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Product Marketing to Product Management: Why I Made the Switch


Originally published on Medium


I started my career as a Product Marketer working for Vistaprint on their Invitations and Announcements category. At the time, I had just graduated from college and had no idea that in a few years, I’d start to get obsessed with Product Management. In fact, I had no clue what a Product Manager even was and how they were different from Product Marketers.


(Want to find out HOW I made the switch from Product Marketing to Product Management? Here is my post on how to effectively network into your dream role. Sign up for my mailing list to know when other articles come out: www.Ben-Staples.com/contact)


While responsibilities can change or even overlap between Product Marketers and Managers depending on the size and culture of a company, here are the key differences (with my own opinionated commentary) I’ve seen between Product Marketing and Product Management.


1. Forecasting


Forecasting is crucial across industries for many companies. It helps you purchase inventory, understand demand, predict seasonal peaks, and allocate marketing spend.


If you love the practice of forecasting, consider Product Marketing.


For Product Marketers


I love the idea of being asked to project how we think a product line is going to do given what we know today about current run rates, future marketing campaigns, and industry trends. While I like numbers, analytics and making projections, many forecasting processes can be huge time-sucks, the results of which often have limited impact to the business or wall street.


In reality Product Marketers are often asked to unrealistically back-in to forecasts after they are given audacious and often unrealistic end profitability targets needed to justify a certain amount of investment or a target share price. The approach of being given a target and being asked to make up a story to get us there removes all sanity from forecasting and turns it into a huge waste of time. This isn’t always the case, but Product Marketers are often set up for failure here.


For Product Managers


Product Managers also need the skill set of forecasting, but its application can be significantly different, and the results of those forecasts have a distinct impact on the team or organization. Tools like Cost of Delay or other predictors of future functionality performance can be used to forecast business returns or interactions.


While sometimes these forecasts can be used for Stakeholder Management that in turn ladder up to Product Marketing uses, most of the time these forecasts are often used within the team to help prioritization across many great opportunities. This gives the team the freedom to use this forecast in the way they need, baking in as realistic assumptions as possible. To that end, Product Management forecasting is a lot more forgiving than when necessary as a Product Marketer.


2. Influence Without Authority


For Product Marketers

Product Marketers and their teams are generally not equipped to actually execute directly on anything in an organization, meaning they have to rely completely on influence without authority (a great book by the way) to drive change in the organization. Depending on how you look at this, it could be an incredibly motivating challenge, or a brick wall. For me, my motivation when faced with this challenge depended on the project, goal, season, phase of the moon, or time of day.


Here are a few examples of times when myself or others around me had to flex their influence without authority biceps as a Product Marketer:

  1. A product marketer wants to organize a go to market campaign around a seasonal peak they see imminently approaching for their product line that has historically driven significant value to the business. To get that marketing campaign live, the Product Marketer can’t just wave a magic wand and get it done, but has to approach the marketing organization, or in some cases individual marketing channel leaders (email, paid search, affiliate, broadcast, etc) and get them to one by one, dedicate some of their valuable marketing spend to this cause.

  2. The Product Marketer sees the need to launch a new product. If it’s a physical product, they need to advocate manufacturing or purchasing to allocate valuable resources away from current projects, and on to this “new hotness” the Product Marketer has described. This new product is almost never guaranteed, so this Marketer needs to both craft a compelling story, and do considerable market / user research.

  3. On the other side for a new software product, the Product Marketer has to advocate to the Product Managers in our organization to prioritize a brand new idea with their scrum team. Don’t you think that the PM already has a rich backlog of great ideas they could execute against? How hard do you think it would be to successfully get them to prioritize the launch of a new product from an unproven source? That is right, very hard, meaning that a significant portion of the Product Marketer’s energy is poured into getting that PM to prioritize your idea, rather than spending that energy on coming up with new great concepts, or solidifying the strategy of the product line overall

For Product Managers



While a well equipped Product team should be set up with the team members for the end to end delivery of value to the customer, in reality the majority of scrum teams have dependencies across different product teams. Depending on the size of your organization’s code base, engineering familiarity across every part of an eCommerce site generally isn’t possible without help from other teams; even if you’re working off of highly decentralized microservice architecture.


Because of these cross team dependencies, it is even more critical for Product Managers to have heavy influence at higher levels of the organization. They need to be able to manage stakeholder expectations and resource allocation effectively.


As a result, thought alignment is incredibly important across product teams. Check out this article on The 1 Key Action You Can Take to Drive Immediate Alignment in Your Product Org!


3. Different End Results


The final result of what a Product Marketer versus a Product Manager produces can be one of the biggest differences between these two roles.


For Product Marketers

Having a marketing focus often means less of a “concrete” product. If a Product Marketer is successful, you’ll ask questions like, did the product category strategy brought to life by the Product Marketer drive great YoY growth and trounce expectations for growth? This end result is awesome, and is great to show a nice return on investment to the organization, but what has this done for the company in the long term?


A successfully executed Go To Market is an incredible thing in the short term for an organization, but in the long term would that successful Go To Market precipitate as much value to the business as a new feature?


At the same time as a Product Marketer for Vistaprint, while I worked on less clearly defined website features, I did work with manufacturing to bring new physical products to life. Depending on what brings you fulfillment in your professional life, this kind of activity could definitely drive significant work satisfaction as it did for me.


For Product Managers

To me, nothing is more exciting than coming up with a new great idea, getting it in front of customers for feedback, delivering an MVP, and then watching to see how the market reacts and how the company is able to monetize it.


Growing a product line or feature from nothing to something is incredibly fulfilling for me. If you’ve done your job right as a Product Manager, this new feature should be able to thrive on its own independently, then built on with future iterations.


4. Marketing Activities

For Product Marketers


One of the most important responsibilities of a Product Marketer is to lead Go To Market planning. A successful marketing strategy can make or break a product line and even company. In most medium to large sized organizations, this marketing effort spans across numerous teams and is a significant undertaking that can drive considerable value for the business.


Looking back on my time as a Product Marketer, I enjoyed the end to end Go To Market process, but also remember finding myself in hour long meetings with rich discussion around headlines and imagery that would be sent out in one individual email to a portion of Vistaprint’s customer base. This is incredibly valuable work, but it made me realize I wanted to invest my time more in building tools that could scale farther, features, or products that would leverage my time to drive significant value to the business.


For Product Managers

While it will strongly depend on the product or feature you are focused on, Product Managers will have less interaction with Marketing teams than a Product Marketer. Product Managers should be well versed in the structure of the marketing organization, understanding what different marketing teams get excited about and what metrics they are focused on, and should work to get feedback from what customers react to the most (I.E. Google Paid Search customers react very strongly to XYZ formats of product pricing, so when we launch our new product pages we should make sure to enable that kind of call out).


Now that we’ve gone through those high level differences in key components of responsibility, here are some of the core key reasons I decided to take the next step and make the switch from Product Marketing to Product Management.

  1. I wanted to get more technical.

It’s something that has always interested me and I found tech more and more appealing each day!


2. I wanted to work on a team that was setup for end to end success.


While I discussed the fact that both Product Marketers and Managers have to influence without authority, a properly setup Agile Product Team should have everyone needed to deliver an end to end product on their own. This means a lot more speed, autonomy, and freedom which sounds like fun to me! Because Product Marketing structures are a lot more fluid, this can lead to understaffed or highly distributed teams.


3. I wanted to build things and see them grow.


I had the chance to do this as a Product Marketer at Vistaprint bringing physical products to life, and wanted to continue this but apply what I learned to software.


4. I wanted to identify new ideas.


From what I’d seen, this would be a lot easier on a more autonomous team; something that indexed higher on the Product Management side of things.


5. I wanted to talk to the customer more.

As a Product Manager, it is in the job description!



Did I have fun as a Product Marketer?


Yes.


Are Product Marketers essential for the organization?


100%


Do I feel satisfied in the impact I was able to have during my time as a Product Marketer?


Definitely.


Do I feel even more satisfaction with the impact I can drive in the organization now that I’m a Product Manager?


Yep!


Will I stop asking myself questions?


Sure


I know, I know, I’ve got you convinced. Both of these roles sound awesome, and Product Management sounds awesome-er. HOW did I make the switch?


Way ahead of you reader. Here is my article on the ways to effectively network into your dream role in Product. Want to know when my next article comes out? Sign up for my mailing list at www.Ben-Staples.com


Questions, comments, or concerns? Let me know!


A note on COVID:

These are challenging times. I personally was selected for furlough at Trunk Club because of the pandemic, but am fortunate enough to have been asked to return to work. If you are still lucky enough to be employed, don’t let working from home stop you from thinking about what you want out of your career. It’s during these strange times that we often have more room to think.


About the author:

Ben Staples has over 6 years of product management and product marketing eCommerce experience. He is currently employed at Trunk Club as a Senior Product Manager responsible for driving engagement through the Trunk Club Native App. Previously, Ben was a Product Manager at Vistaprint and founded the Vistaprint Product Management guild with over 40 members.


I do product management consulting! Interested in finding out more? Want to get notified when my next product article comes out? Interested in getting into Product Management but don’t know how? Want even more book recommendations?! www.Ben-Staples.com/contact

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