• There are many areas of potential confusion and conflict between product management and portfolio marketing
  • Forrester has recommendations on roles and responsibilities, but other factors are more important when determining who should own certain activities and deliverables
  • Ensure that key elements are completed well, at the right time, and by people who have the time and skills to successfully collaborate

“Who should be responsible for…?”


It’s a question I hear nearly every day.

“Who should be responsible for competitive analysis?” “Who should own go-to-market strategy?” “Who creates user personas?”

These questions aren’t surprising, given that one of the most common topics we help our clients with through our Product Management and Portfolio Marketing research services is establishing or improving the product commercialization and lifecycle process. Companies are trying to be faster and more nimble, more customer-centric, and more consistent in how they innovate and bring offerings to market to drive growth. One thing that can hold them back is confusion about roles and responsibilities, particularly between product management and portfolio marketing (which includes product, solution, industry, and segment marketing.)

Product and marketing leaders come to us looking for guidance, which is what leads to the question “Who should be responsible for [X]?” (where X is a specific activity or deliverable like market sizing, launch planning, or creating a product growth plan).

Clients of our Product Management and Portfolio Marketing services have access to research with recommendations for roles and responsibilities, such as “Responsibility Assignment (RACI) Matrix Tool for the PMM Model.” However, while selecting the right role for a given activity is important, there are actually other questions are more important and need to be addressed first (and in order to determine who should be responsible):

  • Is the activity or deliverable done at all? The first consideration is whether the key steps in a product innovation process even happen. Are buyer personas identified? Is concept testing conducted? Is a business case created? Is customer feedback collected post-launch? Who “owns” something doesn’t matter if crucial elements related to product innovation and the go-to-market process aren’t even happening.
  • Is the activity or deliverable being done well? Just because a step in the product lifecycle is happening doesn’t mean it’s conducted well. Product management may be gathering competitive intelligence, but if it’s focused only on tactical features or missing key competitors, then there are likely major gaps. Maybe portfolio marketing is defining value propositions that are internally and technically focused rather than accurately describing the value provided to buyer personas. An assessment of the quality of the work performed can help identify where there is need for improvement.
  • Is the activity or deliverable done at the right time? Even if an activity is done well, it may be done too late in the process. We often see organizations create buyer personas and user personas only after a roadmap is defined (which is backwards, since personas’ needs should influence the roadmap), or start pricing work right before launch. Roles and responsibilities don’t matter as much (or at all) if the work is done too late to have an impact.
  • Is the preferred function/role capable of being accountable and responsible? With these other questions addressed, we can get to who should be accountable for a specific activity and deliverable. Responsibility requires capability — for a given role to “own” something, it needs to (a) have the skills/competencies to do it well, and (b) have the time/bandwidth to take it on. For example, we generally recommend that product management be responsible for pricing and packaging. However, if product managers are new to the role and have technical backgrounds, and portfolio marketers are experienced at pricing, then it probably makes sense for portfolio marketing to take the lead on pricing in the near term. Similarly, if there are 30 product managers and only three portfolio marketers, then some things that are normally product portfolio marketing responsibilities — like defining routes to market — might need to fall to product management simply because of resource constraints.

It’s not that roles and responsibilities aren’t important — because they most certainly are. It’s that other considerations can be more important and need to come first. Also, as my colleague John Grozier is fond of saying, just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should do it. (Sales can set pricing, but that doesn’t mean that it should.)

One additional consideration: People who get hung up in debates about ownership often forget that in a best-in-class process, nearly every activity and deliverable requires cross-functional collaboration. Portfolio marketers might be accountable for buyer personas, but product managers should listen in on some buyer persona interviews. Product managers should be responsible for the product roadmap, but portfolio marketing should be providing input. Customer success should lead the customer engagement program but with heavy input from marketing and product management. Who is in charge is less crucial when there’s good collaboration and interlock.

In short: Roles and responsibilities are important, and there’s definitely rationale and evidence behind our recommendations on who should do what. That being said, it’s still better to have the “wrong” role do something well, at the right time in the process, and with input from others than the “right” role do it poorly, too late, and on their own.