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B2B Product Managers: What value are YOU adding?

There are lots of things that Product Managers can and do work on, but there are only a VERY small number of things that can make Product Managers extremely valuable and critical to a company.

Saeed Khan
8 min readFeb 5, 2024


If there’s a word that Product Managers use more often than the word roadmap, it’s probably the word value. You know, things like customer value, business value, value proposition, value streams, value creation etc. etc.

But one kind of value that a lot of Product Managers don’t think about as often as they should is the value they themselves provide within their companies, and how they can maximize that value contribution.

Given how the role is defined in many companies, and the challenges of the working in the role, it can be tough to think about this as PMs are busy in the day-to-day aspects of their jobs.

With many Product Managers being kept busy, pulled in multiple directions by Engineering, Sales, Marketing, and leadership, it can be tough to step back and assess how they could fundamentally improve in the work they do and be seen as truly valuable and an integral component in the success of the company.

People on other teams, particularly Engineering and Sales, will certainly tell Product Managers how they can do their jobs better (from their perspectives), but quite frankly, while that input may be well intentioned and sometimes helpful, it rarely will get to the real source of the value that the Product Managers can bring to the company overall.

So what is it that can help Product Managers add real and tangible value to their jobs and companies?

I will tell you, but before I do, let me say that from my perspective, lack of this is what will doom virtually all Product Managers, relegating them to becoming Jira jockeys, the object of disdain by Engineers, the loser of every “discussion” with Sales teams on whether to implement Sales-led feature requests, and unfortunately, a prime candidate to get laid off when company fortunes decline.

The flip side though, is that by truly making oneself a critical part of company success, PMs can address those issues above and signficantly reduce those odds of being laid off.

What is the core job of Product Management?

Let’s start with clarity on the objective of Product Management. And it’s not feature delivery, regardless of what you have heard, what you believe, or what you’ve seen.

I’ve written more about that topic here:

If we think about the core — the most fundamental — objective of Product Management, it is to drive product success.

Product Management is cross-functional business and technology management focused on driving product success.

And remember that product success drives business success. So what exactly is product success?

Product success means meeting or exceeding the business objectives of the product. That’s it. It’s that simple.

Now, of course, this implies that clear business objectives have been thoughtfully defined and discussed with the Product org, and the Product org has incorporated those objectives into the rationale of the work they do. That’s the case in all our companies, right? 😃

Those objectives could be tied to product revenue, customer acquisition, adoption, usage, growth, retention, expansion, a combination of these or other things entirely.

The definition of success depends on the kind of product, the market, product or company maturity, company objectives and possibly other factors. e.g. for early stage products, the focus could be on customer acquisition and adoption, whereas for more mature products in competitive markets the objectives could be tied to expansion and retention.

These objectives should be defined by leadership in consultation with the Product organization.

The Product organization may not be able to DIRECTLY impact some of these — e.g. revenue, customer acquisition — as they are the job of other parts of the organization, but the Product organization CAN support that work and define and execute on product objectives that support those business objectives. I’ve written about that in detail here:

Regardless of the specifics of success, Product Management works to help drive business objectives through direct product work and indirectly through cross-functional education and alignment activities.

So what is the key requirement to do this job well? What must Product Management bring to the table to drive great product decisions and to enable and align the rest of the organization to successfully market, sell and support the products the company is creating? Let’s dig into that.

How to truly bring value into your company

Working with many companies, far too often I see Product Managers who have a a scant amount of customer and market knowledge, perhaps gained from a small number of direct customer interactions, but mostly from indirect ones such as inbound questions or requests coming through the Sales and Support teams. This gives them a very superficial and incomplete understanding of their market, but not even remotely enough knowledge and insight to do their jobs well and contribute valuable insights or make well-founded decisions in their work. i.e. low value-add.

What they don’t have is a clear understanding of customer problems, use cases and workflows. They can’t articulate meaningful market trends. They don’t understand the distinctions between different segments in the markets their products play in. They don’t really understand the broader context their products are used in by their customers. The list goes on.

But in short, they don’t have a STRONG and INDEPENDENT understanding of their customers, competitors and markets. And THAT is why they provide little (if any) value add to their companies.

Everybody is “talking” to people outside the company.

  • Salespeople are talking to prospects to sell them products and services.
  • Sales Engineers are talking to prospects to understand their needs, answer their questions, and to support the Salespeople.
  • Marketing is talking to prospects, influencers and buyers to understand their needs and to promote products.
  • Support/Success teams are talking to customers to help them address product usage issues.
  • Executives are talking to customers and partners for numerous reasons, but often to build or cement relationships and to sell company vision and direction.
  • But who is Product Management speaking to and for what purpose?

In many companies, the answer to that last question is they’re not speaking to many people outside the company. They are more inwardly focussed, reacting to signals and requests coming in from Executives and Salespeople — customer X wants <this>, or prospect Y needs <that> to close a deal.

And without any clear, external context of what the MARKET needs — not just what individual customers or prospects want — they have nothing to counter these “requests” by Executives or Salespeople, so what value can they add when those requests come in?

This table shows the distinction between the conversations Sales, Marketing, Product and Executives are having and how they need to think about things.

Table with 4 columns — Sales, Marketing Executives, Product and 5 rows Who (Companies), Who (people), Why, Timeframe and Focus. While there is some overlaps, the distinctions between who, timeframe and purpose are very clear.
How each of Sales, Marketing, Executives and Product “talk” to the Market/Customers

Note the distinctions in each column, such as the differences between the Sales and Product columns.

  • Sales is focussed on the near term and on individual customers.
  • Product is focused on longer term and the overall market.

The two are related, but not the same and not interchangeable. i.e. companies need to understand that the long term interests and needs of the company — as reflected by the job of Product — are AS IMPORTANT as the short term interests and needs of the company — as reflected by the job of Sales.

Want to learn more about this and other challenges faced by B2B Product Managers? Attend my workshop. The next cohort starts Feb 14, 2024.

Getting back to value

So why is having a STRONG and INDEPENDENT understanding of the market and customer needs valuable for Product Managers, especially when so many others — Marketing, Sales, Support, Executives etc. have their own knowledge that they can share with Product Managers?

In short, EVERYONE needs to have their own strong and independent understanding of customers and the market to do their jobs.

And Product Management is no different. In fact, given the cross-functional nature of the role, Product Management needs to have that knowledge so that they can evaluate and integrate the data points coming from other groups and make well informed evidence-based decisions that set up the product and company for success.

The work that Product Management does is leading work. i.e. when thinking about the entire product lifecycle, from conception to realization to marketing, sales, support etc., Product Management’s work starts at the very earliest parts of the product lifecycle and impacts all the latter work in the lifecycle for all the other teams.

This means that Product Management needs the STRONGEST foundation of customer and market knowledge in the company. Not only will this inform their decisions, but it will seed and help amplify the knowledge and actions of downstream teams, including Sales.

MANY B2B companies have this reinforcement loop backwards. They use Sales as the means to inform Product Management — opportunity/sales focussed in a REACTIONARY manner— instead of using Product Management as the means to inform Sales — market driven in a PROACTIVE manner.

And while there will always be information coming back from Sales tied to specific opportunities — e.g. feature requests tied to deals — those should be the exceptions to how Product Management learns and operates, not the rule.

NOTE: I wrote about dealing with Sales-Led feature requests here:

In Summary

Product Managers need to speak/listen to the MARKET to LEARN, understand, formulate and then act. This knowledge should be passed forward to other parts of the company where/when needed.

Sales needs to speak/listen to specific PROSPECTS to SELL the product. Some of this knowledge — where it benefits the Sales reps or sales process — is passed back to Product Management, but almost always in service of specific deals.

Rich Mironov aptly details that distinction in his post Selling vs. Learning.

And here’s a key quote from Rich’s article that I absolutely agree with, and Product Leaders and executives need to take to heart.

If you manage a team of product managers, getting them to talk (directly and often) with customers may be the most valuable, highest leverage, most powerful, least cost driver of success that you can orchestrate.

Knowing what a broad range of customers want/need/think/say/love/hate/buy is core to everything that product management does. And without it, your products (and people) are likely to fail. — Rich Mironov

A little feedback please

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Saeed Khan

Product Consultant. Contact me for help in building great products, processes and people.