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The different product manager roles

Already confused? Don’t worry, I was too. Let’s unscramble this together. The list is gigantic, and I will write about only four of them in this article.

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Let’s talk about the different types of product managers. There is more than one type of product manager in the world, even in the tech environment. A heads-up, today you will read and learn a ton of buzzwords; sorry about that.

The list is gigantic, and I will write about only four of them in this article, they are:

  1. Internal product managers;
  2. Consumer product managers, and
  3. Business-to-business (B2B) product managers, also called SAAS product managers or software as a service.
  4. Technical product manager.

Already confused? Don’t worry, I was too. Let’s unscramble this together. Starting with the first buzzword of the article, stakeholders.

Stakeholders

They are the main difference between the four roles. This is a fancy term for people you are building for or input into what you are creating.

The best definition that I could compile so far is:

A stakeholder is a person who can transform the PM’s life into a living hell or haven.

So, with this definition, can you think of some examples of stakeholders? The list can be long, but we can start by dividing then into two main categories:

  1. Internal stakeholders
  • Owners / Founders
  • Investors (private companies)
  • Employees
  1. External stakeholders
  • Users / Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Investors (public companies)
  • Creditors
  • Communities
  • Trade unions
  • Government agencies
  • Media

So, you got the picture, right? As a PM, we can have a few or a bunch of stakeholders. Internally, we can still split into divisions, departments, and so many others, like executives, marketing, legal, compliance, etc.

Internal Product Manager

In large corporations, it is relatively common to have a dedicated internal Product team; in startups and middle-size companies, you will typically find a few teams splitting this role between external and internal. It could be a little messy sometimes.

The internal team often creates solutions/tools for the internal use of the organization. The users are the company employees; instead of the general public. A great and simple example of an internal tool/feature is to give the ability of the internal user (support team as an example) to:

  • Send a link for the user to change their password
  • To update any information of the external users
  • To check the SLAs of that week
  • And so many others.

B2B Product Manager

The business-to-business product manager or SAAS or Software as a Service is the product manager who builds products/solutions for other companies to use. But the user is not a person? Yes, it is, and you are right about it. A product by the end of the day is always a human-to-human (H2H) process, but the difference is the stakeholders, remember? In this case, the commercial relationship is between two companies.

A few examples of this are SAP, IBM, AWS, Oracle, or Salesforce. Those products are designed to solve problems for other companies. This means that the product manager interacts with the external users and a lot with internal users, especially with the salespeople at their own company.

B2C Product Manager

A business-to-consumer (B2C) defines the commercial relationship between your user and your company, hence your role as a product manager. B2C or Customer PM is focused on building products/services for the average user, you and me. I was a consumer product manager at ClickSitter; I built the app that thousands of people out in public used daily. Some other examples are Uber, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.

A successful consumer product management skill sets are a wide range and visionary and creativity. Product managers try to maximize usage in the consumer role, rapidly reduce CAC, and extend the LTV to infinity and beyond.

You don’t have one major client to solve one problem and sign a long-term contract. This is the contrast between B2B, and B2C product manager is exactly that, a B2B PM can have a salesperson reaching out and say: “Hey, Maya; we need your help, the client XYZ is asking for this feature, and he is willing to sign a $5 million contract if we build it.

For the consumer PM, no one can really predict exactly what is the thing that needs to be built for sure, and even if it is the right thing to be done. The B2C product manager needs to invest a lot of his/her time:

  • Researching,
  • Interviewing users,
  • Tracking tons of data,
  • Drawing several wireframes,
  • Different prototypes,
  • User testings,
  • A/B testing,
  • Analyzing all the data relate, and
  • Praying/wishing for the user to love it and pay for it.

We have an internal tools product manager, a business-to-business product manager, and a business-to-consumer product manager. There are other types of PMs out there, but those are really the big three you got to be familiar with.

Technical Product Manager

The role of technical product manager can be considered an external role. This is not only true for technical product management functions but also for product management functions in general. However, technical product managers generally have computer science and software engineering skills to manage engineering and software development teams.

In other words, a Technical PM is a hybrid between the average product manager and the engineering manager. It is not common to find technical product managers in all companies, but it’s relatively common to have them in large corporations with ample research and development teams.

While this is sometimes achieved simply by dividing responsibilities for different products or resources among team members, they tend to be assigned to areas that require a more rigorous understanding of technical issues.

Recap

Now we know four of the numerous types of product management roles and the main difference between them. Are the decision-process of these roles different from each other? Actually, no. The process can be the same; the difference will be in the variables involved; remember to read this article.

It also makes sense that different personality types might fit these various product management roles better. If you are getting started as a PM, I recommend focusing on the Internal Product Manager roles. This role will also allow you to learn a lot about technology because you’ll usually build tools that integrate with other existing systems.

A second point is in this role, you’ll probably acting as a project manager sometimes. So the transition will not be that drastic — the third, and most important, you’ll not build for millions of users. You’ll build for people who work with you in other departments; so, less risk of losing a lot of company money if you make a mistake or a feature is a buggy.

Like the internal PM, the B2B PM is also a good starting point for your product management career. You probably going to start by working around small features, tech debts, and minor improvements.

Business-to-business companies generally sell software or subscription to a handful of Companies (customers) and not for tens of millions of users. You will have a little room to be creative, don’t expect major revamps or major features every quarter.

You’ll feel the pressure from the executives, and especially from the sales team, to build a specific feature. A common phrase you will be listening to: “Without this new feature, I won’t be able to close this deal.”

So, less than half of the time, this is true, so push back, and ask for data to prove the business case.

The third one, the B2C, or business to consumer product management role. This is a daunting role for people who don’t know how to handle uncertainty and constant pressure. It is by far the most stressful and the most self-centered.

You’ll literally live hell and heaven from a 5 minutes difference every single day. Your feature will be used by millions of users; they will love and hate it. You’ll build for multiple platforms:

  • Web
  • iOS (iPhone, iPad)
  • Android
  • Windows

Unlike B2B, one silly mistake can cost the company reputation and millions of dollars in this role. You will never test enough, reading, analyzing feedback is your number one task every day, and it’s ever quite sure what you should build next. You have to iterate and test quickly to get the features that you need to develop.

I hope you’re just as excited as I was to go deeper on these topics!

I’ll see you in the following article, and don’t forget to hit the subscribe button.

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Taric Andrade

Taric Andrade

Entrepreneurial minded, passionate for tech, driven by intellectual curiosity — curating knowledge to solve problems and create change.

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