In the fast-paced and ever-evolving world of tech, creating and delivering successful products is crucial for businesses to thrive. Two critical roles that contribute significantly to the product development and marketing process are product managers (PMs) and product marketing managers (PMMs). While the roles are complementary and require similar skill sets, there are key nuances between them: the understanding of which can lead to swifter, more strategic career planning, or simply more coordinated and productive collaboration with your colleagues. In this blog, we'll explore the primary differences between PMs and PMMs and further explain their distinct responsibilities and areas of expertise.
All About Product Managers
First and foremost, product managers are hard to define — which is one of the reasons they overlap so much with other roles. Everyone goes about product management differently, and responsibilities vary as widely as do the intricacies of a tech product. That said, many product managers orient their work around a few key pillars and indictors of success, which we’ve detailed here.
Most basically, a product manager plays a crucial role in overseeing the development and lifecycle of a product. To do this, they need to develop deep knowledge of users and customers; have a firm grasp of data reporting and analysis; and a clear opinion and perspective on the future of the industry.
PM’s will often begin their product development process by conducting market research, reviewing data from past builds, and collaborating with cross-functional teams to identify how an idea can translate into an answered need. For instance, a product manager working on a mobile banking app might conduct user interviews and analyze market trends to identify features that improve the user experience, such as biometric authentication or budgeting tools. They would then work with engineers, designers, and other stakeholders to prioritize these features and incorporate them into the product roadmap. (For an in-depth look at a day-in-the-life of a Product Manager, check out this video, from a PM in tech who shares her career journey on TikTok). Throughout this process, PMs are weighing a combination of data, inspiration, and research to establish three primary goals: value (is this improving customer experience?), usability (what are the necessary design requirements?), and feasibility (can this be done?).
Once the PM has defined this roadmap, they will begin the test phase, which often breaks down into “discovery” and “delivery.” Discovery simplifies to prototyping — building different versions of the final product that won’t scale, but provide valuable information to the end result. Delivery, then, becomes the product: it will succeed, scale, and ultimately be passed to the product marketing managers to experience a life external to that of the product team.
Finally, once a product has been delivered, PMs are also responsible for gathering and analyzing user feedback. They rely on user data, analytics, and user testing to make informed decisions about product improvements and enhancements. For instance, if a PM notices through user feedback that customers are having difficulties navigating a software interface, they might work closely with the design team to iterate and improve the user interface to enhance usability. PMs are also responsible for monitoring the product's performance and success metrics, such as user engagement, conversion rates, and customer satisfaction, to identify areas for improvement and guide future product iterations.
It’s important, also, to underscore collaboration and communication as key aspects of a product manager's role. PMs work closely with cross-functional teams, including engineers, designers, marketers, and sales representatives, to ensure a cohesive and successful product launch. When launching a new product or feature, a PM would coordinate with the marketing team to develop a go-to-market strategy, including messaging, positioning, and promotional activities. They would also collaborate with the sales team to provide them with the necessary product knowledge, training, and marketing collateral to effectively sell the product. Throughout the product development process, a PM acts as a bridge, ensuring alignment and efficient communication to deliver a product that meets customer needs and drives business growth.
For more insight on product management, check out the book Inspired by Marty Cagan.
Understanding Product Marketing Managers
Product marketing managers, on the other hand, play a vital role in driving the success of a product by effectively promoting it to the target audience. Often known as the “voice of the customer” or even the “CMO of the product,” they are responsible for representing customer interests and values during the product discovery, roadmapping, delivery, and go-to-market.
In discovery phase, PMMs excel in creating compelling messaging and positioning strategies that effectively communicate the value of the product to the target market. They collaborate closely with the product management team to understand the product's features, benefits, and differentiators, translating them into clear and persuasive messaging. This also requires connecting with the marketing and communication teams to begin developing marketing campaigns, sales materials, and content that align with the overall product strategy.
As the product is reaching its final stages, PMMs develop go-to-market strategies for new product launches or updates. PMMs create comprehensive plans that outline the product launch timeline, marketing initiatives, pricing strategies, and sales enablement activities.
Go-to-market is the product phase often most strongly associated with PMMs. People in this role ensure that all marketing efforts are aligned with the product's messaging and positioning. They collaborate with the marketing and communication teams to create impactful marketing collateral, such as product brochures, websites, videos, and social media campaigns. PMMs also play a crucial role in training the sales team, equipping them with the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively sell the product.
And finally, post-launch, product marketing managers keep pulse of market dynamics and gather customer insights to identify emerging trends and opportunities. Similar to Product Managers, they will also gather user feedback and data on product performance to identify customer satisfaction, usage patterns, and areas for improvement. The key difference here is that Product Marketing Managers collect primarily external insights; whereas Product Managers analyze internal ones. Ultimately, both sets of feedback are fed into the Product Management cycle to inform future enhancements and product cycles.
In sum, PMMs are critical in bridging the gap between the product development and marketing teams, ensuring that the product's unique value is effectively communicated, and marketing initiatives are aligned with the overall product strategy. Some great resources on how to succeed as Product Marketing Manager are included in this blog, including one of the top-recommended books of the industry, Hooked, by Nir Eyal.
Where PMs and PMMs Intersect
Product managers and product marketing managers overlap across three key themes, including user engagement, feedback evaluation, and go-to-market.
Both roles interact directly with users to inform product decisions. PMs engage directly through several methods, such as interviews, surveys, and usability testing. They seek to understand user needs, pain points, and gather insights that drive product improvements. PMMs also engage with users to gather feedback; but focus more on the product's messaging, positioning, and overall market fit. Both of these angles shape the product’s ultimate direction and launch.
After collecting this feedback, both PMs and PMMs are involved in evaluating and analyzing the data to inform decision-making and ensuring a consistent, user-centric experience. Product managers prioritize feature enhancements, make data-driven decisions, and iterate on the product roadmap — all of which requires collaborating with the engineering and development teams to refine the end result. Similarly, product marketing managers layer user feedback onto market research to identify areas for messaging refinement, marketing campaign optimization, and launch strategy adjustments.
Finally, PMs and PMMs collaborate closely during product launches to ensure a successful market entry. PMs work on defining the product's features, functionalities, and overall value proposition, while PMMs develop the go-to-market strategy and messaging. Both collaborate on aligning the product's positioning and messaging with its key features and benefits, with PMMs ultimately bringing the product to life with compelling stories for marketing campaigns, sales efforts, and more. Together, these roles ensure that the product’s value is communicated in such a way that inspires its intended user, resulting in the long-term success and resonance of the product itself.
How Both Roles Bring Products to Life
The key to unlocking the full potential of a product lies in the collaboration and synergy between product managers and product marketing managers. Their combined efforts ensure that the product is not only developed efficiently but also marketed effectively to the target audience. PMs provide PMMs with crucial insights into the product's features and value propositions, enabling them to create compelling messaging and positioning. Conversely, PMMs provide valuable market research and competitive analysis to PMs, shaping the product strategy and roadmap.
Effective collaboration between PMs and PMMs requires clear communication, mutual understanding, and respect for each other's expertise. By recognizing and embracing the distinct responsibilities and skill sets of both roles, organizations can leverage the strengths of each to achieve product success. Here are some tips about how to cultivate stronger alignment between both roles. This collaborative dynamic leads to better alignment between product development and marketing efforts, resulting in products that resonate with customers and drive business growth.
In short, Product Managers are directly responsible for building a product, and helping engineers execute efficiently and on-time; whereas Product Marketing Managers are responsible for guiding the team in building something that will resonate in the market.
To explore these career paths and connect directly with tech professionals in both roles, browse mentors on Merit.