According to Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing, “The strategic role of product management is to be ‘messenger of the market,’ delivering market and product information to the departments that need facts to make decisions.” As the role and importance of product managers have grown during the last decade, more product managers are shifting from marketing and sales departments to multiple functional areas responsible for defining as well as delivering products. From sales to design, product teams spearhead the activities needed to create, develop and deliver products and services to the marketplace.
Product Management Functions
Product management can be useful for marketing, engineering or sales depending on the organization’s industry and needs. As you build and structure your product team, it helps to know how the product team supports each function and when it’s appropriate to shift product roles to other areas of the organization.
Some of the main functions of product teams include:
- Developing business-use cases and market reports that identify and quantify your company’s issues and challenges
- Defining standard procedures for developing, iterating and launching products, and facilitating the development of those products from conception to creation
- Manage the creation of sales, branding and marketing collateral, including a company website, product brochures and paraphernalia, price lists and competitive analyses
- Training sales employees on the latest product features and market developments
Technical Product Management
It’s beneficial to build and structure product teams under the marketing umbrella when a company’s marketing initiatives are to both define product requirements and communicate their benefits and functionality to prospective customers. Consumer-product organizations and retailers tend to view product management as a marketing role.
On the other hand, business-to-business (B2B) organizations, particularly in the enterprise technology space, often view product management as a technical role. If your business is in manufacturing, technological development or another technical industry, product managers will work closely with development and engineering teams to help facilitate communication between their team and the business and marketing sides of the company. The product team is often responsible for producing wireframes, prototypes and roadmaps to help technical teams build out and iterate on their products.
Regardless if product managers fall under marketing, sales or engineering, your product team should focus on how current and new product offerings can better serve your customer base. Each role within your product management team should be analyzing, testing and communicating directly with customers and identifying potential market obstacles as you prepare to release the next round of products and services.
In some cases, product managers find themselves supporting marketing and sales personnel by conducting product demos and showcasing product features during sales presentations. The product manager effectively becomes a sales engineer or, in the case of marketing, a technical resource for content creation and development.
Because product management tasks vary widely, as your company grows, you may want to split your product management team into two parts: one group focused on developing requirements for future products and another group devoted to supporting marketing and sales for current products.
Ultimately, as your company grows over time, your product management team might begin to customize sales and marketing tools according to the regions you serve. Large companies with regional sales teams divvy their product managers geographically so they can create specific product materials and programs tailored to their region’s needs and goals.
Now that you know what your product team is responsible for and how they fit within your sector and organization, it’s time to hire talent to fill open positions. The following are the roles most integral to your product team’s success.
VP of Product
Generally, the VP of Product (or Product Marketing) is an experienced product management executive who ensures that the company’s product strategy aligns with customer needs and the overall market. Your VP should lay the foundation for building a strong product team as your company expands. He or she also contributes regularly to management decisions regarding business partnerships, marketing channels, product pricing and licensing, and user requirements.
Additionally, the VP of Product makes sure that customer feedback and requests are communicated effectively to product development and repackaged for customers. The VP is also responsible for crafting and executing product strategy and building relationships with accounting, development, engineering and sales teams. For example, the VP may work with accounting to revise your company’s customer contract or to approve talking points for how marketing and sales teams should communicate product benefits to the market. In technical companies, they will serve as the primary liaison between the engineers and the marketing side of the company, making sure that the goals of both teams are aligned.
Product Managers are mid-level professionals that report to the VP of Product, VP of Product Marketing or (for more technical roles) the VP of Product Engineering. Although Product Managers are not part of the senior management team, they’re typically responsible for researching technological developments and trends, and competitor strengths and weaknesses. Product Managers help create product and business plans that identify market opportunities and collaborate with multiple roles and departments to ensure the company’s various functions are aligned with product strategy.
Because product managers handle such a broad range of responsibilities, you should create product manager roles that focus on technical versus business issues, inbound marketing versus outbound marketing activities, or short-term tactics versus long-term strategy. Breaking down product manager roles into specific areas will allow team members to dedicate their focus to developing specific products and product lines, as well as defining metrics that accurately measure their product’s success.
These are typically junior roles within a product management team. Product Analysts hold anywhere from two to five years of work experience, though this could be less for smaller companies or if the analyst has a master’s degree.
The Product Analyst or Coordinator helps create product documentation and sales collateral for sales and technical presentations. He or she is also responsible for updating databases, collecting internal and external requests for requirements and creating business-use cases. The Product Analyst or Coordinator may organize training sessions that educate staff on product messaging and prepare senior executives for speaking engagements by sending them sales collateral and product documents. A Product Associate is typically the most junior role and will take on various jobs and tasks to support the product team
As with any company department, your product team will evolve and grow as your customers demand more sophisticated and well-rounded products. By recognizing that product management is essential to both the business and the technical side of your team, you will ensure the development and delivery of high-quality products to a greater number of customers.