Product Marketing vs Product Management: What’s the Difference?
Updated: Jun 1
By Rowan Noronha, PMC Founder and VP of Product Marketing at Zix
And Chris Gillespie, Editor in Chief at Find A Way Media
1. Failure to launch
The 1960s space race began with Sputnik and culminated in an American flag fluttering on the moon. It’s common to think of this as a contest between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., but what many people don’t know is there was a third player—Europe. As early as 1960, a consortium of European scientists formed a third lunar launch program with equally lofty plans. Though, as is probably already clear to you, its efforts were almost entirely forgotten.
There is a reason. The European project committed one of the largest engineering mistakes in history when it formed two separate engineering organizations: One to build the launch system and one to build the shuttle.
This is an article about the differences between product marketing and product management, and we’ll get there. But the differences, the similarities, and the inevitable conflict between these two archetypal roles have been documented since time immemorial. The problem is this: A ship’s builder and its navigator are destined to feud. And when they don’t feud, they tend to seriously disagree.
2. Careful division of labor
To explain how important divisions of labor are to modern society, consider the chicken sandwich. Entertainer and educator Andy George once assembled a chicken sandwich entirely from scratch, including growing his own wheat. It took him six months and cost $1,500. Business units and silos exist to foster specialization and make everyone more efficient. The challenge isn’t dividing things up. We humans love dividing. The challenge is architecting a useful tradeoff of responsibilities and awareness so when the disparate teams meet, what they’ve been working on fits together.
The European lunar program divided its labor entirely. And predictably, the shuttle failed upon assembly. Not only did the launch system feature quirks that made it incompatible with the shuttle, built hundreds of miles away by people who spoke another language, but the rocket itself couldn’t be pieced together. Different nations had assembled different stages of the rocket and had not standardized measurements. Some components were built using the metric system and others using imperial. Bolts didn’t fit screws. It was a mess.
In 1972, with the European shuttle still rusting on terra firma and with an American flag collecting space dust on the moon, the European organization dissolved in political infighting.
There is a lesson here.
Product managers and product marketers are not unlike the two halves of the European space agency, in that they are often divided entirely.
The roles are similar on the surface—like two cousins who look alike, sound alike, and, embarrassingly, both sport the initials “P.M.” Everyone would think they’d solve challenges similarly. But they have different objectives and so don’t communicate as clearly as they should. It’s truly a shame because both functions are necessary and when they work together, SiriusDecisions finds companies generate 19% faster revenue growth and are 15% more profitable.
We believe that a more perfect working relationship could come down to having clearer definitions. “The problem is often insufficiently defined roles,” says Fred Studer, CMO of TIBCO. “Either both teams think they own it, or both think the other owns it. If you write those job descriptions at the same time and design them to interlock, you solve many problems.”
Let’s begin with the basics:
Product managers: Ensure customers get what they want.
A product manager is responsible for the product’s success in the market, primarily by crafting a product that satisfies customers’ needs (both buyers and users). They oversee the product’s creation from ideation to design, construction, growth, and eventually, possibly, sunset.
Product marketers: Ensure the business gets what it wants.
A product marketer is also responsible for the product’s success in the market, primarily by understanding the market, customers, buyers, and competitors. They’re concerned not just with what users say they want, but with identifying profitable customer segments, buyers worth serving, and the strategic narratives people want to hear. Product marketers find the audience and tell the story.
Product managers build the space shuttle. Product marketers plan the flight. Product ensures the astronauts will survive, marketing picks the flag and the place to plant it.
As Meagen Eisenberg of TripActions explains: "The foundational pillars of product marketing are about understanding the market, taking the product to market (the story, messaging, pricing, packaging, etc.), sales enablement (pitch deck, qualification, proof points, tools, objection handling, competitive insights, etc.) and marketing enablement (persona, positioning, analyst relations, and content)."
Now, between product marketing and product management there is a lot of necessary overlap. Each has to work in lockstep with the other. Otherwise, like the European space agency, their work won’t fit upon launch. Below is a chart of how they’re traditionally described, which shows mostly differences.
But in reality, there’s greater overlap. Otherwise, one team orders its bolts in the metric system and quite literally screws things up. So instead of the above delineation, we prefer the one below, which shows areas of overlap, but also areas of cooperation.
When you view things differently, they’re really two halves of a whole. And unlike the two halves of the European space agency, they’re engaged in continuous conversation.
So how do you make these responsibilities actionable and interoperable? How do you ensure that each knows what the other is responsible for during the launch? All you need is a pen and a spreadsheet.
3. Making the division practical
Acting on the above division of labor takes two steps. First, you jointly agree on responsibilities, then you put it all into a spreadsheet where everyone—even those on other teams—can see precisely who is responsible for what and who is accountable for what.
Step #1: Define
Write a standard definition that clarifies the value each function provides. Feel free to adjust and borrow these:
Product management understands the user and guides product strategy, development, and lifecycle. They are the customer advocate. Secondarily, they understand the market, own pricing, and contribute to the go-to-market.
Product marketing understands the buyer and the market, guides product narrative, and enables the revenue team. They are the market visionary. Secondarily, they have input on the product direction, decide the go-to-market strategy, and execute launches.
Step #2: Model
Establish a spreadsheet product and marketing management model. There are many, but we prefer the one popularized by SiriusDecisions.
"One of SiriusDecisions' most popular models, which was adopted by hundreds of companies, is what we called the Product Marketing and Management Model,” says Jay Gaines, former CMO of Forrester, SiriusDecisions and then lead analyst working with CMOs. “The primary purpose of this model is to lay out the specific activities, deliverables, and interlocks that product marketing and management are each responsible for when bringing an offering to market. Its popularity is a clear result of how important alignment between these functions is."
In the model below, all responsibilities for launching and managing a product are laid out in chronological order on the X-axis, and the areas of responsibility or accountability demonstrate what they own and where they collaborate.
In this chart, there’s a difference between user needs and buyer needs. This is an increasingly important distinction in the age of product-led growth, when solving issues that annoy users is the key to growth. In previous eras where sales and marketing led, the needs of executives and economic buyers mattered above all. But today, when users are purchasing and launching more software on their own, especially in B2B, it’s vital that someone speaks for each. Users have to like it. But buyers have to sign.
Product requirements versus market requirements
In this model, there’s a clear distinction between product requirements versus market requirements. Astronauts may want a space shuttle with enough fuel to reach Mars and a redundant set of every piece of equipment, but what’s the destination? Just to the International Space Station? It’s only through dialog between product management and product marketing that the team arrives at a mutual fit.
Who owns launches?
A launch is marketing’s show, but the product team is the star. Product needs to have the shuttle ready, and marketing needs to have the launch pad prepped, rocket boosters fueled, and everyone at the helm and control center present and well-caffeinated. Product ensures that the features work, that they can be rolled out to existing customers, and that they’re intuitive. Marketing uncovers the winning narrative, creates the content, ensures demand gen and PR are prepped with campaigns, and ensures sales knows what’s coming. Together, they train the business, but most importantly, the sales, and success teams.
Launches are never perfect. But well-divided teams get close. Product marketing ensures it by keeping a careful launch checklist:
Is the product ready to be launched? Any caveats?
Who is the buyer and the audience?
What are the launch goals?
What are the launch campaigns? Do they set appropriate expectations?
Has sales been told seven times in seven ways?
Are customer success managers ready to field questions?
It is a truism across ages that top teams don’t need a lot of tech. The team behind NASA’s Apollo 11 mission put a person on the moon using a shuttle whose computing power was 100,000 times less powerful than an iPhone. It was all planned by a team of physicists and mathematicians using graph paper and slide rules. Similarly, successful product launches in business are about the team, not the tools. A product that effectively solves a real problem in an effective way is always newsworthy to the people who matter.
Like the Apollo 11 team, great product and marketing management teams are cohesive. Together, they build or possess:
Great go-to-market strategies: They have an architecture for how offerings are expressed, determine the market’s requirements, and produce competitive analysis.
Deep buyer knowledge: They understand their personas and how they buy to inform campaigns, content, innovation. They segment, size, and align on targets.
Messaging that resonates: They craft effective audience-centric messaging and value propositions. They interface and align with greater enterprise-wide content processes for both sellers and buyers, with a focus on content effectiveness.
Alignment among product, marketing sales, and success: These teams tear down fences and unite teams irrespective of silos.
The capacity to sell: They arm sellers and marketers with the content they need to win.
T-minus five to product launch
America won the space race because its space agency NASA presented on a united front. One organization built the shuttle and the launch system, and they coordinated famously. It can be the same for product management and product marketing, so long as each knows exactly what stages of the rocket they’re responsible or accountable for.
Agree on definitions. Define your model. Get everyone on the same page. Do that, and there’s nothing between you and the stars.
Enjoying this topic? It’s part two of a multi-part series in the run-up to our 2020 summit, #SurviveThrive Live, where we’ll hear from 41 product marketing leaders at companies like Google Cloud, TripActions, TIBCO, IBM Systems, and LinkedIn. Sign up today to get your free pass and bring your whole team.