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Product Management may have overarching core values and required skills, but it takes on all shapes and sizes depending on industries, hierarchies, and products and services offered. It isn’t only the type of product that can influence Product Management strategy—the product path, or roadmap, can be a substantial contributing factor. Looking at Enterprise and Consumer Product Management, it’s easy to see just how influential product trajectory and touchpoints can be for PM strategies and communication. To identify the critical differences between Enterprise and Consumer Product management, we have to look at the key performance indicators that we assume are maximizing revenue, versus those that would actually maximize it.

Core Differentiation

In differentiating between Enterprise and Consumer Product Management, the divide depends on the identities of purchasers and end-users. Consumer Product Management markets and sells to individuals who both purchase and utilize the product. However, in Enterprise Product Management, buyers are not end-users. Instead, buyers purchase and distribute the product to end-users. Consumer and Enterprise systems are known as business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B), respectively. 

Shri Iyer – Enterprise Vs Consumer Quote 1

Unfortunately, many myths have been perpetuated about Enterprise companies and products. Product School’s Ellen Merryweather highlighted talking points by former Microsoft PM Anand Lakshminarayan. In discussing Enterprise myths, Anand highlighted the ideas that Enterprise PMs have to know reality and the state of the market, and that no firm definition was in place. These myths are, of course, not true; Anand proves this by defining Enterprise Product Management as working with stakeholders both internally and externally to support and innovate on a business’s needs. 

In an article for Mind the Product, Martin Eriksson highlights some of the ways that PMs can maximize the product and all of its surrounding strategy. For instance, Eriksson points out that Consumer Product Management should focus on user experience, as market competition makes it difficult to break out or maintain relevance. From this, we can infer that Enterprise Product Management may have comparatively less competition in some regards. Still, it features even more individuals to focus on—Enterprise PMs must communicate with all stakeholders, from end-users to buyers to marketing and sales teams. 

However, this doesn’t mean that Enterprise PMs are spread thin. Such professionals must prioritize the end-user, just as Consumer PMs do. After all, as Eriksson writes, “if they’re not loving it or using it, the procurer or advertiser aren’t going to pay for it.” From here, the question becomes, how do we balance the importance of pleasing the end-user with the requirement of pleasing everyone else along the chain of command?

Prioritizing Stakeholders and End-Users

Entrepreneur and Product Manager Pritam Roy describes the Enterprise product path as a nonlinear one, due primarily to the vertical and horizontal layers of stakeholders and management. Prioritization, then, can feel like a minefield. Pritam Roy does offer advice on this, suggesting that close relationships with tech teams can help PMs and the product find success. After all, Enterprise Product Management is a relatively tech-heavy area; therefore, these relationships are crucial to surviving and thriving. 

Shri Iyer – Enterprise Vs Consumer Quote 2

Consumer technology is built for end-users, and so must be carefully crafted to adhere to what these individuals want and need out of a product. 

With Enterprise products, buyers must trust that purchases are worth the money, while end-users are the ones who get to know products front-and-back. This balance can get tricky, though; what happens when the product is a workflow tool, where the ultimate goal is for end-users to spend less time on the software than more? According to a Hackernoon piece, false assumptions of revenue drivers for such Enterprise software could include clickbait and overconsumption. Both of these results could have negative impacts on engagement and overall satisfaction for end-users. So, what is the key to achieving this balance? It all rests in one of the most important parts of the PM job: collaboration.

The Role of Collaboration

The prevalence of stakeholders makes cross-functional collaboration all the more vital in Enterprise Product Management. As Blair Reeves and Benjamin Gaines write, three traits classify product types:

  1. Business Models – For Consumer Product Management, several revenue models and marketplaces exist, whereas Enterprise products are primarily sold through direct-sales.
  2. Product Specialization – Due to the highly specialized and customized nature of Enterprise software, solutions are often moving targets.
  3. Customer Versus User – This reiterates the difference between buyers and end-users that I previously covered in this article.

Based on those categories, it’s reasonable to suggest that consumers of Enterprise products are much more outspoken and instrumental in the development process than those of Consumer products. Product Manager Rak Garg echoes this sentiment in his piece on Consumer and Enterprise Product Management. According to Rak Garg, Enterprise companies rely on customer feedback to polish products, while Consumer companies must pull data and numbers and then synthesize that information. For Enterprise PMs, this means slower progress due to the lack of quantitative data and the high number of stakeholders. For Consumer PMs, identifying the problem is the tricky part.

Shri Iyer – Enterprise Vs Consumer Quote 3

In her piece on Anand Lakshminarayan, Ellen Merryweather writes, “It’s not always effective to ask your customers point-blank about any pain points they might have regarding using your product, as they might deflect. Sometimes it’s better to observe, rather than ask.” Those observations must drive workflow forward and improve upon the product.

Still, this all doesn’t quite explain the relationship between PMs and customers. To get an idea of what this relationship looks like, take a look at the structure of Enterprise Product Management. In this setting, the PMs are often removed a few levels from customers. Commonly, customer success departments and similar teams take charge of direct interactions with customers, leaving PMs to piece together the expectations and mindsets of their buyers and end-users. 

To do so, PMs rely on internal stakeholders such as the sales team, the implementation team, the customer success team, and others to accurately and regularly communicate all relevant information. While there is no substitute for engaging directly with customers, the PM and customers both collaborate with these middle ground stakeholders to explore challenges and pain-points and provide feedback. 

On the surface, Enterprise and Consumer Product Management are quite different. However, remember that the two have the same goal: to deliver the best product possible to buyers and end-users, whether or not they’re the same. Despite the differences—compliance issues, stakeholder input, and buyer-to-end-user process—Product Managers from either end of the spectrum hope to promote the products they’re most passionate about.