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Secrets to Product Mgt

3 Secrets of Product Management

The craft of product management continuously changes. I’ve invested over 25 years in new product development and product management roles at several multinational biopharmaceutical and medical device companies. My responsibilities included blockbuster biologics, small-molecule cardiovascular drugs, digital therapeutics, and many things in between — yet across this diverse portfolio there are fundamental concepts that remain constant.

In my current role as President of the biopharma Marketing agency, Health Accelerators, we coach many product managers on how to do their job more effectively, more strategically, to have more fun and continuously learn while doing it. No matter the product or category, we help product managers see important patterns to approach their job more systematically and with an eye toward mitigating risk. Below are three ‘secrets’ learned over years of practice.

Secret One: Fill in the Spaces

What does ‘fill in the spaces’ mean? It’s orchestrating the cast of characters, the support network that you have inside your company as well as your external partners. I’ve worked on brands that had support teams made up of over ten external agencies and dozens of internal experts, and my job was to connect the dots. A critical job of any product manager is to fill in the spaces between your partners. Embrace your roles as connector, communicator and facilitator – and be the one that gathers the resources to fuel your complex network of Marketing professionals.

Network of Agencies
Connecting Your Network of Partners

Secret Two: Build Capabilities, not just Campaigns

Campaigns are essential, but not sufficient. The main problem I see with Marketing that relies solely on campaigns is that it’s a short-term strategy. You don’t build much organizational learning, you don’t build a capability for the company or for your brand, and you waste resources reinventing the wheel each time.

Build Marketing systems and capabilities that will outlast a single product manager.

My recommendation is to build Marketing systems – to build capabilities that will outlast a single product manager who may be in that role only for a year or two. Let’s say you get a new job at your company, maybe even a promotion (congratulations!). Your legacy, in addition to great sales numbers and helping a lot of patients, is to create a system that the next person can pick up, understand the rules, and perhaps make a few changes – without throwing out the whole system and starting over. In my view, that’s a very expensive way to do Marketing and it puts your competitive advantage at risk.

Secret 3: Clearly Articulate the Problem & Create a ‘Portfolio of Solutions’ to Solve It

Let’s say you have a clear Marketing problem — you need more patients to become aware of your new product and ask their doctor about it. You want to capture their information and permission so you can engage with them over time, perhaps starting with relevant disease information and then moving on to therapy options and a brand discussion.

Sounds like you need to generate some qualified leads and store them in a database for further contact. One way to cost-effectively do this with patients is to air unbranded, direct-response television (DRTV) ads. However, if that’s the only tactic you use, you may be putting your lead-generation goal at risk. A smarter approach is to identify and develop two or three other programs to generate qualified leads, creating a ‘portfolio of solutions.’

You may observe one program that’s performing very well, so you invest in it until you see diminishing returns, i.e., the cost per lead starts to increase dramatically after you’ve saturated the DRTV target audience. At the same time, you test a few other lead-gen tactics to reduce your risk if the main one starts to become too expensive or impractical.

Managing investments as a portfolio spreads your risk by not putting all of your eggs in one basket.

It’s similar to personal finance – managing investments as a portfolio spreads your risk by not putting all of your eggs in one basket. If you diversify your portfolio of lead-generation tactics, you can pivot and shift your resources to other programs that you have tested, with the confidence that they ‘work.’ The other programs may not be as productive as your primary tactic, but having a backup plan is better than having nothing.

Portfolio of solutions
Portfolio of Solutions example: Lead-Generation Tactics

A portfolio of solutions approach for a product manager spreads the risk, increases learning and provides options. That is your job: To innovate while creating options for yourself, your brand, your team and your company – as well as opportunities for your agencies to come forward with new ways to achieve your brand goals.


To recap:

  1. A key job of a product manager is to fill in the spaces
  2. Create capabilities instead of just campaigns
  3. Clearly articulate the problems to be solved, and create portfolios of solutions to address them

Now it’s your turn. Please send me an email with your product management ‘secrets,’ and we may include them in a future post.

Watch the 3 Secrets of Product Management video.


Author: Joe Shields

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