product), and have a clear picture of what the finished work will look like. They define the path to the finished work, and employ their tools to chip away, and refine the overall product. As the sculptor uses a hammer and chisel, the product manager uses the engineering team. (Obviously the engineering team has a much larger role than that in the product world, and there isn’t really ever a “finished” state for software, but from the perspective of the product manager the analogy makes sense.)

For the product manager, the grand vision of the finished product isn’t something wholly conceived from imagination. It’s informed and shaped by a constant feedback loop. This is why good product managers spend a significant amount of time talking to customers. They want to really understand their customers, and what is and isn’t working in the product for them.  Product data also plays a significant part of this feedback loop. It allows product managers to see how their product is used “in the wild,” which features are heavily used (and which are neglected), and where the experience causes users to struggle. All of this information helps the product manager build the overall vision, and allows them to prioritize the steps needed to achieve it.

Product Marketing: The Storyteller

Yes another analogy, but I think another good one that highlights some of the key differences between the two roles. The product marketing manager doesn’t have the overall “artistic” vision, but he or she knows what it is about the product that will resonate with the target audience on both an intellectual and emotional level.  The product marketing manager makes you care about the product manager’s vision.  He or she crafts a narrative around it, and delivers that narrative through a range of channels including sales presentations and demonstrations, papers, articles, press releases, and of course blog posts.

A successful product narrative is always simple at its core no matter how complex the actual product is.  Too often product marketers (especially in the technology industry) fall into the trap of “marketing by feature list.”  A good product marketer understands what are the most important or differentiating features of a product, why they matter, and crafts a story around them. To do this well, he/she must also deeply understand the target market, and the product features that are most important to them. Product data is instrumental in helping product marketers understand this. With the right information, they can understand which features deliver the most value. Even more importantly, they can identify different cohorts of users based on their activities in an application, and use that information to craft tailored messaging for them.

Both roles are key to successful product teams

These analogies, admittedly, aren’t perfect, but I think they do a nice job in explaining exactly how the product manager and marketing manager are different… and how their roles are tremendously complementary. Building great products requires a great team, and these are two critical roles for success. The product manager is the visionary – understanding the whole product, where it needs to go, and the path to get there. His or her vision ultimately determines if the product will have the right capabilities and user experience for success. The product marketing manager tells the story – taking those key capabilities and experiences and packaging them within a narrative that drives an audience response. Both of these key functions must be informed by a strong understanding of target customers, and clear feedback into how existing customers use a product. Both of them need good product data.

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