Get over it: you’re in marketing

“I’m part of the two-person marketing team.”

It took five years in product management for me to make that statement during lunch as I explained my new job to a friend. Throughout my engineering career, everyone outside engineering was “the dark side.” I regarded marketing as fluff – surely not real work like we did in engineering.

When I first became a product manager, I viewed the role as requiring technical competency, which made it worthy in my eyes. I still regarded other non-engineering functions with skepticism. Fortunately, my early product management years were spent alongside excellent marketers, from whom I came to understand their value and the close relationship between product management and marketing.


Product evangelism

Just as product management is not engineering, it’s also not marketing. But there are fundamental marketing responsibilities within product management. Product managers are evangelists, always promoting their vision across a broad constituency both inside and outside their organization. This is marketing – explaining the product value that exists today and the journey that lies ahead.

The product manager is in the best position to articulate her product’s value because she deeply understands her customers’ use cases and the impact her product makes on their experiences. She is primarily responsible for ensuring a compelling product and broad awareness of its value. Everyone else – sales, marketing, engineering, executives – come to her for motivation and the core concepts they will each use in their own responsibilities.

Though marketing refines, amplifies, and syndicates the product message, the product manager must be clear on what is being built and why. She must put on her marketing hat everyday to ensure each use case and product capability supports a strong message and product vision. Engineering should not be tasked on something that lacks a compelling message.

Isn’t this feature a checkbox?

My product was behind competitors in managing Linux and Windows patches. When we decided to leapfrog and build a superior product, the task seemed daunting. Lots of tablestakes capabilities needed to be built. How would we market the tremendous effort being invested by engineering when many of the features were considered checkboxes on an evaluator’s long list?

As with many disruptive products entering an ecosystem of established products, we faced the risk of never being able to catch up in addressing every use case. Yet we had powerful advantages in the breadth of our platform and adjacent capabilities that could amplify the value of individual patch management functions and address broader use cases that more narrowly focused products missed.

The marketing and sales teams were looking for answers. We were losing business to entrenched patching tools and our existing customers were facing pressure to adopt alternatives. A basic feature comparison matrix looked grim – we couldn’t fill all the checkboxes fast enough. We could, however, change the game by adding new, more valuable use cases to the competitive evaluation process.

My product management responsibility was to identify new use cases that advantaged our product, work with engineering to define a viable product plan, and evangelize the resulting value. Beyond basic patching, we integrated global policies, compliance leveraging a wide range of criteria well beyond patches, and flexible remediation. Once everyone understood what we were building and its competitive advantages, marketing was able to execute our launch and sales took the message to win new and existing customers.

Humble pie

My wife never lets me forget my unfounded skepticism for marketing and the time necessary for me to become proud of the marketing role I serve. She’s visibly amused at my 180-degree turn whenever I discuss the pros and cons of marketing programs. Like any role, marketing can be done poorly: generic messages, unfocused audiences, or nonspecific problem statements. Product management has a critical responsibility to lay a foundation for successful marketing by developing and evangelizing a crisp product message and vision.