If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about the product management space is that it’s rife with new terms and concepts. I love how product management is a space that’s evolving constantly, so it’s natural that there will always be new terms and concepts. It can be confusing though!* Most recently, I learned about ‘Outbound Product Management’, which threw up a number of questions for me:
What is an Outbound Product Manager?
“Outbound Product Managers are product managers who are primarily focused on go-to-market activities and customer interactions.” These words come from Richard Seroter — Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud. Seroter has written a great piece about outbound product management, capturing his learnings about this space. Outbound Product Managers (‘OPMs’) are typically focused on a portfolio of products, engaging with customers and prospects to understand how their needs are being met and identifying opportunities to evolve the product portfolio.
It feels like the Outbound Product Manager role is specific to B2B SaaS environments, where there’s often a need to work alongside sales in helping customers adopt the product(s) as well as acting as the bridge between sales and product management. Seroter mentions three additional conditions where outbound product management provides a good fit:
- A complex product portfolio and a B2B sales motion
- A product management function closely aligned with engineering work as opposed to go-to-marketing work
- A marketing function that concentrates more on public awareness than on field enablement
Aviel Shtrik, Product Alignment Specialist at monday.com explains how the OPM role emerges in organisations where the product manager doesn’t have enough capacity to focus on outbound activities such as helping to close large sales deals where there are product gaps or improving the feedback loop between sales and product. “Companies get to a certain size where their team benefits from a dedicated outbound product management focus”, says Charles Barton. Barton is Director of Product at EGYM and was previously responsible for product management and outbound strategy at SAP Commerce Cloud. “You can have a large portfolio of products or one large product, and in both cases OPMs can drive things like product positioning and pricing” Barton adds.
What are the main differences between an Outbound Product Manager and an ‘inbound’ Product Manager?
OPMs don’t bear day-to-day product development responsibility but are responsible for launching the product and growing adoption by customers. In some organisations, each product team or domain will have its own dedicated OPM. In others, the OPMs play a more horizontal role, spread across a broad range of products. In neither instance are OPMs embedded in cross-functional product teams with engineers and designers. They do, however, collaborate closely with these ’inbound’ product teams and are an integral part of an organisation’s R&D function.
OPMs aren’t accountable for the creation or delivery of a product roadmap, nor the day-to-day performance of products. Instead they actively contribute to the creation of the product strategy and product roadmap.
What is the difference between Outbound Product Management and Product Marketing?
Some of the go-to-market activities that OPMs get involved in overlap with Product Marketing. For example, writing launch announcements or creating competitive overviews are activities that I’ve seen being done by both Product Marketing Managers and OPMs.
I’m not entirely clear about the main difference between Product Marketing and Outbound Product Management, and I guess this will depend on the structure and the specific needs of an organisation. Customer engagement feels like a major difference, considering the expectation of OPMs to help develop strong strategic relationships with customers. OPMs tend to spend a lot of time with customers to understand their in-depth needs and problems. Seroter points to another difference that he’s observed: “OPMs are part of the product process sooner, and deeper. OPMs are part of product vision creation, design reviews, engineering updates.” He adds that OPMs tend to be looked upon to be product experts that can also effectively communicate to a wide audience of developers, industry analysts, C-level executives, and sales professionals. Eric Crane — Co Founder at Flatflile — explains how Outbound Product Management poses two questions. Firstly, How can you extend your product in a way that solves more holistic problems? Secondly, Where does your product plug into the value chain for your customers?
What value can an Outbound Product Manager bring?
Combined with the continuous learning about the market and from engaging with analysts and partners, OPMs are in a great position to understand how a product portfolio delivers value to customers and identify opportunities for new value creation. Susan Wu, Outbound Product Manager at Google Cloud, underlines the emphasis on gathering customer insights and prioritising product direction as part of the OPM role. She also sees growing involvement of OPMs in developing the ‘whole product’; building out the product ecosystem and including 3rd party integrations.
From what I’ve observed and learned from OPMs thus far is that they can bring a very valuable perspective to the product strategy and development process. Because OPMs continuously engage with customers and analysts — typically across a range of products and throughout different stages of the customer lifecycle — they can help product managers identify new product opportunities as well as highlight areas for product improvement.
Main learning point: In this post I’ve focused on the differences between ‘inbound’ and outbound product management as well as highlighting what OPMs can bring to the table when collaborating with cross-functional teams. OPMs can provide great input into cross-functional product teams; sharing insights and recommendations from their ongoing customer and market engagement, grounded in a customer and product centric point of view.
A huge thank you to Susan Wu, Charles Barton, Aviel Shtrik and Richard Seroter for their input into this blog post. Thank you for reviewing my drafts and providing your feedback!
* For example when I met a product person who describes herself as a ‘fractional CPO’. I hadn’t come across the term ‘fractional’ before and thus learned about a new term for part-time or interim leaders. I’m sure my explanation of the fractured CPO doesn’t do the role justice. For a more elaborate and considered definition of the fractured CPO role, please see this great piece by Teri Harwood.
Related links for further learning: