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Feb 22

Product What?

Last summer I talked to a lot of tech industry CEOs.  After seven years at the same company, I was looking for a new challenge and set about surveying the landscape.  I met with top executives at large companies and small, public and private, hardware, and software, serving a a wide variety of market segments.

One topic came up in every meeting.  I never brought it up, but it was always raised.

The topic:  Product Marketing & Product Management.    As in:  What is each responsible for? What are their key deliverables?  How do they relate?  Should they report in to the same person?  Should they report to marketing or product?

It was never raised in that “I’m testing your knowledge in case we want to you to work here” kind of way.  It was always raised in that “We’re wrestling with this, and I’m quite sure what we should do.”

What made it even more interesting is that I had just been through a definition exercise at my (then) current employer, Progress Software.  We were forming a new product management function in R&D and product marketing reported in to me in marketing.  So we need to define who did what with whom and when.  A good friend was going to run the newly formed product management function, so he and I just down one afternoon and banged out a plan. Easy for us.

But clearly it wasn’t that easy for the half dozen companies with whom I talked last summer.

When their CEOs asked me, I generally told them my view is that the answer depends on their situation.  There isn’t one answer in terms of how to align these two important functions.  Really — what we’re talking about is leading the effort to decide what to make and how to take it to market.  The answer does (and should!) vary by company and situation.  But in terms of guideposts, here are some things that might help.

  • Product management owns the product strategy — and their internal interface is with R&D
  • Product management has two main deliverables — product requirements (informed by customers needs) and a plan of record to outline the roadmap.
  • Product marketing owns the go-to-market strategy — and their primary internal interface with with Sales.
  • Product marketing has two main deliverables — the marketing plan (including market segmentation, customer targeting, and positioning) and content (sales training, web pages, webinars, videos, podcasts, etc.).
  • The functions must be joined at the hip, regardless of where they report.
  • Specific deliverables will likely have contribution from both sides.
  • Defining primary ownership for specific tasks is important — and becomes critical as an organization grows.  Below is a simplified model that I’ve used in the past.


Things that are jointly owned might include:

  • Market research
  • Sales support/training
  • Product launches
  • Public speaking/thought leadership

Where the functions report depends on a variety of factors — and can (and likely should) change over time.

  • What is your greatest need in the near future? (deciding what to build?  training sales?  generating content?)
  • What are the skills of the people on your team?  Who could you attract to change the team composition?  (These positions are incredibly difficult to fill well).
  • How big is your organization?
  • How well do you understand your target market?
  • How technical is your target market.
  • How strong is your Sales function?
  • How market oriented is your R&D function?
  • …and so on…

So, like most things, there is no one standard answer.  I’ve used the questions and framework above to help guide organizations to right answer for them and for now.   

Since this is clearly a hot topic, I’d be interested to know what others think.

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