What is the role of a Product Marketing Manager?
The role of product marketing manager is one of the most misunderstood and underestimated roles in the business world.
While bigger companies distinguish between product marketing and product management roles, most small to mid-sized along with start-up companies have merged these roles for greater efficiency and effectiveness. The person responsible for the product vision and market requirements, features definition, testing and launch, must also be expert at promoting the product and communicating its positioning to sales and the marketplace. Given the product marketing manager’s expertise in the product, he or she is often the best equipped to both market and assist in the sale of the product.
Success in this role requires both analytical and creative skills – so, someone both right and left-brained. If you ever find someone with all these attributes, be sure to show some love, because these multi-talented employees are often not easy to come by.
Having lead product marketing for much of my career, I will discuss three steps that have guided me:
- Get to know your customers.
- Follow a “Blue Ocean Strategy.”
- Focus on the details.
Get to know your customers:
While some product marketers are lucky enough to have been in the customers’ shoes, most don’t know very much about who they are selling to, what needs they are trying to fill or problems they are solving for.
I worked in the credit data industry and was responsible for developing sophisticated risk management tools for credit managers. I had never been a credit manager.
One thing I learned from meeting with my customers was no two credit managers were alike. I spent a lot of time talking to them, on the phone and at credit management conferences. Some were extremely analytical, while others just wanted to get the job done and ensure bad debt was at a minimum handling a high volume of credit screenings. Our product team created solutions for both ends of the spectrum; a sophisticated software allowing the analytical types to develop their own risk models using a combination of internal and external risk data. And for the rest, a simple risk classification tool, mapped to a go/no-go/further review-required credit decision.
This company today is a powerhouse in the credit data business. Much of that success came from a group of visionary product marketing managers whose contributions were often misunderstood and underestimated by the company’s leadership team.
Follow a “Blue Ocean Strategy:”
- Create uncontested market space by reconstructing market boundaries,
- Focus on the big picture
- Go beyond existing demand and supply to new market spaces
- Get the strategic sequence right
The book gives great examples of successful companies that followed a “Blue Ocean Strategy,” including Cirque du Soleil, Southwest Airlines and Home Depot. As someone who preferred to go in a different direction than the competition (rather than battle it out in the market), this book influenced my entire career and am grateful to its authors for sharing their insights.
Focus on the Details
Great product marketing managers are often perfectionists to the point of obsession. This is because they know that when bringing a new product to market, God is in the details. Good product marketing managers can be a pain to work with because of this trait. Steve Jobs was the epitome of a great and successful product marketer and, as we’ve come to learn, was not well loved by those who worked with him. But it was his obsession with details that lead to the creation of Apple’s products customers love, and their exceptional marketing that endures. Product marketers owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Jobs for inspiring us to never bend to mediocrity.
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