You recently criticized product specialists for playing a surrogate portfolio manager role in a world where clients increasingly expect this role to be played by the sales rep. This position often exists alongside one or more product managers who perform more generalist tasks, such as educating sales staff about the product, assisting with marketing materials and client inquiries, and drafting thematic pieces, in addition to performing the surrogate role that a pure product specialist might play. Is there a viable role for product managers?
Is there a viable role for product managers?
I think your question points up a very important distinction — which may be more of a question of semantics — but really distinguishes between what I have always referred to as product specialist vs. what I think of when the term product manager is used.
At the risk of repeating myself, the major thrust of my answer last week was to point out that salespeople should not be just relationship builders who find a suspect, turn it into a prospect and then bring in an “investment professional” early in the due diligence process when a conversation about product specificity takes place. I was with a firm where the product specialists filled that role, but were actually part of the sales, marketing and client service teams, rather than the investment management team.
A product manager in my estimation — and I believe in yours based on your question — is much more a part of the portfolio management team and is very concerned with ensuring the product is being managed in a consistent manner across all portfolios and in a manner that adheres to the implementation of the stated investment strategy the client expects. The product manager also ensures their product or product lines are provided the necessary resources within the firm required to be the “best of breed” or at least to be competitive with other similar products in the target market or channel.
To your point, I have seen product managers play the role of internal product champion in large asset managers where they do help the sales team and the client service team better represent their product externally. Moreover, the product manager is continuously trying to obtain “shelf space” in what can be a difficult situation where there are limited sales resources and multiple products for multiple-target markets.
The product specialist role that I have observed at close range — and again this is just my experience — was clearly more sales oriented than portfolio management oriented so that at some point the “real” portfolio manager still would have to get involved in the due diligence process because the asset owner really wanted to interact with the person responsible for adherence to the stated strategy and responsible for the results.
So in short, I think there is a viable role for a product manager who is an integral part of the investment team, but I don't believe there is a viable role going forward for the product specialist who is primarily a more technically proficient salesperson.