Sales engineer versus product manager

As my role as the API Product Manager and Owner for Ticketmaster has grown - a direct result of the increase in API adoption, growing user base and product feature expansion - it is finally time to bring in some help.

We're hiring both an API Sales Engineer (or Integration Engineer or API Analyst) as well as an Affiliate API Product Manager. Someone I work with recently asked me what the difference was between the two roles - Product Manager and Sales Engineer. Because I play both roles today for the Ticketmaster API, maybe the differences aren't so clear.

It often isn't clear to others (especially non-techies) what a Product Manager does (let alone an API Product Manager) and what their value to a business this. It especially isn't easy to understand what a Sales Engineer does, until it is explained to you.

Product Manager

  • The Product Owner in an agile (ie - Scrum) environment
  • General manager and ultimate advocate for the product
  • Translates market (ie – client, partner, customer, user, etc) needs into actionable business requirements
  • Responsible for defining the product features as stories (in agile)
  • Managing (prioritizing, grooming) the stories in a backlog
  • May be required to play multiple roles within the ecosystem of the product, like marketing, partner support or operations
  • Spokesperson for the product who knows the product inside and out
  • Understands and helps define the business case (justification) for building out products and features

Sales Engineer

  • Technical role in nature, typically filled by someone that has previous software engineering experience or with a development background
  • Skilled communicator that has the ability to both talk tech with developer partners yet also effectively communicate with partners on sales and marketing teams (ie – discuss solutions to a problem or describe a product or feature in non-technical terms that anyone can understand)
  • Serves as the advocate for developer partners and evangelist for the technology
  • Writes technical documentation, posts to developer message boards
  • Owns the developer (partner/developer application) integration pipeline, including vetting of new partners from a technology perspective, including consistent follow up with partners before, during and post-integration
  • Works with the product owner to add new features or enhancements to existing features to the product roadmap

API Product Staffing

If you're developing an API, even if it is only intended to be used by partners or internal teams (ie - it won't be totally open or public), don't skimp on the resourcing. In order to be successful with your API product, you should appropriately staff your teams like you would any other product. In fact, the API product probably requires more specialized staffing in order to give your API the best chance at success.

Make sure you staff people that can help you...

  • Manage the API product, including defining new APIs and business opportunities that might leverage the API
  • Market the API product. This isn't easy and will probably take some education, creativity and different approaches (think hack-a-thons)
  • Evangelize the importance of APIs and what they mean to the business
  • Build a great API, including great documentation, easy-to-understand interfaces

Dedicate a team to building and managing your API; a Product Manager, Lead Engineer/Architect, QA Engineer, Sales Engineer, Project Manager, Operations Manager, Developer Support are all important roles that should be considered when deciding to build an API. Commit, plan, budget, manage and maintain... just like you would any other product.

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