CEO CTO HR Challenges

Product Management isn’t Marketing

Sometimes you have these episodes where you are talking to different people about something and you are phased by how many of them share a common misconception of a basic concept you thought was already put in stone a while ago. That got me sceptical and I was reading up on my own opinion again, just to see that I wasn’t completely off track with saying: “Product Management isn’t marketing.” ,,, o.O ,,,

While for someone in our industry and someone paying attention to what happened since the 99 Dotcom crash, – at least for me – it appears quite obvious that there has been a massive emancipation of “product management” from “marketing”. Likely partly due to the fact that tech companies failed due to technical vision dominating market demand, which lead to technically superior products that jumped off the cliff before selling to a single customer; and due to sales-driven organizations where lots of hot air of non-defensive, non-innovative copy-cat technologies oversold themselves on their anti-disruption capability – Barnes and Noble vs. Amazon -; due to R&D-driven product launches that failed basic unit economics when sclaing – talking Iridium. (Let’s forget about WebVan or all the guys that blew their funds on Cars and Boats).

But let’s get started simple here. Yes, one key learning you can read cross the board were failures in go-to-market. People trying to sell tanks and fridges via mailorder, selling dogfood when nobody knew what the internet is. etc. Lack of market research – Marketing ! – and lack of organizational design to fit these requirements were key. Technological capability and blind dreamy vision was trumping basic defensive research.

And yes, another thing we observe throughout history is that large R&D budgets lead to completely unusable and unwanted products. Or fail to become commercially viable offerings when thinking about scale and mass production. Best example probably Iridium failing completely on unit economcis at scale, Classic failure of customer-centric development or customer development. Thank you Steve Blank.

We had visionaries thinking about how to solve basic problems of human life not only sufficiently as they were already solved, but perfectly. Just to realize that nobody wanted the problem to be solved perfectly, and was happy with a sufficient solution. Hence the term “sufficient” solution. And reason enough to reduce effort in creating solutions up front and why the entire concept of MVPs, or “minimum effort developments that lead to market buying signals” became popular. Thank you Eric Ries for the Lean Start-up Method.

Then we had a ton of whole vs total product discussions and some smart guy – I think it was Alexander Osterwalder – came up with the Business Model Canvas, that required you to apply Eric Ries’ concept of MVP not only to the actual physical/technical product, but the “whole product”. Or saying: If you can’t get key resources in your distribution chain or supply side to your platform play to work, then even the product MVP won’t help you. Just think Circuit City and the Talent Access issue. Or the seminal Dvorak vs QWERTY Keyboard …

All that stuff has nothing to do with marketing. The marketing side ends with market demand and behaviour. It might include go-to-market and sales channel preferences. But it is certainly not considering supplier and key partner resources in the process. On the business model canvas, it is the upper right side of the equation. And it doesn’t really care about design thinking. That’s just not what marketing does. And even if you are a follower of marketing management from the 80s/90s, you know it is something different.

And it has absolutely nothing to do with building an actual product. The guys that brought you the Croqs, the guy that brought your the modern snow shoe, and almost everyone alive nowadays can tell you that building a product/prototype, no matter how much technical work and innovation went into it, isn’t interesting for any investor or any customer any more. It is the entire buying, service, product and so much more experience that has to be understood, designed and strategically developed. That is nothing that your Dev team is doing for you. That’s product management.

So again, I think this article is completely unncessary for anyone that paid attention to what happened in the pas 19 years. The modern product management function is real and it is emancipated. It is the reason why we have “CPOs” as a “thing” in companies and why there was and is a craze for “product companies” over “sales companies” (who do not innovate) or “R&D companies” (who fail to meet expectations on commercialization). And why nobody on earth talks about “marketing companies” being a thing.

This isn’t saying that product management is all that is at play today. In modern network economies and in face of global talent wars, and the massive sector volatility caused by winner-takes all dynamics and unpredictability of market demand, the challenges today are higher and more interesting that just settling disputes between marketing and product management.

But it is a clear reason why even authors like this are somewhat out of fashion:

Wikipedia with its “inbound and outbound” split.

This advisor on product management.

Maybe this guy gets close:

Or this partner from Sequoia?

Thank you Product Development Management

So from my understanding, the craze behind the product organization acknowledges the need to have a strong mediating force between egos of sales and tech. It is the acknowledgement that informed and price- and impact-sensitive consumers and consumerized enterprises buy solutions to their problems only. They do not buy promises and commitments from sales reps. They do not buy technological advantages. They buy proven reliefs of pain. And they are smart enough to understand the most complex requirements that require product organizations to deliver their value. They understand the cost and value of value-added services, the life cycle and price stability defined by the competitive forces in highly dynamic and ever-changing markets. They look for the best today that will be the best in the years to come. They look for trust in product, longeivity, delivery of service and stability and fairness of price and lock-in.

Those are things that only the modern product organizations can deliver on.

Like if you agree!

Leave a Reply