What is a Product Manager?

6 mins read

I work with a lot of clients who want to build some kind of digital solution or software product to solve a business problem. A lot of what I do for clients falls into the category of being a “hired gun” product manager.

In the past, software development and the packaging of a product as a go-to-market effort have been conducted inside of silos – even in startup teams. In this era, the emergence of the product manager as the combined competency gives businesses an advantage.

Of course I am biased, but especially when it comes to technology companies, product management is an essential role in every organization – including the smallest of startups.

At very large consumer goods companies, the brand manager is typically considered the “CEO” of the product itself. This role is usually responsible for the strategy, the product roadmap and feature definitions for the product or product line. In many cases, the role is also responsible for marketing, sales forecasting, and even profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities.

Good product managers will analyze the market and competition, and will establish a product vision that differentiates the company from the competition based on the unique value proposition.

Product managers may be involved in a lot of activities ranging from the most strategic to the very tactical – and in agile organizations they can take on cross-functional leadership that bridges the gaps within the organization. These gaps are usually between engineering teams, sales and marketing, and customer support.

Product Manager vs. Product Marketing Manager

In larger organizations, the product manager has the responsibility of defining the “why”, “what”, and the “when” for the product or product line the engineering and development team builds.

This is distinct from the product marketing manager, who takes on the responsibility of communicating those “why”, “what”, and “when” messages to the marketplace itself.

Because of the nature of the two distinct efforts, the product manager and the product marketing manager must be in constant synchronization when it comes to understanding the customers, the marketplace, and the product itself. If a product is successful, these roles must work hand-in-hand – and in smaller organizations, indeed these two functions may be executed by the same person.

Product Vision

A product manager is typically responsible for establishing a strong vision for the product, and the resulting strategy.

One of the most important aspects is the need to clearly communicate the business value to the development team so there’s a broad understanding of the intent behind building the new product or version of an existing product.

The product manager is the owner of the strategy behind the development roadmap, and works directly with product engineering to guide in the creation the features and functions. On the other hand, a product marketing manager will define the market position and communication strategy within the context of the overall product direction and strategy.

This involves bridging the gap between the sales team, customers, partners, and market influencers who drive opinion about products in the marketplace. It also requires more effort in the area of competitive analysis and market research.

Product Definition

A product manager must define the various features and requirements for the development team to create and deliver the completed product to market. Building the timeline between the “what” of the feature definitions, and the “when” of calendar time frame for delivery is essential for executive leadership and financial planning.

The marketing aspect requires communication all of those various benefits of the features by translating them into focused messaging.

This may mean tactical activities like demonstrating the product via trade shows or webinars, technical pre-sales presentations to customers and prospects, and even creating marketing collateral and overseeing the development of online marketing funnels.

While the two aspects of these roles may differ, and indeed may even be separate job functions in larger organizations, they intersect with each other in a very necessary way to deliver a successful product to the market.

  • Without a strong product manager, the development team can be very confused about the features and requirements they’re being tasked to build and deliver.
  • Without a strong product marketing manager role in place, the translation of those features into customer-facing market messaging can be weak, causing lower market acceptance and product sales.

Whether these are distinctly separate roles, or combined into a single function, a product manager is essential to the overall success of any product launch into the market. Without a strong product owner, the product team is unclear about the features and requirements they need to deliver.

Without an amazing product marketing manager, sales and the market itself can end up being confused about the real value the product delivers, and ultimately why it’s important to the business.


Michael Hiles

CEO 10XTS, INTJ, chaotic good, PDP/11 in '79 (THAT kid), info architect, Milton Friedman, data science, semantics, epistemology, coffee snob, OG hip hop

Previous Story

Is Your Marketing Process Broken?

Next Story

Hey marketing professionals, you must learn software development

Latest from Michael Hiles