Who Needs Product Management?

By Barbara Nelson
September 03, 2008

Product management is a well-understood role in virtually every industry except technology. In the last ten years, the product management role has expanded its influence in technology companies yet we continue to hear the question, 'Who needs product management?'


Product Management identifies a market problem, quantifies the opportunity to make sure it’s big enough to generate profit, and then articulates the problem to the rest of the company. We communicate the market opportunity to the executive team with business rationale for pursuing the opportunity including financial forecasts and risk assessment. We communicate the problem to Development in the form of market requirements; we communicate to Marketing Communications using positioning documents, one for each type of buyer; we support the sales effort by defining a sales process supported by the requisite sales tools so that the customer can choose the right products and options.

If you don’t want to be market-driven, you don’t need product management. Some companies will continue to believe that customers don’t know their problems. Some companies believe that they have a role in furthering the science and building the “next great thing.” These companies don’t need product management—they only need project management, someone to manage the budgets and schedules. But these companies also need to reexamine their objectives. Science projects cannot be made into products in the short-term. Don’t expect revenues if your company is focused on the “R” in Research and Development. Product management can guide you in the “D” in R&D—the development of technology into problem-solving products.

Strategic sales?

There are two ways of using sales people in a company: there’s selling and there’s “not their job.” When we invite sales people for guidance on events or product features, we’re asking them to stop selling and start focusing on “not their job.” Assessing marketing programs or product feature sets or proposed services or pricing are all “not selling” and therefore “not their job.” We invite sales people to help us because they know more about the market than the people at corporate do. But the VP of Sales does not pay sales people to be strategic. She pays them to sell the product. If sales people want to be involved in these activities, they should transfer into Product Management; I’m sure there’ll be an opening soon.

In the classic 4Ps (product, promotion, price, place), sales people are the last P, not the first. We want them to be thinking weeks ahead, not years ahead. We want them selling what we have on the price list now, not planning what we ought to have.

Instead, we should rely on Product Management to focus on next year and the year after. To be thinking many moves ahead in the roadmap instead of only on the current release.

Product management is a game of the future. Product managers who know the market can identify and quantify problems in a market segment. They can assess the risk and the financials so we can run the company like a business. They can communicate this knowledge to the departments in the company that need the information so that we can build products and services that actually solve a known market problem—so that we can expand our customer base profitably.

Product management is the key to running your business like a business instead of a hobby.

Why are we Pragmatic Marketing?

People sometimes ask why the company is named Pragmatic Marketing. The “pragmatic” moniker should make sense: we offer practical, no-nonsense solutions to the problems facing technology product managers.

It’s the term “marketing” that throws people.

In technology, there are two definitions of marketing:

1) the market experts and business leaders for the product---or-- 2) the t-shirt department. As quoted in this article, Peter Drucker defines marketing as “to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him.” We use this classical definition of marketing.

Pragmatic Marketing was formed in 1993 to provide product marketing training and consulting to technology firms by focusing on strategic, market-driven techniques. Our training courses emphasize business-oriented definition of market problems, resulting in reduced risk and faster product delivery and adoption.

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About the Authors

  • Barbara Nelson

    Pragmatic Marketing, Inc. has continuously delivered thought leadership in technology product management and marketing since it was founded in 1993.Today, we provide training and present at industry events around the world, conduct the industry’s largest annual survey and produce respected publications that are read by more than 100,000 product management and marketing professionals. Our thought-leadership portfolio includes the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, e-books, blogs, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, The Pragmatic Marketer magazine and the bestseller “Tuned In.”

    To learn more about our courses and join the growing international community of more than 80,000 product management and marketing professionals trained by Pragmatic Marketing, please click here.

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