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The Growing Role of Tech Product Management

The Growing Role of Tech Product Management with Laura Marino on Marketing Horizons

Learn about the exciting job role of product management in tech markets from our guest, Laura Marino, Chief Product Officer at TrueAccord. While tech product managers have little direct authority, they hold great responsibility to represent the needs of the customer and influence others in the firm—engineering, marketing, finance—to deliver products to market at a profit. The future is bright for these professionals, as Product-Led Growth becomes a strategic imperative. Tune in especially as Laura names four characteristics of a successful product.

Cyndi Greenglass: Laura, could you first start out by helping define what product management is and how is it different from product marketing?

Laura Marino: I've been in product management for many years and the question about what product management is something that has come up always. It was a discipline that wasn't well understood for many years. If I were to describe the difference between product management and product marketing at a very high level, product management is responsible for leading the creation and evolution of a product. Product marketing is primarily responsible for leading the go to market of the product. Now, there's a lot of interaction between product marketing and product management. Product marketing brings information about the competition, the industry to product management and then product marketing works very closely with product management to understand what the product is so they can best communicate it to the market. Product management really is at the core of leading the development of solutions. The product manager leads the product teams, and the product teams are charged with solving customer and business problems. Product management works very closely with engineering and with design to come up with effective solutions that have to have these four characteristics. They have to be valuable for the customers who choose to buy and use them, they have to be viable from the business perspective, so considering the constraints of the business, they have to be usable so the users can figure out how to use it and they have to be feasible from a technical perspective. They must be possible to build those solutions, given the technology. Of course, a lot of the usability and visibility fall on the design in the engineering team, but product management is working with them and really making sure that the whole team is building the right product.

Ruth Stevens: I'm guessing the characteristics of a great product manager include diplomacy and tact, but what does make a great product manager?

Laura Marino: You're right because product managers have a lot of responsibility, but don't have a lot of authority. They are leading this product team, they are leading engineering groups, but those engineering groups and those design groups don't report to the product manager. So, the product manager has to have the ability to bring the team along to explain why is it that the team is building this product, what they are building and the product manager also needs to be able to negotiate with all the other stakeholders internally and externally. My experience is that there's never enough engineering and design bandwidth to build everything that everybody would like. Product managers really need to be negotiating and prioritizing what is going to be the most important functionality for the customer and it's sometimes means it's not exactly what sales is asking for, what marketing is asking for.

Ruth Stevens: What are some of the issues that are facing product management as a profession today?

Laura Marino: It's interesting because product management has really evolved when I first started in product management. The discipline wasn't very well understood, product management lived under marketing. I think that historically, our product management had started in the CTP space with brand people who were responsible primarily for the pricing, positioning and packaging of the product and when it came into technology, it still lived under marketing. Over time, the realization came that product was so much at the core of the success of the business and the realization that products had to evolve very quickly essentially forced big companies to put product in its own department. It cannot be under marketing; it cannot be under engineering. It became a department that partners with marketing and with engineering but it's really driving what the product should be in the direction in division and with that also has come, I would say, even more pressure and more responsibility. Product management is an incredibly exciting role, I love it. I've been in this for many, many years in love it, but it is a lot of pressure and it requires people to be able to understand the constraints of the business from the legal marketing finance perspective. It requires that they understand the customer very, very well and that they're able to get data about the customer and it requires that they also understand the technology enough to know what's possible. It's a very complex role and, as I said, requires the ability to negotiate and be very diplomatic because you're never going to be able to please everybody.

Ruth Stevens: Where’s this all going for product managers and in tech companies if the speed continues to accelerate? Is there some limit beyond which they can't possibly code any faster or I’m sure AI is helping? Where do you see things going in the future?

Laura Marino: Well, I don't think that it's the speed, I mean we're already at a very high speed and, as I said, depending on the product, that works well. Some products should not move that that quickly, but what I see is product management continuing to play a bigger and bigger role in tech companies. What that will mean is further pressure and further specialization. You brought up AI. AI is an incredibly powerful tool. It's also something that requires understanding so that it used correctly and fairly. What you see is product managers now having to specialized in the product that's responsible for the consumer experience. Overall, I see product management increasingly driving a lot of the vision of the product and the vision of where the company is going. With that comes a lot of responsibility. In the case of AI, for example, the fact that you can build something doesn't necessarily mean that you should build it. There are considerations that product managers themselves should have around what should be built-in considerations about fairness and integrity. There's another very interesting thing that's happening and its private led growth. For the company in the product growth, it is not through big sales teams and big marketing efforts, but rather by having the product be the vehicle for growth and, if you think of companies like Slack and even Zoom, it's now less about big sales teams going and making sales pitches, it's more the users getting exposed to the product and the product has been designed in a way that's easy for users to try it for free, and then they realize that there's value and then they want to buy the product to gain more functionality.

Ruth Stevens: In the area of product management, it sounds like there's a lot of development and growth, but what do you think is going to stick with us?

Laura Marino: I think at the core, every product manager, no matter what area they're responsible for, will still need to be able to have this ability to understand what is required for their product to be valuable to the customer. That means a lot of empathy, understanding and listening, those are very important characteristics. Also, understanding the business. The business product managers need to understand their business, the constraints that they need to operate, so that they are making sure they are building the right thing. I think that's not going to change. I also think that the product managers have to have leadership capabilities because they need to influence people without having those people report to them. This is something that's going to continue to be true, no matter what specific area of the product.

Cyndi Greenglass: What are some of the recommendations you would make to anyone interested in becoming a product manager?

Laura Marino: I would say students should start proactively trying to understand what it is, see it that's what they're interested in and in terms of the background, having a combination of some technical background and some business understanding are really valuable for product managers.

Key Takeaways/Three Little Piggies

  • The speed of innovation is accelerating, and SAS has put pressure on design and implementation, pushing our product everyday. There’s lots of iteration and testing, trying something new and that the B2B environment may not allow for the same accelerated innovation. The expectations have been growing because of what we're seeing in the consumer side.
  • Product lead growth allows us to actually use the product iteration and introduces a strategy for firm growth without out necessarily big sales expense and lets people react to a product idea and sign up for free version. It’s a revenue producing relationship.
  • The characteristics of a product that will work in the marketplace requires the four pillars: viable, usable, valuable and feasible. I think we should all have that pinned on the walls of our virtual offices.

Marketing Communications Today presents Horizons, it’s forward-thinking, looking ahead, through the front windshield and beyond, into the marketing future. Join Cyndi and Ruth bi-weekly for new ideas, technologies, tools and strategies that are emerging to help marketers navigate over the marketing horizon.

Meet our guest

Laura Marino

Laura Marino is the Chief Product Officer at TrueAccord, a fintech company reinventing debt resolution. She is passionate about scaling companies and product organizations. Prior to joining TrueAccord, Laura built and led product teams in small and large organizations including SAP Labs, Nuance, Tellme Networks/Microsoft, Intapp, and Lever.

Laura holds two Master of Science degrees from Stanford. She is a guest speaker at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, and a member of the extended teaching team in the Stanford Management Science and Engineering Department, lecturing on entrepreneurship and product management.

A supporter of women and diversity, Laura serves on the Board of Leading Women in Technology a non-profit dedicated to promoting women leadership.

Meet the hosts

Cyndi Greenglass

Cyndi W. Greenglass is a founding partner and president at Livingston Strategies, a data-informed, strategic consulting firm that helps clients develop, execute, and measure their customer communications with a close focus on results. Cyndi has razor-sharp strategic skills matched by impeccable on-the-ground savvy and tactical abilities. She is an Adjunct Instructor in the Data Marketing Communications online master's degree program from WVU.

Greenglass has twice been named into the Top 100 Influential BTB Marketers by Crain’s BtoB Magazine and was the 2012 CADM Chicago Direct Marketer of the Year. She is a member of the Board of Advisors for BRAND United and has taught, trained and presented at over 50 conferences throughout the world.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth P. Stevens consults on customer acquisition and retention, for business-to-business clients. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the ERA business accelerator in New York City.

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