A common topic when listening to B2B clients is the challenge of understanding how to define the roles of a product manager and a marketing manager and how they should work together within an organisation. Understanding the differences, and sometimes overlaps, is important to continue to move the organisation forward. Combining the roles is possible, but with separated roles value may be generated by managing the tension at the integration points.
The Marketing Manager
The primary role of the marketing manager can be thought of as understanding the needs of the market, defining needs-based market segments, choosing which segments to serve, and how the company’s products & services may most effectively meet the needs of the chosen segments. The Go-to-Market strategy may also be developed by marketing.
The Product Manager
The product manager is likewise market-back in this thinking but must tension it against the realities and constraints of the business and integrate the multiple perspectives across the business. The challenge is that the specifics of the supply and customer sides of the equation depend on the nature of the business, the lifecycle of the products, the roles of R&D and marketing, the difficulty of production, in essence, knowing what is the limiting factor — the bottleneck to company performance.
For example, businesses with short product lifecycles, such as software, will need product managers to focus on the front end of innovation with competencies in understanding customer and market needs. Longer cycle, or commoditised, asset intense businesses, perhaps in chemicals, will need competencies in extracting maximum value from the product in the extended maturity and decline phases. This will demand specialised financial skills to optimise profitability.
Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether a business should organise with a product management focus, a market management focus, or both?
A fundamental job of a manager is to manage trade-offs, and this provides some insight as to whether product or market managers skills might be preferred. Charles Ames therefore suggested that the relationship between products and markets might inform this decision. If multiple products serve one market, then product management focus should be given to manage the trade-offs. Conversely if a single product serves multiple markets, then a marketing focus is better positioned to manage the trade-offs.
A single manager can handle either of these roles as long as the relatively simple product : market configurations exist. However, as the business grows there will the relationship between products and markets will become more complex as shown in the figure below.
Product Manager, Marketing Manager or both?
With a product manager focus, understanding and exploiting the complexities of multiple markets becomes too complex for a single manager. Growth opportunities might be limited as natural conservatism focuses on existing markets rather than new markets. Even in existing markets there may not be adequate focus on trends and changing market needs.
Meanwhile with a market manager focus it becomes difficult, if not impossible to appreciate the drivers of profitability across the product lines and integrate with other functions including technology and supply chain to optimise returns.
In one case study where two business units serving different markets shared the same production facility in a materials company. Each was allocated 50% of the production time as their revenues were comparable. However, not only were the profit abilities of the businesses different, but one was also short of production capacity whilst the other was not. The lack of effective integration between the business units sharing the asset was damaging company profits. A product manager was required to manage this integration.
At some point in the company growth the need to separate the roles of product and market manager may become apparent. There are many ways for these functions to exist together in an organisation structure, ideally driven by business needs. There may be reluctance to separate roles for fear of creating organisational tension. Perhaps it would better to value the tension at the intersects as the opportunity for innovation? Combining the roles into one manager risks losing this productive spark.
Arkaro can facilitate the change management
The prize is attractive, but challenges recognised. It may well require external support from Arkaro to facilitate the needed change management, coach individuals and teams, as well as first defining and then transferring the required product and market management technical skills.
 « Product or Market Manager – a dual approach to the dilemma” B Charles Ames, Harvard Business Review 1971
With over 25 years of experience Mark has global line management and consultancy experience across innovation, product management, marketing, sales and supply chain built on strong analytical capabilities and business acumen.
A 6 Sigma Black Belt, Mark was internal business consultant and productivity business leader in DuPont covering a range of industries including advanced materials, agriculture & speciality chemicals and nutrition & health.
Mark is based in the Geneva, Switzerland area.