Why Market Leadership Starts With Product Management

John Mansour
7 min readApr 12, 2024

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There are a million and one things that go into creating a market leading company. But products are the nucleus, and that means market leadership starts with product management.

There are the obvious things product management does. Everyone knows what they are, so there’s no need to rehash them. A simple ChatGPT inquiry will give you everything you need.

I want to focus on the responsibilities of B2B product management that don’t get much airtime. In fact, there are a handful of things that aren’t typically associated with product management that should be. The funny thing is, they don’t fall into the responsibilities of any other discipline either, creating a huge void.

Before we dive into those, let’s look at a few opportunities where product management teams can take a much stronger leadership role in the organization.

Building a Market-Facing Product Management Discipline

The definition of “market” has more than its share of ambiguities. To some product managers, market is synonymous with users. If you’re a senior level product executive, market means vertical or horizontal market segments.

Then, there’s all the in-betweens. For some, a market means a user or buyer persona. For others, a market is a customer department like IT or HR. It runs the gamut.

For purposes of this discussion, markets refer to market segments. In their simplest form, market segments are how companies describe themselves. We’re a retailer. We’re a wealth management firm. We’re a small business.

Most product organizations today are largely structured around products only. That means if you have 10 products or modules on your platform that target the same market segments, each product team sees those same segments through a slightly different lens, and it’s usually a narrower view that’s limited to user jobs versus a strategic top-down view of the customer organization (that ends with user jobs).

Let’s apply the 80/20 rule here. A true market-facing product management team is structured with 20% of its headcount functioning as market owners. Think of them as industry analysts for your vertical/horizontal market segments (with no direct product responsibility). The other 80% will be aligned to products and users in traditional product manager roles. Here’s why this structure is so critical to a stronger leadership position.

Taking the Lead on Market & Customer Knowledge

The top-down strategies of your target customers are shaped by the dynamics of their industry as well as current technology trends. Product management as a whole, has to be more knowledgeable than all other disciplines on both facets of those market dynamics because they impact every product decision from strategic investment priorities down to the minutia of your sprint backlogs.

Gathering market knowledge that includes industry dynamics, customer strategies and operational business priorities can’t be the responsibility of every product manager. That’s how you end up with 10 differing views of the same markets. This is where the value of market owners comes into play.

The 20% of your headcount that’s responsible for gathering market knowledge is also responsible for sharing that knowledge and educating product teams so that everyone sees the same markets through a common lens. That way, it’s easy for product managers to connect those higher level business priorities to user jobs and product requirements to ensure everything they’re building is tied to measurable customer outcomes.

In other words, all product management roles need to be equally knowledgeable on the higher level market dynamics driving their target customers without the responsibility of gathering that knowledge individually. User knowledge, job knowledge and process knowledge is 100% the responsibility of the product manager and/or product owner, not the market owner.

Here’s the other thing I can tell you with 100% confidence. Influence goes to those who know the market best. I’ve seen it in my practitioner career and even more so as a trainer and coach. Those that know the market best wield the most influence.

Here’s another thing you probably haven’t given much thought to.

Is “comprehensive knowledge of the market” a staple in any other job description? Short of corporate strategy roles, it’s not! When product management possesses comprehensive knowledge of the market, it benefits design, engineering, marketing sales and customer experience teams because that knowledge is baked into every aspect of creating products/features, taking them to market and getting customers to use them.

It doesn’t make much sense for anyone else to own it because it becomes disconnected from the products, and that’s exactly what you don’t want.

Marrying Company Strategy and Portfolio/Product Strategy

Before we dive into connecting the strategy dots, I want to make a clear delineation between company goals and company strategy. They’re often confusing or ambiguous.

Becoming a $1 billion company is a financial “goal” not a strategy. Going into adjacent markets via acquisition and product expansion is a “strategic initiative” that supports the goal of becoming a $1 billion company.

On to strategy. There’s a natural overlap that should occur between company strategy and portfolio strategy, but it rarely occurs. The biggest reason for the lack of a natural overlap is both strategies are speaking different languages and it’s difficult if not impossible to rationalize them.

Let’s keep going with the above examples. The $1 billion goal is WHAT you want to accomplish. The strategic initiative is the first layer of HOW you’ll get there.

The second layer of HOW you’ll get there is the portfolio strategy. It outlines the market segments most conducive to meeting your strategic and financial goals, and the business solutions (not to be confused with product solutions) required to capitalize on the growth potential of those markets.

The third layer of HOW you’ll get there are the product solutions necessary to help customers in your chosen market segments meet their highest priority goals.

Now all the dots are connected, from the top down or bottom up.

Just for fun, let’s go bottom up and do it in conversational mode. Back of the napkin version!

  • We’re going to deliver [product solutions] that we’ll build or acquire…
  • Over the course of [timeline]…
  • To help organizations in [market segments]…
  • Accomplish [quantifiable business goals] by…
  • Solving/eliminating [business problems/obstacles].
  • The [projected cost] will be…
  • And we expect [projected revenue by market segment].

The marriage of company and portfolio strategy serves as the foundation for tactical plans across all product teams. From there, it should be pretty straight forward to establish a clear line of sight between every product plan and the strategy or vice-versa.

Here’s how this approach benefits your entire organization.

The company-portfolio strategy foundation becomes the jumping point for planning and execution across marketing, product marketing, sales and customer experience/customer success teams. Everyone is doing their part to build, market, sell and deliver solutions that help customers meet their business goals by eliminating known obstacles.

You’re delivering quantifiable customer value that in turn advances the strategic and financial goals of your own organization!

Can you see how the chain reaction for success always starts with product management?

Why Product Management Has to Take the Lead

If product management doesn’t take the lead, who will?

Here’s the bottom line. It’s not anyone else’s job to identify your most lucrative market segments and figure out the product mix necessary to succeed in each of those markets. The reason it’s not anyone else’s job is because company success starts and ends with your products. That means it has to be product management’s responsibility.

If product management isn’t doing it, one of two things will happen. Either everyone’s doing their own version, or no one’s doing it at all. The results of both scenarios are equally chaotic and slow your growth immensely.

When product management is doing it, the result is consistent and predictable growth. Who doesn’t want that?

The Chain Reaction for Success

The market-facing discipline of product management sets the rest of the organization up for success. The best way to illustrate this is to work backward from the customer experience (CX) teams.

Customer Onboarding & Customer Success

To successfully onboard and nurture customer accounts and make sure they get continuously measurable value from your products, CX teams have to understand the following:

  1. What customers are trying to accomplish from the top down — the business outcomes they want strategically, operationally and tactically, the obstacles they face, why those obstacles exist, how to eliminate them, how they’ll measure success, and finally, the relevance of your products and how to help customers succeed with them.
  2. Workflows and job tasks impacted by the above and the procedural changes required at the user level.
  3. Configure the products to make users better at their jobs by eliminating the obstacles to the desired business outcomes.

If you do those things, you’re all but guaranteed customers will get value that can be measured tactically, operationally and strategically.

The Sales Process

To successfully execute the sales process, your discovery, positioning, product demos and contract negotiations have to clearly articulate:

  1. see 1–3 above.
  2. Pepper in some competitive differentiation.

When sales consistently accomplishes these things, win rates go up because you’ve convinced buyers you understand them better than the competition. Remember, customers don’t buy because they understand you. They buy because you understand them.

Product Marketing and Demand Generation

To successfully position the value of your products and execute programs that drive demand, you have to convince target customers:

  1. See 1–2 above under sales (includes 1–3 under customer onboarding).
  2. Create meaningful calls to action that engage buyers.

Product Design & Engineering

Let’s not forget about product design and engineering. They’re a huge beneficiary of this approach. The clearer product management defines the customer outcomes and obstacles, the easier and more efficient they can do their jobs.

Product Management

Everything you see above starts with product management. Product management has to do those things in order to consistently build products that are valuable to the market, and hence your company. It’s that simple.

If an organization is going to successfully build, market, sell and make customers successful with its products, it has to start with product management.

When product management leads and does these things well, your organization is all but guaranteed to experience consistent and predictable growth. That’s the secret to market leadership for the long haul. It all starts with product management.

Click here if you want to experience the easiest way to learn product management, product marketing, pre-sales demos and customer success with our unique hands-on learning format. Be sure to check out our Product Management Framework that simplifies everything by making customer outcomes the starting point for building, marketing, selling and delivering strategic customer value.

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John Mansour

Eliminate inconsistencies in how customer value is defined with personalized hands-on training courses for B2B/B2B2C product management & product marketing.