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XaaS Product Management

Product Manager vs. Offer Manager: What’s the Difference?

4 min. read
By Laura Fay

If you’re unclear on the difference between a product manager and an offer manager, you’re not alone. The terms are often used interchangeably. In fact, a LinkedIn job keyword search for ‘offer manager’ returns many results that are actually product management roles.

An equivalent search for keyword ‘product manager’ simply returns various product management jobs. This is a classic case of term ‘overloading’ (applying multiple different meanings to the same term), and can cause confusion when describing what product management actually is.

So what is product management, and how does it differ from offer management?

Let me explain.

What is Product Management?

Traditionally, product management focuses on building feature and use cases into core technology to meet the needs of a user or buyer persona. Product managers, even product line managers, often focus on innovating in a single technology or domain. That domain is often framed by long-existing technology categories like z,y, x and defined by industry analysts, who make a living advising IT buyers. Further, product managers are often measured on their ability to ship innovative products on schedule and within budget. 

More modern product managers are engaged in designing and building out complete end-to-end, compelling, and often very prescriptive customer experiences that are crafted to drive adoption.

Today’s world of cloud, data, IoT, and AI provides insights into customer behaviors previously only dreamt of. Bringing that actionable insight and automation to the customers is what the modern business PM must do to establish sticky relationships for the long term.

They may regularly work hand in hand with customer success and tap the IT and analytics teams to instrument and measure adoption. Those goals are critically important, but alone, they do not guarantee a product will succeed in the marketplace.

With all that said, success with customers and growing market share within a target customer segment requires a deeper understanding of the business processes of that set of users to create tangible value propositions that keenly address the improvement of key business metrics at a price that customers are willing to pay. The role of product management alone is not set up to achieve these goals. Success requires partnership with the offer manager. When product management and offer management work together, the magic happens.

Offer Manager and Technology Product Management
How Offer Management and Technology Product Management Serve the Customer

What is Offer Management?

An XaaS offering manager is accountable for the full iterative life cycle of an offer portfolio, including validating the need in the marketplace and establishing the outcome focused value proposition of the offer portfolio that best addresses the market segment need. In other words, the XaaS offering manager establishes the offer-market fit and monetization strategy.

Offer Manager and Technology Product Management of the  life cycle of an offer portfolio
Life Cycle of an Offer Portfolio

The offer portfolio may include technology, a variety of services, and data and analytics assembled in appropriate ways to meet the needs of the customer. The offer manager is focused on the growth and profitability of their offer portfolio. This includes the pricing model and the strategy to drive a deep economic moat through business differentiation. This role has often been referred to as a ‘mini-CEO.’

On a tactical release to release level, the offer manager must optimize for customer value realization and vendor value capture by ensuring at a minimum:

  1. Salability via all applicable channels to market (direct sales, e-commerce, partner ecosystems)
  2. Serviceability by the support team
  3. The solution has been designed for frictionless renewability
  4. The offers are designed for scalable and cost-effective operationalization

Where Do We Find Offer Managers?

As companies grow and portfolios become more complex and diverse, offer managers become increasingly important and distinguished from the technology product managers.

Companies like IBM and Autodesk, for example, have made clear distinctions between those responsible for the lifecycle success and those responsible for the technology success. Other companies, like supply chain vendor Blue Yonder, are investing heavily in their offer managers in recognition of the need for holistic and outcome-focused offers for their success.

Investing in XaaS Product & Offer Management

There are a few things that the product manager and the offer manager have in common. Both:

  1. Are unlikely to have people reporting directly to them but rely on their influencing skills. 
  2. Have a mandate to work across teams and disciplines to harness the company’s full arsenal of talent and intellectual property to achieve their respective goals.
  3. Need to work closely and effectively together to achieve both customer and market success.
  4. Must deeply understand the XaaS business model.

Foundational XaaS Knowledge

According to the 2020 TSIA Annual Organizational Study, the hurricanes of change that have been evident for many years are still present. Each category of hardware, software, and managed services businesses rated evolving product & service portfolios, new business models, and customer leverage of new offers in the top 4 out of 14 business initiatives.

With the industry shift to XaaS offer portfolios, the top priorities have changed. The new priorities are:

  • The margin challenges associated with as-a-service business models
  • New value propositions
  • Customer engagement models
  • New sources of cost
  • The disruption to the partner ecosystems
  • The imperative to equip both product managers and offer managers with XaaS business model foundations

For the past few years, I’ve been collecting data on the XaaS business model acumen among the product and offer management communities. I start by assessing the level of understanding of the formula for ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue). On a three point scale, with three being highest (i.e. I could ‘teach the class’) just 9% self-report a level three.  

If only 9% of PMs and OMs say they understand ARR formula well enough to 'teach the class,' then how can they build solutions for a model they don't completely understand?

The mistake traditional product and offer managers make is thinking they understand subscriptions and adoption, but they miss the significant opportunity to impact all the measurable outcome vectors of their efforts to drive scalable growth for their XaaS business, specifically:

  1. Tangible customer value realization
  2. Prescriptive revenue capture at each and every change point in ARR
  3. Cost effective customer engagement across sales and service
XaaS Value Creation and Growth Chart
XaaS Value Creation and Growth

So why are so many subscription businesses struggling to achieve both high growth AND profit? This session reveals TSIA’s research on the XaaS business model that you’ll want to design for to ensure longer term viability.

XaaS Value Propositions: Designing for Renewability?

Technology companies have been shifting from products built for on-premise deployment and acquired through capital acquisition to XaaS products built for cloud consumption purchased as subscriptions or paid for as consumed. This industry shift is having a dramatic impact on how solutions are designed and packaged, how value propositions are articulated to customers, and how customers engage in realizing that value proposition.

It is this actual realization of the value proposition that is the strongest indicator of the customers’ likelihood of renewal when that time comes around. This paper provides a detailed review of the value proposition attributes contributing to strong renewal results.

Accelerate the Path to LAER Efficiency: XaaS Solution Requirements and Action Plans

This paper provides a review of the customer and engagement requirements driving scalable and profitable XaaS solution design and identifies a set of actionable steps to address them.

 October 23, 2020

Laura Fay

About Author Laura Fay

Laura Fay is the vice president and managing director of offers research and advisory for TSIA. She also serves as TSIA’s vice president of XaaS product management research. Laura is a technology industry veteran with over 30 years' experience driving business growth in the enterprise technology industry via leadership roles in product management, general management, product development, and customer success.

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