Understanding different product roles in marketing technology acquisition
Evaluating, deploying, managing and owning marketing technology requires a range of different skills.
In the tech world there are plenty of people devoted to product roles. This makes sense as this practice helps focus a significant number of employees on an organization’s products as well as its users and customers.
However, there are plenty of different types of product roles out there, and they are certainly confusing at times. As with anything in life, there are variations from situation to situation. So, what’s below likely isn’t universal. This explanation pulls from the specific methodologies that I’ve been exposed to and trained in, and hopefully this explanation will help distinguish these closely related roles in a way that helps explain how they fit into the martech space.
It is helpful to reference three different disciplines: Change management, project management, and product management.
In the world of change management, strong support of a change (like adding or removing a martech stack component) is crucial — essential actually. According to one major player in this space, change management solutions leader Prosci, sponsorship is the most important factor in getting people to accept and adopt changes.
So, what does sponsorship mean in a martech context? The product sponsor is the internal champion who justifies and secures the attention and resources a product and/or project requires. Typically, this is important for anchor stack components that are expensive and require great dedication to implementation and maintenance.
In such cases, this is likely a senior leader in the organization who has the authority to justify large budgetary commitments. Further, they are the ones who can explain why something requires more attention and prioritization than the very real needs throughout the organization. They can summon the necessary resources and get people to accept the new direction.
This role is defined by the project management realm – specifically the scrum methodology of the agile philosophy. In fact, it’s the name of one of the defined roles within the scrum team, and my fellow contributor Stacey Ackerman focuses her writing on how agile can apply to marketing technology and operations.
Product owners are focused on delivering value as defined by the users, customers, and other stakeholders (both internal like executives and external like regulators). Thus, they must stay abreast of the desires and preferences of those constituencies. One of their primary duties is to take their understanding of strategic value and translate it into defined tactical tasks that their teams can use for a product’s evolution. They also help prioritize when and how those tasks are assigned and completed in set time periods often referred to as sprints.
Unlike product sponsors, product managers aren’t primarily responsible for securing the necessary internal attention and resources. Further, their focus is strategic — not tactical. They focus on the product level while product owners focus on projects that relate to products.
Product managers must account for the product’s vision, overall company strategic direction, and the broader marketplace. While multiple product owners may simultaneously work on a product with multiple concurrent projects, the product manager ensures that all of this effort has a cohesive long-term direction for the product. They can also assist with determining value as they consider the broader marketplace and track relevant trends.
Those are reasons why they’re involved in customer support, budgeting, marketing, and sales.
Owners and Managers
There’s currently a debate in the product management arena. In many situations, organizations hire one person to serve both as a product owner and product manager, but many organizations just develop this individual as an owner. Prominent product management thought leader Marty Cagan argues that this is a recipe for failure for everyone involved. While it is certainly possible for one person to serve in both roles, they need proper training in both disciplines.
Read Roland Smith’s recent article “Product People’s Agile Reckoning” as well. Keep an eye on this debate.
These product roles are closely related but distinct. In order to harness their benefits, it is important to understand these differences and train assigned people accordingly. Product organizations and teams will further vary from situation to situation depending upon many factors like the specific methodologies organizations employ for each discipline.
An organization may also have an individual for each of these three roles or have one or two people cover them. In some cases, a martech product may not require a dedicated senior level sponsor. An example is a SEO tool that only costs a couple hundred dollars each month; a junior individual contributor will likely suffice as its sponsor.
Additionally, each individual’s scope may vary. There are rarely pure textbook implementations of these methodologies. A product owner may work with several development teams. A product manager may oversee a portfolio of products while their counterparts at another organization may only deal with one. Theory rarely fits the real world with consistency.
Product teams and practitioners are important, and it is crucial to understand how each role functions to enjoy their benefits.