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Category Manager vs. Product Manager: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Category managers and product managers are both responsible for the planning and execution of marketing strategies. Though their roles share some similarities, there are several key differences between the two positions. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between category managers and product managers, and we provide tips for pursuing a career in each field.

What is a Category Manager?

A Category Manager is a retail professional who is responsible for the planning, execution and analysis of all merchandising activities for a specific product category. They work with buyers, planners, visual merchandisers, store managers and other retail professionals to ensure that products are properly displayed and promoted to maximize sales. Category Managers also develop and implement category strategies, including product assortment, pricing and promotions. They conduct regular market analysis to identify trends and opportunities to grow sales. In addition, Category Managers develop relationships with vendors and negotiate contracts to get the best terms for their company.

What is a Product Manager?

Product Managers are responsible for the strategy, roadmap and feature definition of a product or product line. They work with cross-functional teams to bring products to market, ensuring that they meet the needs of customers and the business. Product Managers work with designers, engineers, marketers and sales teams to ensure that products are designed and built to specification, that they are marketed effectively and that they are sold successfully. In some cases, Product Managers may also be responsible for post-sales support and customer success.

Category Manager vs. Product Manager

Here are the main differences between a category manager and a product manager.

Job Duties

Product managers are responsible for overseeing a product throughout its life cycle. This means they perform a variety of duties, depending on the stage a product is in. For example, when a product is first released, a product manager may conduct market research to determine how to improve it. They might also communicate with external stakeholders, like marketing or customer support, to get feedback and relay important information about a product to other departments.

Category managers oversee an entire category within a particular market. As a result, their job duties are more focused on maintaining one product rather than many products. For example, a category manager might monitor sales data to see what improvements can be made to a particular product or they might work closely with design to ensure a product looks appealing to customers.

Job Requirements

Category managers and product managers typically need a bachelor’s degree in business administration, marketing or another related field. Some employers prefer candidates to have a master’s degree as well, but it is not required for entry-level positions. Additionally, many category managers and product managers pursue certifications through the National Association of Purchasing Management (NAPM) or the Institute of Supply Management (ISM). These organizations offer training programs that teach professionals how to use purchasing software and other tools they might need on the job.

Work Environment

Product managers typically work in an office setting, but they may also travel to meet with clients or attend trade shows. They spend most of their time working on projects and collaborating with teams to develop products that meet the needs of consumers. Category managers usually work in an office environment as well, but they may also visit retail locations to observe consumer behavior and analyze sales data.

Product managers often work long hours during product development cycles, while category managers may have more predictable schedules because they don’t need to be present for every sale.


Category managers and product managers share some skills, such as the ability to conduct market research, develop marketing plans and track sales data. They also both need to be able to work with a team and have strong communication skills.

However, category managers typically focus on developing strategies for an entire product category, while product managers are responsible for overseeing the development and launch of a specific product. This difference means that category managers need to have a more strategic mindset, while product managers need to be more focused on the details of their product.

Category managers also need to have a good understanding of their company’s overall business strategy, as they need to align their category strategies with the company’s goals. Product managers, on the other hand, need to have a deep understanding of their product and the market it is in. They need to be able to identify customer needs and develop plans to address them.


The average salary for a category manager is $97,178 per year, while the average salary for a product manager is $98,439 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the industry, the size of the company and the level of experience you have in the field.


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