Over the last week, I’ve had conversations with several people who do related but different jobs that all think their job is product marketing. I talked to a marketing communications person with a journalism background who writes papers, articles, manages a website, and believes that’s product marketing. An engineer that develops product, and occasionally talks with customers also believes he is product marketing. Designers fall into a category similar to engineers. The salesperson who meets with the customers is convinced that’s product marketing and thinks he knows all customer wants. So the question becomes, what really is product marketing?
Peter Drucker said, “The role of a company is to attract and retain customers.” He requires these customers generate revenue that support continuing operations for the company’s stakeholders. This means there’s also a financial element to product marketing. I haven’t yet had a finance person tell me they were product marketing. The key word here is yet, and I don’t work in financial industry.
The best answer comes through a position balancing across functions with all of these groups. A solid product marketing person brings together internal and external resources required to develop, maintain and grow products that address customer needs.
A salesperson builds relationships with the customer to understand their business environment including, the technology and people. The communications person polishes the product capabilities story for market viewing consistent with the company’s branding and image. The engineer and designer are more the manufacturing side to the final product. Each of these components is important and valuable to the company to service a customer.
Key performance indicators reflect how each of these roles are more accurately defined. I’ve had salespeople call, excited because they wanted a bigger price discount for a marginal account. They were quota driven instead of profit oriented. Marcom people do a fine job of generating customer interest, but don’t always understand nuances as to why the customer is interested or how the product fits the business operation. They measure themselves in numbers of leads. All too often those leads are little more than names that came to get a freebie or maybe read a paper. Designers and engineers frequently measure themselves in terms of product features, coolness, lines of code, and other things that don’t clearly address market needs.
Product marketing leads this team of groups to establish, maintain and grow a balanced product portfolio. The balance requires a profitable basket of products that address a range of opportunities in the customers’ value chain. When we first launched data products on mobile phones, we had a dozen candidates that did essentially the same thing – tell a worker about the next delivery or pick-up. To broaden opportunities, products for time records, asset management, and project management were added to the portfolio. This broader product line allowed the partners to also profit by not competing for same target customers.
The challenge extended to helping the sales team understand the differences. Where the retail channel sold commodity voice service, data solutions required deeper understanding of the applications and the customers’ industry. Product marketing translated features into customer benefits and created selection guides. The business sales teams brought back issues their customers started sharing as those customers now started to perceive us as interested in their business.
Designer/engineers brought great new ideas and capabilities to the party as technology improved. Processor, memory, display and transport improvements each expanded capabilities. Product marketing focused on what customers would pay real money to use. At times, the slow response frustrated the engineer. Other times, we had to work with customers and sales to recognize the value. Putting the mobile Internet in a field person’s phone was initially perceived as a distraction from productivity. We had to share the broader vision and value to the capability.
Product management works months or years ahead of today’s sales goal. This means bringing new technologies, practices, and capabilities into products in a timely fashion. Too early means long sales development. Too late and the market has moved on. This requires a balance across customers’ with capabilities for offerings that meet their needs, which translates to a reason to buy. Financial issues around pricing, prospects and profitability are significant enough to deserve a separate post later.
I’m interested in your thoughts and experiences in the role for product marketing.