Question: How can I transition from being a sales engineer to being in product management?
I have been a sales engineer for the past 10 years or so, and would like to move into product management. How can I best make the transition? Should I target specific sizes or types of companies? My thoughts are that a startup would want a seasoned professional, but perhaps a mid- to large-size company might be willing to hire someone who had not had a PM position before.
Answer from Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing: Small companies seem more inclined to take risks; larger companies may tend to favor a candidate with experience. But I don’t think the issue is company size; I think the issue is the hiring manager. Some want to bring someone in who already knows the job and the industry and is willing to work for the same or lower pay. Fools! Instead the smart hiring manager should be looking for an SE rather than a product manager. My best source for product managers was in fact my competitor’s best SEs.
How does a SE become a product manager? Illustrate in some way your ability to see patterns in the market. Don’t be the guy who says “I’m in sales and I know what people need.” Be the guy who says “78% of our lost deals are because we don’t have this feature.” Those who attend Practical Product Management learn that opinions are cheap but market data is dear.
I suggest that you sit down with the VP of Marketing or the VP of product management to discuss what they’re looking for and how you can be on their short list for the next product management opening. Many folks start with the Pragmatic Marketing Framework at http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/pragmatic-marketing-framework serving as a vehicle for discussion. Which of these activities are your best features? Which activities are driving the VP crazy? And let’s hope that your skills fit a void in the VP’s current staffing.
In the end, product managers come from many places: development, sales, marketing, support. But the best product managers are those who see patterns and create a consistent, repeatble method for defining products and working with other teams.
For more on the product management roles and compensation, see www.pragmaticmarketing.com/survey