Is Product Management following Marketing’s footsteps?

beach__wave_and_footsteps_at_sunset_time_by_macinivnw-d68m4qxTwo trends stand out to me when I reflect on my experience leading product teams over the past 10+ years. The first is the profound transformation the product management profession is undergoing and the second is that lessons learned from building B2C products are gradually changing how B2B products are designed, managed and built.

When looking at both trends more closely I got a strong sense of déjà-vu — both are reminiscent of the transformation the marketing profession underwent over the past 15 years:

From art to science

The archetypical “Mad Men” creative wizard who crafts a catchy slogan and designs a great ad campaign has morphed into the new age marketer — a data geek who analyzes millions of data points and optimizes every knob in a complex marketing machine. Marketing automation, real time personalization and big data have completely transformed the marketing profession.

These changes were originally driven by eCommerce sites that required B2C marketers to efficiently manage email and online ad campaigns, measure their impact on the bottom line and constantly optimize and improve their performance.

Similarly, B2C Web companies were the first to optimize every user interaction, create and improve conversion paths, test all design changes, try out every new feature and use data extensively as the key source for product decisions. B2B companies soon followed suit.

Product teams are rapidly adopting simple and powerful web analytics tools from Google Analytics to products such as MixPanel and combine them with A/B testing tools such as Optimizely that provide them access to usability and behavioral data that was not easily accessible just a few years ago. More and more B2B PM teams now have dedicated data analysts helping them use this data intelligently, something B2C teams have been doing for years.

Don’t get me wrong, creativity and innovation are a strategic competitive advantage — both in marketing or product — but those who are slow to adapt tools and processes to measure and improve their impact, will find it impossible to stay competitive.

Multi-channel, personalized user experience

Search ads, website banners, social media, content marketing … after decades where very few channels dominated marketing, new powerful outlets came along that required marketers to communicate with buyers across many channels, crafting different messages and experiences that fit each medium and its audience.

Similarly, products are now delivered across many platforms — desktop, web and mobile — creating optimized experiences for each audience and platform. Here too, consumer products led the way and B2B products are following their footsteps. The lesson is clear — your ability to create personalized experiences is key to any modern product.

Operational excellence as a competitive advantage

When your business moves at the speed of light, competition is fierce and customers are demanding as ever, acting quickly and operating efficiently are core competencies that separate the good from the great.

Gone are the days where all your eggs are placed in a single basket — no single product update or marketing campaign should determine your fate. Successful B2C and then B2B companies have transformed marketing and product to well tuned machines allowing them to flourish in such a business environment.

If you’ve built an efficient marketing machine, no single campaign can make or break your quarter. Scale and efficiency allow you to run more campaigns, perform more experiments and ultimately generate cheaper leads that yield higher ROI.

Similarly, high performing product teams (especially in SaaS) need to operate as a fine tuned machine that’s in sync with all other parts of the business. Agile methodologies allow product teams to achieve this efficiency by delivering product features and functions in short, predictable cycles.

When your product machine delivers code every week or two, it’s much easier to change priorities, throw out features that didn’t perform or double down on those that show promise. Those quick, predictable cycles infuse customers and your internal team with confidence that you’ll be there for them when they need you to handle urgent requests or bugs, adapt to changes in market needs and react quickly to feedback.

Do you see these transformations in product management in your company? I would appreciate your comments and thoughts on the topic.

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