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What advice would you give to a product marketer looking to transition to product management, or vice versa?

3 Answers
Carrie Zhang
Carrie Zhang
Square Product LeadFebruary 1
  • It’s a good idea to try internal transfer if you want to transition from PMM to PM, or vice versa. Learning the craft of a new discipline is not easy. You are more likely to set yourself up for success if you minimize other variables like new company, new product, new team.
  • Anchor on your strength. There are many transferable skills between the two disciplines, e.g., customer discovery, data analytics, communication and influencing skills. Leverage your strength in the new role and you will find it easier to get early wins and build confidence in yourself.
  • But definitely work on filling those gaps in your skills. If you are transitioning from PMM to PM, the most important thing to learn is to work well with your engineers. You don’t have to have a technical background, nor do you need to know how to code, but you do need to have the curiosity to learn how your product’s technical infrastructure works, and how that may impact Eng scope and speed when you make product decisions. Learn best practices of product development. For that I cannot recommend enough reading Marty Cagan’s book Inspired.
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Abhiroop Basu
Abhiroop Basu
Square Product ManagerMarch 2

I love this question since I recently made the PMM to PM transition!

  1. Focus on transferrable skills. Three of the most important PM skills include: communication, leading through influence, and problem solving. PMMs looking to transfer into a PM role should ensure they are strong in all three.
  2. Leverage institutional knowledge. It's much easier to transition from PMM to PM in your current company than applying to a new position in a different company. In your existing PMM role you are likely to know all the relevant stakeholders, have product knowledge, and understand the market. These are all going to be critical as a PM.
  3. Build good relationships. Even before you approach the Product leader who you want to work for, make sure you have strong relationships with that team. This shouldn't be hard to do as a PMM, but it builds your credibility and makes the interview process a lot less stressful.
1039 Views
Julian Dunn
Julian Dunn
GitHub Senior Director of Product ManagementJuly 13

This is a great question. I've transitioned from PM to PMM and back again, so I can give you my perspective on both.

The biggest challenges for anyone moving into PM, whether that be from PMM or other roles, are the following:

  • deeply understanding the domain;
  • leading by influence; and
  • being comfortable with high levels of ambiguity.

(And, of course, the ability to make good judgment calls on top of all that.)

For PMMs specifically, particularly those without a technical background, the first area is going to be the one that's most challenging. You can't be successful at leading by influence if you don't deeply understand the product & customers and can convey the nuances of these elements to your engineering and design counterparts. Let's be honest: In marketing, you can sometimes get away with hand-waving (PMMs have often done it to cover for product shortcomings!) In PM, this simply won't fly. You can't BS your customers or your R&D teams.

For PMs looking to move into PMM: I actually wish this was a more "acceptable" career path, or that PMs could do a stint in PMM and then come back again, because knowing how to position a product and working with the rest of the company to take it to market is an incredibly critical skill that I believe makes product managers better at their jobs. Unfortunately, the current industry perception of PMM is that it's a lesser role than PM. The recent e-book from the Product Marketing Alliance, Product Marketing Misunderstood, essentially states this flat out. It's very difficult to get back into PM once you've made the move to "marketing" which is often perceived as a fluffy department by R&D teams.

That being said, Product Marketing Misunderstood holds as its central thesis the notion that the CMO of the future will come from PMM rather than demand generation, which, if it holds water, bodes well for the PM-cum-PMM who wants to rise in their career. Just bear in mind that, as you become more senior as a PMM, you will increasingly need to interface with marketing functions (such as demand generation, events, field marketing, partner marketing) that may not interest you at all. If you're a PM considering making the move into PMM, you should familiarize yourself with all the aspects of marketing (I even have a blog post about this), assess the maturity of those functions at your company if you're planning to make a lateral move, and then decide.

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