Why I hate the term product manager

Product managers are supposed to be the voice of the customer and the market, but in most companies that’s a lie. Why? Because a product manager by definition is first and foremost responsible for their product – which is inherently internally focused. As a result, when they look at the outside world it’s almost always through the lens of their specific product.

Instead of looking at how their product fits into the customers’ ecosystem, processes, etc… they look at how their customers fit into their product – and then can’t figure out why adoption rates are so low.

And since in larger organizations each PM typically looks at the world through their product silo, it’s difficult to figure out how each of the pieces fits together.

So what can organizations do?

Create market, customer, persona or process advocates

Organizations need customer or persona advocates that aren’t tied to a specific product but instead responsible for becoming the subject matter expert on the markets, customers, personas or processes served by the company.

In some companies the UX department handles this but oftentimes the UX group is more focused on the screen design usability without understanding the larger context.

By making individual PMs responsible for being customer advocates it should help force the product managers to be more customer centric and drive collaboration across the organization.

Map the customers’ customers journey

I’ve read a lot about customer journey mapping but for the most part it’s always been in the context of the customer’s journey with your company. For B2B companies, mapping the customers’ customers journey may be even more helpful as it forces you to understand what your customers’ processes are and how you potentially fit or don’t fit into their processes as your number one goal is to help your customers be more successful.

By mapping the customers’ customer journey you should be able to spot opportunities to develop new products or better position your existing products to meet your customers’ goals.

Tell me what you think.

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6 responses to “Why I hate the term product manager

  1. Hey Kevin,

    /agree. We just hired a VP of Customers at my company for this exact reason. He embodies the primary use case.

  2. hey Kevin,

    great stuff. We actually created the roles of “Solution Owners” instead of Product Owners or Managers out of the same rationale.

    With our software solutions covering 5 (usually clearly) different business process areas at our customers, that makes for 5 different personas, or actually, business processes. The “fight” with Product Development not to define them as product managers/owners but solution owners was an important one for us, and made very much sense at the time (during 2011).

    I would say this is part of why we are now more able to think on behalf of the customer, instead of being internally focused (the belly button perspective).

    /tron

  3. Glad you liked it. It amazes me how many companies talk about being customer focused and try to get their employees to be more customer focused, but then organize, measure and reward them based on internally-focused constructs.

  4. Nice article. And I totally agree. For me this is the reason that I make the difference between product marketeers (responsible for the customer market) and product managers (responsible for the product/R&D). There should be a “battle” between both with a common goal: being successful.

  5. One of the challenges is if you ask 10 people the definition of product manager, product marketing or other variation and you’ll get 10 different answers. And if you ask an organization’s management what they think their product managers should be doing, you’ll get one answer and when you ask the actual staff you’ll get an entirely different answer as what they’re measured on is generally different than what they officially want them to do.

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