Product Management vs. Product Marketing

There are many schools of thought as to how companies should organize themselves to most effectively manage a product’s life cycle. At Sequent, we clearly have a position on this: A product manager should be responsible for overseeing the entire product life cycle, from beginning-to-end. To be fair, we have also remained open-minded to the fact that there may be other approaches that work equally well for some organizations.

With that said, there is one ongoing debate that we can’t bring myself to take a neutral position on, and that is the difference between Product Management and Product Marketing.

There seem to be some that feel that the Product Management function should only focus on inbound life cycle activities while the Product Marketing function should only focus on outbound life cycle activities. We prefer to not split these two critical life cycle areas into separate functional parts but, rather, to have one function that coordinates and balances both inbound and outbound activities.

The problem is in referring to one of these roles “Product Management” and the other one “Product Marketing.”  Remove the word “Product” from the beginning of each title, and look at the remaining word. When we think about managing something, we are usually referring to the act of taking full accountability for some task or function, and coordinating all available resources to ensure that the task is completed or that the functional objectives are attained. By its very definition, the term “management” implies complete beginning-to-end ownership over whatever it is that one is supposed to be managing. Can you imagine hiring a manager who was only willing to take accountability for half of the team that they were hired to lead, or who was only willing to take responsibility for half of their functional goals? It would never make any sense.

So what about marketing? Most traditional views of marketing include both an inbound and an outbound component. True, the act of marketing a product or service most commonly refers to letting people know that it exists. But how can you possibly do that without also understanding the needs, behaviors, and buying habits of the people that you will ultimately be marketing to? Focusing on just the outbound activities would equate to doing only half the marketing job or, at the very least, doing the entire job very ineffectively.

Again, we want to reiterate that we have no real issue with splitting the inbound and outbound product life cycle activities if that structure works best for any particular company or organization. The problem is in what we should be calling those roles.

Product Marketing Roles

Based on some commonly accepted business definitions that we’re aware of, if we were to have someone responsible for Product Marketing, one would think that this individual would be focusing on those life cycle activities that relate to both inbound activities – that is, gathering customer, competitor, and industry insights – and outbound activities – that is managing the traditional 4-Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, and place).

Product Management Roles

Someone responsible for Product Management, on the other hand, would focus on the overall business management of a product line, which, by the way, would include overseeing all parts of that product’s life cycle, including those inbound and outbound marketing activities referenced above.

In this way, a Product Manager would have a more encompassing role than that of a Product Marketing Manager, just as a General Manager should theoretically have more business oversight and accountability than a Vice President of Marketing.

If a company wanted to split the life cycle responsibilities between the inbound and outbound components, one could propose that the inbound role be referred to as an “Inbound Product Manager” and that the outbound role be referred to as an “Outbound Product Manager.” In this way, we would be accurately describing what portions of a product’s life cycle are actually being managed by each respective role. Not that we personally recommend structuring every organization this way, but at least one might be able to support the titles if one were to choose this option.

So all of this begs the question, “Does it really matter?” It could be argued that what we call a job isn’t really as important as what the job ultimately entails. But, then again, isn’t the whole purpose of a job title to provide a quick and accurate reference point for what a person is actually responsible for doing? If a title doesn’t provide that basic function, then why have it in the first place?

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