A leading life science product supplier recently posted a position called “Product/Marketing Manager”. And one of their competitors recently posted a position called “Product Marketing Manager”, but when you click on the posting it brings you to a job called “Product Manager”. These two posts exemplify the lack of clarity around product management and marketing management titles, roles, and responsibilities. So what’s the difference between a marketing manager and product manager for life science suppliers?
Surprisingly, there seems to be no clear distinction between the role of a marketing manager and a product manager throughout the SAMPS community of businesses, as well as other businesses. In addition the title “Brand Manager” is utilized to cover a gamut of roles and responsibilities. And then there’s the title “Marketing Communications Manager”.
Marketing theory vs. practice
If you consider the classical 4P marketing mix (product, place, promotion, and price), product management is clearly in the marketing realm, but the model provides little insight into roles and responsibilities. And according to the CEB Marketing Leadership Council’s The Anatomy of a World-Class Marketing Organization1, a high-quality marketing organization includes marketing as well as product management attributes, but this model doesn’t provide much insight into roles and responsibilities either.
The product development process
Examining the product development process helps define the skills associated with product and marketing management. It should be noted that the product might also be a service, like those provided by contract research organizations (CROs).
According to several independent research studies (e.g. Product Development & Management Association, AMR Research, Booz-Allen Hamilton) between 70-85% of leading U.S. companies now use Stage-Gate to drive new products to market2 (Figure 1).
Figure 1: The Stage-Gate Development Process (www.stage-gate.com)
A Stage-Gate System is composed of stages of development separated by gates, which enable companies to control expenditure of resources based on concrete and often predetermined criteria. Cross-functional development teams complete a set of activities in preparation for go-no-go gate review meetings.
Skills needed to develop products and services
Although some describe all marketing related skills as product management skills and others call them marketing management skills, considering the actual skills needed to develop products and services helps to delineate between roles (Figure 2). The product development process requires skills to understand the market and target clients, prioritize projects and attributes, and define a solution. These are often, but not always, referred to as product management. Defining the solution also requires project management skills, as does building the solution. Many believe that marketing management skills are then needed to launch and promote the solution. And of course there are also marketing communications skills needed. After launch, all of these skills are needed to evaluate the solution in the marketplace.4
Figure 2: Skill sets by stage of product development
Table 1 summarizes published thinking on product management vs. marketing management roles, which covers both extremes and most every possibility in between4-7. It’s further humbling when you realize that this table doesn’t include brand management and marketing communications.
Table 1: Published opinions of marketing roles
The examples below are life-science-supplier-specific examples of the mixed bag of structures described in Table 1.
At a large life science systems and reagents supplier, the marketing and product management functions have different reporting lines.
Although product management reports into the R&D organization and has global responsibility for developing new products, and marketing management reports into regional subsidiaries and has regional accountability, the actual roles and responsibilities overlap.
Figure 3: Marketing and product management report to different executives
For example, marketing managers sit on product development teams, perform market research, beta-test products, generate and prioritize requirements, define new opportunities, perform market analysis, and look at technology trends, which according to some should be the role of a product manager. They also directly support the sales team, work on promotional activities, and have control of pricing and the P/L within certain parameters.
The product managers, in addition to working with R&D to develop products, write product launch plans, develop messaging, positioning, features, advantages & benefits, sales tools, and PR plans—activities often associated with marketing managers. The product managers are also responsible for the advertising creative.
At a medium sized contract research organization (CRO) there are no product managers, since the product is the delivery of the service. Here, the leader of a business unit controls pricing and all facets of how the service is delivered. Marketing managers influence pricing by performing market research and competitive intelligence, but they do not set prices. Marketing reports to a sales leader, and focuses on commercial operations, sales support, and marketing communications.
Figure 4: Marketing managers only
Another way of looking at this case study is that although marketing employees are not doing certain marketing work, it doesn't mean that work isn’t being done. It is just performed by non-marketing employees.
Marketing’s influence on new and existing service development (think product management) revolves around market research and competitive intelligence, unless there is a business unit operational leader who is open to the idea of a marketer leading a project to improve existing service offerings or develop new offerings.
A small provider of SaaS solutions to biopharmaceutical companies separates marketing management from product management along the lines of the 4 Ps. Product management focuses on the product and marketing management focuses on place, price, and promotion. However, there is overlap of duties and much collaboration between the groups. Marketing management reports into a sales leader and product management reports into an operations leader.
Figure 5: Organized along the 4Ps
A large CRO handles marketing in a similar way as the medium-sized CRO above. As in that case study, a business unit leader controls service delivery (product and place) and pricing, whereas marketing focuses on promotion. Marketing also performs market research and competitive intelligence, which influences product, place, and pricing.
This company utilizes a Stage Gate-like process to drive the development of new services. This allows marketing to become more strategic at best, by leading new service development projects, and at the very least more aware of new services before they are shared with customers. Marketing was centralized in order to drive commercial focus.
Figure 6: Centralization
Summary of case studies
So what’s the difference between marketing and product management? Based on this research it depends on whom you talk to. Some told me that product managers report to marketing managers, others said they only have product managers, still others said they have brand managers. And one person, who’s title is “Marketing Director”, seemed to have identical duties as a person at another company who’s title is Marketing Communications Manager. Although there is no consistency around marketing management and product management titles, roles, and duties, every marketing accountable commercial leader should strive to clearly define roles and responsibilities within their own company.
Chuck Drucker is a results-driven leader with over 20 years of experience in selling and marketing scientific products and services. In addition to his role as President of the Association of Commercial Professionals – Life Sciences (SAMPS), Mr. Drucker is Director of Client Facing Operations and Alliance Management for Quest Diagnostics Clinical Trials.