Did the product managers in your company
rise through the ranks, or did you recruit them? In most small to
mid-sized companies people become product managers because of their
superior product and technical knowledge. These people are your main
problem solvers and are invaluable, but they don't usually have a
marketing background. As your company grows, the expectation is that
product managers will figure out market demands, gather competitive
information, determine market share and identify ways to keep
profitable growth robust. A few of the technically oriented PMs will
respond well to this, but you might need to recruit a more strategic
thinker with less product knowledge.
Dichotomy is simply defined as a division in two. Herein lies the
dichotomy when it comes to product managers – we want them to be
specialists in their lines, so we tend to elevate our best support
personnel. But we'd also like them to have the marketing skills to
unearth growth opportunities to enable them to decide the future of
their associated lines proactively, rather than responsively. Unless
you make a concerted effort to train your PMs in marketing skills, you
can't expect them to meet these obligations. The flip side of this
comes when companies hire product managers with transferable marketing
skills, but are then disappointed by their lack of ability to absorb
the intricate nuances of complex products and applications.
What to do?
One approach to avoiding these scenarios is to differentiate between
high-maintenance product lines, which require strong technical support,
and high-growth potential lines, which require strong marketing
support. Your marketing expert is best utilized conducting focus groups
and zeroing in on customer segmentation. Meanwhile, your technical
expert focuses on sharpening specific applications.
If you need these people working alongside one another, create a
product management team and make the technical guru an applications
specialist, and the marketing whiz a market specialist. If you are a
smaller company about to promote someone to be your first product
manager, now is the time to re-think this decision and plan the future
of your PM team. This way, you won't have to restructure when you bring
in the marketing help you KNOW you'll need later.
From product manager to marketer
When do product managers become marketers? I'm often asked to define
the responsibilities of product managers and the product management
team. Management's typical answer is: they do whatever you ask of them.
There's an unasked question that is far more critical to your and their
success: what marketing activities lie beyond the scope of product
The most common misconception is that
product managers can also manage multiple channels to market. Channel
strategy and harmonization go far beyond product management. Expecting
this from your product managers is a recipe for failure. Customer
segmentation and target market strategy need to be balanced across
product and service lines, and you shouldn't expect these plans from
any single product manager. Don't think you can herd them under one
umbrella and get them to agree on a strategy either – you need to give
them an over-arching strategy, then guide them to congregate under that
Product management is the portal through which most
mid-sized companies are introduced to strategic marketing. And, it's
where they typically find themselves stretched.
Here's a simple guideline: if any of the
following areas need to extend beyond the realm of a single product
line, you need marketing oversight:
Ask yourself if you really want someone who is primarily technical to
make any of these decisions on behalf of your company. You will
probably say, "No." Now you understand the product management
dichotomy, and are better prepared to grow.