Although product managers in distribution (Channelwise July’s cover story) have come to be regarded as “heroes” in the IT channel, the rapidly-changing technological landscape characterised by trends such as “virtualisation”, the “cloud”, “seamless connectivity” and the “Internet of Things” are beginning to create an impression that traditional hardware, software and peripheral products are no longer that relevant and therefore may not need to be managed in the same way as they were in the past.

If this is the case, then product managers could well be added to the endangered species list in the not too distant future.

And the current global economic climate and local trading environment are not helping matters.

The current trading environment puts the typical distribution product manager in a vice-like squeeze. On the one hand the manager will be expected to continue ordering stock to meet vendor growth expectations while on the other there will be high expectations to meet reseller demands for better pricing in a cutthroat sales market.

A third dimension is added to the pressures faced by distribution product managers – a non-negotiable business requirement to ensure that the stock holding is kept to the barest minimum; is sold at the highest margin and for credit extension to be eliminated altogether.

While the third dimension should probably be the norm in any business under any trading conditions, the added difficulties of how to trade successfully in a market that has become totally commoditised and that is moving into a “virtual world” based on services rather than  products makes it so much harder.

Mistakes such as excess stock, uncompetitive pricing and risky credit extension in a booming, high growth market are relatively easy to overcome. However, when volumes drop and the market contracts due to economic conditions or through a technological transitional phase these mistakes can prove fatal.

It is against this background that it would not be surprising to find that the current generation of distribution product managers is going to find themselves in deep trouble – either because they don’t know how to “trade in the gutter” or because they become redundant due to their inability to keep their product entirely relevant.

One survival tip is to become hard-headed and thick skinned by developing an ability to say “no” to vendor demands to place orders. A similar tip is to say “no” to resellers who want a better deal.

However, despite the challenges of the economy and the changing technological landscape, there is little doubt that product managers will continue to survive as a breed due to the age-old demand set by vendors that a resource dedicated to their products is put in place as a condition of being granted distribution rights in a particular market.

As far as the vendor is concerned, a distribution product manager is expected to be both a technical as well as a sales and marketing specialist ‑ a fanatical evangelist totally focused on the vendor brand and committed to helping the vendor channel manager to achieve revenue targets.

Perhaps the time is rapidly approaching where product managers within distribution are fully funded by the vendor. After all, when any species is in danger of being added to a list regarded as being doomed to extinction, any radical intervention should be considered.