Does your B2B startup need a Product Manager?

As we've mentioned before, product managers play different roles depending on the type and maturity of the business they operate in. In this post we're going to tackle what enterprise product managers should be doing and why you need one...or don't!


There are enterprise, or B2B, products that don't benefit from a product manager, e.g. long-lead time, well specified products with heavy technical emphasis and little user interaction (hint: think "waterfall-y" products). Space X rockets, for example, are unlikely to have product managers. A team of technologists and project managers is likely all that is needed to launch a product successfully based on well identified, stable specifications.


However, most software and hardware startups do have user interfaces, don't have stable specs and are being launched into young and changing markets. These characteristics lend themselves to having product owners to be the "parent" of the product. That parent should be considering both market needs and technical capabilities.


So what should you expect your product manager does;

  • They ensure the product vision, aka roadmap, is clear to everyone in the business.

  • That clarity of product vision comes from a strategy and vision that is commonly understood across your business. If the strategy isn't understood, the product manager forces the company to create one, or creates it and gets agreement. This is the oft-misunderstood process of creating a roadmap.

  • They optimize the product to deliver mid-term revenue by productizing features, as opposed to delivering a feature to close a deal.

  • They supports the sales teams in finding ways to close deals without compromising repeatable revenue.

  • They think in products and customer value, rather than technical components.


So, does a product manager, and your product organization have to manage every "product"?

No! Examples of products that they don't need to manage might include;

  • A product that is only used internally, that another organization could own and manage. An example might be a customer support portal.

  • A "product" that is a one-off item for a customer, is developed outside the company and will be managed by another department. An example might be an integration to a customer's business system that your professional services organization will manage.


What are "products" that should be managed by a product manager?

  • Products that are sold to more than one customer.

  • Product that have users.


Alright, these Product Manager people you speak of seem great. But, are there downsides to having a product manager? Well, actually there is one. B2B Product Managers don't optimize for near-term revenue. As a result of thinking beyond this quarter there are compromises they will make make between delivering what a single customer wants now, versus what the market wants more generally.

Of course, great Product Managers can dance the dance, and manage to keep both sales and their customer happy, while keeping the product "on-roadmap"!