Open Question: How can Product Managers and Product Marketers work better together?


by Saeed Khan

Here’s a question that I’ve heard asked in other venues, but I’d like to hear your thoughts?

How can Product Managers (PMs) and Product Marketing Managers (PMMs) work more effectively together?

What changes should be made functionally, organizationally, or in other ways to better align those two roles and deliver increased value for the company?

Or looking at it from another perspective, what’s not working today (in companies) that needs to be fixed so these roles can be more effective together.

Do you know of any companies that do this particularly well? If so, how do they do it?

I’ll start with one suggestion:

1. These two roles should be part of the same organization and have common product related goals. Unfortunately in a lot of companies, Product Managers are part of the “products” organization and Product Marketers are part of Marketing. With different goals and objectives, this is a reason they don’t work closely or well together.

Any other ideas? Over to you…please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Saeed

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38 Responses to Open Question: How can Product Managers and Product Marketers work better together?
  1. Giles Farrow says:

    I agree that marketing and engineering are very different and have a natural tendency to diverge–pulling in different directions. But I think that’s one advantage of having PMMs in Marketing and PMs in Engineering – they can be focal points to help keep the organization aligned where the rubber meets the road.

    Senior management will of course work together strategically on company-wide alignment, but as companies grow and their fiefdoms grow, competition between internal teams accelerates.

    My expectation that having PMMs and PMs in the same org would lead to the other org feeling they have less of a voice at the table and eventually lead to them duplicating that role in their own org (probably with a different name e.g. evangelist).

    I agree it would be easier for PMMs and PMs if they worked in the same org and had the same boss, objectives… but it’s just shifting the problem elsewhere.

    Working for different orgs they will experience friction. But if they work well together personally and trust each other, they can share expectations (as described in comments above), surface the underlying causes and if necessary escalate to get them resolved.

    • Saeed says:

      Giles

      Why do you think other orgs would feel they have less of a voice? And why would they duplicate those roles? Can you clarify?

      Also I’m not sure what you mean by “shifting the problem elsewhere”?

      What problem is being shifted?

      Saeed

  2. Giles Farrow says:

    All too often there are big disconnects between marketing and engineering teams.

    On their own:
    - engineers build software no one wants and no one hears about it
    - marketeers build slideware and generate a lot of hot air

    Having the pmm from marketing working joined-at-the-hip with the pm from engineering can be very effective at getting the best out of marketing and engineering.

    So I would disagree and recommend keeping product managers in engineering and product marketing managers in marketing.

    more on blog at http://smartsoftwaremarketing.co.uk/2011/when-creating-software-marketing-and-engineering-disagree/

    • Saeed says:

      Giles

      Thanks for the comment. So we agree on having the two roles — PM/PMM work closely together. The problem with having them in separate functional orgs is that Product Managers aren’t only focused on Engineering, and Product Marketers aren’t only focused on Marketing. The fact is both are part of a larger strategic function that is focused on the overall success of the products.

      Yes, these roles can focus their efforts on Engineering and Marketing, but what about Sales, what about Sr. Management, what about Support etc. The whole basis for having “cross functional leaders”, such as PMs and PMMs is to ensure that ALL the other silos are aligned and focused on product success.

      By separating these two roles in very different orgs — Marketing and Engineering are almost diametric opposites, the objectives of those orgs — Engineering and Marketing respectively — will impact the focus of those roles and in many cases diverge their objectives. I’ve seen it first hand in a couple of companies.

      By putting them in the same org, independent (but working with) other groups, their distinction is recognized across the company, and their objectives will never be misaligned.

      Saeed


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  10. ken rutsky says:

    I blogged on this here: http://first-productmarketing.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

    My concluding thoughts:

    “So what I call for is a new, holistic view of these roles. There is NO distinction in today’s market between inbound and outbound. And while I am NOT advocating for merging these roles, I am advocating for convergence to the whole.

    Whole product managers have a CLEAR understanding of market dynamics, messaging, positioning and channels. Whole product marketers have a CLEAR understanding of the technology, the features, the engineering constaints and trade-offs, etc. Innovation comes when great customer and understanding MEETS and EMBRACES engineering constraints and possibilities. GREAT teams meet in the middle every day, NOT just at MRD review meetings…”

    K

    • Saeed says:

      Ken

      Thanks for the comment. I’m not a fan of the “inbound/outbound” terminology or way of thinking. It’s far too simplistic and doesn’t take into account the reality of the roles.
      That said, I’m also not a fan of merging them. I’ve been in that position, and it’s very difficult for a number of reasons, one of which is scalability — of the individual and the org.
      I’m a big advocate of well defined roles and small teams of PMs, PMMs and possibly others who work together, are in constant communication, share common goals and have a common view of the market, competition etc. From there, focus becomes the differentiator with (for example) Product Marketers having a more sales/marketing focus, but not an exclusive one. It’s through this kind of collaboration of specialists that I’ve seen significant gains achieved.

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  16. Bertrand says:

    From my own experience I don’t think the reporting structure really matters. What you need is a clear definition and agreement on the roles, responsibilities and key deliverables.

    Now product managers and product marketers will work better if they both have a common outbound perspective, focused on customer success and revenues.

    • Saeed says:

      Bertrand

      Thanks for the comment. Agreed, that reporting structure shouldn’t matter. But companies are not static, and while clear definition and *agreement* on roles etc. are key, that agreement and definition changes over time, due to changes in leadership, company priorities, changes in PM/PMM staff/headcount etc.

      The best way I’ve seen to minimize this is to have them organized in well defined and closely paired teams. That’s been my experience.


  17. Saw this at the airport and waited until I got to my Hotel to respond.

    Many great comments, and my main adder is that all too often, the two individuals (or groups if in a large enough organization) are often silo’d and partitioned into organizations where collaboration is not just difficult, but actively discouraged. Sadly, I think that some of the teachings of Pragmatic Marketing help foster this behavior (unintentionally), as well as some of the Blackblot concepts. (for the record, I am not saying that I disagree with their methodologies, just that some exec’s cherry pick the lessons, and that leads to poor group formation and dynamics).

    My experience is that if you have two people and different groups (i.e. both the PM and the PMM are not in Marketing), then you have to attach them at the hip. By hook or by crook, they need to have a common mission (as mentioned by several people above) and succeed or fail together.

    Sadly, I find that it is usually an unequal partnership, and the Product Marketing Manager is more likely to be incented on the commercial success (and often with an accelerator for quicker release to market), while the Product Manager gets the shaft on bonus.variable comp, as their plan is often tied to metrics she/he has little control over.

    For this reason, I prefer to be the one person with both halves of the job. It just makes life difficult, and impossible if your business grows too large. I have yet to see a completely separate pair of groups be successful. Perhaps they exist, but it is rare.

    • Saeed says:

      Geoffrey

      Thanks for the comment. It’s pretty clear there are better and worse ways to create an organization that is both efficient and effective. Defining roles clearly, understanding objectives, dependencies etc. I work in a company that does have the right structure. Within a business unit, product managers and product marketers are counterparts working together on specific products or product areas. We share the same objectives — e.g. revenue targets for products, customer wins, etc. — and this system seems to work well. We don’t always work on exactly the same things, but we shouldn’t have to. We know what our jobs are and work together as needed. It wasn’t always this way, but now that it is, I don’t see anyone complaining loudly about the org structure. It seems to work and also seems like the obvious, logical way of structuring the roles.

      Saeed


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  20. Sarela Bliman-Cohen says:

    I’ve been in companies where this has worked very well. You don’t necessary need to be part of the same dept., but you have to work closely together. PM and PMMs share the same goal which is getting a successful product out. When you communicate and keep each other aware of what you are doing, there are no surprises. There is no clear cut between what PM do vs. PMM – it is company specific.
    Bottom line, communicating and working together will lead to success.

    • Saeed says:

      Sarela

      Agreed they don’t HAVE to be in the same dept, but it really helps. What usually happens (at least in my experience) when they are in different departments is that the heads of those departments have differing goals and thus their underlying teams have differing goals. This is particularly true in mid/large companies. That leads to differing focus and misalignment. And even if the PMs and PMMs themselves have the best intentions of working together, they are fighting a real uphill battle.

  21. Jason Dea says:

    There’s an old adage in sales that “the compensation plan will always dictate people behaviour”. I think that’s step 1 when trying to align any functional roles. Everybody needs to be aligned to the same goals, and the only way to really ensure this is with defined common objectives. Even when working with exceptional individuals it’s quite difficult to have open channels of communication unless there is trust that you are all working towards common (mutually beneficial) goals. With both organizations working on setting the vision for the product you’d think this would be the rule rather than the exception.

    • Saeed says:

      Jason

      Thanks for the comment. I completely agree WRT common goals. I’ve worked in a company where Product Marketing was in a different building from Product Management, and had completely different (sales-support oriented) goals than Product Management. Needless to say, dysfunction prevailed. In once case, a new release was completed, but there was no launch plan. PMM and PM hadn’t spoken at all. Sad.


  22. The others have hit it on the head for ANY two groups that need to work together and may overlap in function or expectation. Whether they are in the same org structure or not, if everyone knows and agrees then it reduces the likelihood of PMM become the valets to the PMs.

    • Saeed says:

      Tim

      Thanks for the comment. One other area that I’m wondering about is whether the role of Product Marketing is properly understood or defined in companies, and whether that is a problem that can be addressed.

  23. Ilya says:

    One of the more useful exercises that I’ve seen that may be applicable here is the one where both product management and product marketing sit at one table and both write down what each one expects to give and receive from the other. They first do this independently based on their own understanding, and then they actually talk through their respective lists.

    There will be disconnects, of course, but that’s precisely where both product marketing and product management need to come to an agreement regarding their roles and responsibilities. The resulting interfaces will be different for every organization, but that’s the whole idea.

  24. Ulrike says:

    It starts with knowing what the other man is doing and what kind of information the other business needs. When the understanding of the departemental needs is known, they will communicate better. Therefore we need time to communicate with others or an internal education of processes (if they do exist) might help

    • Saeed says:

      Ulrike

      Thanks for the comment. Communication is absolutely critical, and know what the business needs and knowing what others are doing are both important. That’s why I strongly advocate that these two roles be part of the same organization. Then there are no excuses. :-)

      But more seriously, it ensures that not only are they communicating etc. but also have goals and objectives that are aligned together. Without that, they will ultimately diverge in actions.


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