Choosing Between Product Marketing and Product Management

Both product marketing and product management roles are crucial for the success of a product and often require close collaboration to ensure that the product meets the needs of the market and is effectively brought to market.

In this episode, Louise Liu and Nishanth Kadiyala, the senior product manager at Walmart Connect, discuss product marketing and product management. Nishanth shares his thoughts on the similarities and differences between the two roles, and how to choose which is for you.

Listen to the full interview above or read on for the highlights from the conversation.

It’s not product management as a separate function and product marketing as a separate function. I strongly advocate for modern product leaders, they need to be good with both of them.

This is Product Marketing Episode 24: Nishanth Kadiyala – Choosing Between Product Marketing and Product Management

Episode Highlights

What is product management and product marketing to you?

“It’s essentially building products versus taking that product to the right customer through the right channels. I mean, that’s like oversimplification.

But a typical product manager will be thinking in terms of okay, what are our business goals? Who are our customers? Who are our prospective customers? What are the pain points? How are they solving it today? How can I make a difference to this world, right. And then they have a strategy to create a roadmap, and then they start rallying teams towards that particular vision. And along the way, they’ll have to work with a bunch of cross functional teams. And in this case, the primary supporters would be the execution teams, right? In technology products, it’s usually the dev teams. But in other cases, where you’re launching physical products, it could be operations team, it could be retail stores. So that’s product management, figuring out what needs to be built, and how can I add value to the customer, and how can I differentiate myself in a crowded market. And depending on the size of the organization, this function can either be owned by a single person, or it can be divided between, the director and different product leaders. And then underneath that, they’ll have senior product managers and stuff like that.

And moving on to the product marketing side, this is where you’re wondering, okay, I have a product, but how do I take it to the right customer to the right channel, the right format, right? So that involves a lot of customer journey mapping, understanding who your customers are, figuring out, creating the personas, creating the messaging, working very closely with the product managers and figuring out ‘okay, what is it that you your product brings to the market to the customer and why would someone move from Product A to product B’. So depending on the cycle, and depending on the number of competitors in the market, the product marketing function will take different forms and shapes.

The usual example that I give to people who are starting their careers is like, imagine a restaurant and there’s a main chef who is working with sous-chefs and butlers and other people to create new products, so new items, new dishes. So his job is to understand okay, what am I good at? What is my team good at? What is the general palate in this particular region? And what can I do uniquely relative to other restaurants in the area? He’s thinking very specific to the product, what to create? How do I create? And how do I make my customers love the dish, right? So that’s very similar to product management, he’s going to have his team, he’s going to build products that customers love. And on the flip side, product marketers are like the restaurant managers, they’re the ones helping get the word out there, they’re probably doing social media advertising, they’re probably doing print media, there’s tons of ways to get to the customers. And once they come to your restaurant, they are also the ones who are creating the menus, they’re helping customers choose the right items.

So at a broad level, if we were to go back to the initial definition, product managers are creating the right products. But more importantly, on the product marketing side, the marketers are connecting with the managers and understanding who those users are, how do they search for the problems, where they typically shopping, and get to the place where these customers are, and have a conversation with them and bring them down the funnel all the way from awareness to consideration to buying the product and retaining them in the long term. So again, this is a job that both product managers and product marketers need to work together to excel. “

As a product manager, now looking back at your product marketing roles, what have you found as blind spots as a PMM?

What blind?! No, I’m just kidding. I definitely feel like there’re a ton of things I can do differently. And that was the whole point of moving on to the product management side to be able to figure out okay, ‘what do we mean by building product takes a month?’ And when I was a product marketer, I was a lot more empathetic to the sales side. And I was not able to understand how can we not have visibility into what we are building? And why would it slip by month or two? So, if I were a product marketer today, and a product manager is missing his deadlines, I will understand where the slip up has occurred, and manage those messages internally and externally, accordingly. If it’s a tier one or tier two, release, the likelihood of it slipping or it becomes complicated is higher, I will take a different approach towards messaging, based on how much will I start pushing at what time timeframe before the launch. Because if it’s a tier three or tier four launch, the uncertainty is much smaller, in that case, I can be a lot more confident and less worried about missing the timeline. So that’s one.

I know product managers are considered the CEO of the product, and they need to know everything about the product, everything in the market. So they are considered the gurus. But again, empathy towards their role is super critical, because the product involves a ton of different facets done on different user markets. And a competition might mean 100 different things, depending on the context of the product, right? So they might not have all the information. As a PMM I would partner with them to identify their blind spots, because sometimes it’s a single person trying to scale across all the dimensions of the product. So that’s why I feel like they both need to work pretty closely with each other and have each other’s back and make sure that the product is heading in the right direction.

Do you believe that most people would be a better fit for one or the other – PM / PMM?

“So I would look at it from a couple of dimensions, x and y axis. And one of them is the skills needed to succeed in a role, and the other one is the happiness that you get out of a role, like, how much are you able to enjoy the role? Completely different dimensions.

People should always think about their role in terms of ‘am I good at it’, because if you’re not good at it, eventually you’ll have like existential crisis. And in the other scenario, like me, I used to be a decent software developer back in the day, but I was not having fun. It was not able to drive the completeness that I was looking for from my career. So that’s why I had to pivot to product marketing.

So when people are talking about, okay, will they be a good fit for a product management, product marketing, it depends, like first and foremost as skills, right? When we talk about product management, there’s like a heavy focus on technology these days. So it is important that you are able to have a conversation with the developers, you’re able to understand the architecture behind. And you’re able to empathize with your consumers, right. So here, it’s all about taking the information in the market in the customers and building a product that is internal, and you get the satisfaction out of the fact that you’re able to add value to your customers, the fact that you’re able to move the bottom line for your company, right, so it’s a little bit different. And as a product marketing, especially if you’re in a b2b tech company, you will still want to understand technology, but not to the same level as a product manager. Because in product management, you’re building the product. So you have to double click into the overall lifecycle much more deeply on product marketing. In that case, it’s about being able to communicate, being able to represent a company across a wide variety of media, like back in the day, I had to write it on a blog. I had to participate in webinars, I had to speak with analysts. I had to actually travel around the globe and represent our company and keynotes, right. So these are a different kind of skill set.

The first parameter is, which skills does your experience align with? Or which skills do you want to eventually grow into? What do you enjoy? And based on that, you can pick one or the other?”

About Guest

Nishanth Kadiyala is a product leader with over 10+ years experience in building, shipping and marketing products to highly technical audience such as architects, developers as well as to consumers. Nishanth excels at rallying cross-functional teams towards a shared vision and deliver customer-centric products with strong technology foundations.

During his tenure as a product marketer for a B2B analytics suite of products, Nishanth developed GTM plans, launched SaaS/on-premises products, managed the web presence, coached product marketers, enabled sales sales teams, handled press/analyst relations, revamped the SEO/SEM activities, and served as the voice of customer in product build activities.  Above all, he was a vocal evangelist for his product –  he blogged, presented at conferences, led  webinars, authored annual reports, and more.

While Nishanth currently a product manager by trade, he continues to be a product marketer at heart. And he is a strong advocate for product leaders who can empathize with both the building and marketing motions of a product. You can connect with him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nishkadi/

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