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When a salesperson is not selling, she will naturally get testy. And the Product Manager will likely feel the brunt of it. As a defense, you should make sure that the sales team understand exactly how the product should be positioned by working closely with marketing.
One of the biggest battles a Product Management team will face will be keeping up with the constant feature requests and improvements coming from customers via deal-hungry salespeople. Melissa Perri experienced just that and came to realize that to fix the problem, a company needs to re-shift the sales team to be product-led and have alternative compensation mechanisms.
By knowing how salesperson works, a Product Manager will be able to better serve her. Pragmatic Marketing has defined many important facets of sales for you, including what a sales cycle comprises of and how deals close. In a separate article, they list 9 things Product Managers should know about sales.
Along with many other valuable insights, Ben Horowitz in an infamous article stressed that good Product Managers are loved by sales. They achieve this by being focused on making them money and knowing the field as well as they do.
One of the reasons a conflict or disconnect arises between product and sales is that both parties have different understandings of what customer success ultimately means. For sales, ‘responsiveness’ means that the company is delivering to the customer what is required, as quickly as possible. For product, ‘productivity’ means that a system is in place to continually deliver a high-quality product over a long period of time. A satisfactory solution to this complex issue will differ depending on your organization but Rich Mironov suggests that you consider a more stubborn product roadmap, a sales-driven roadmap or a budget that allows for interruptions.
Janna Bastow believes that rather than simply handing over a product roadmap to sales, a good Product Manager will help sales understand it. This is possible by participating in important sales calls and educating sales of the benefits of modern product development practices.
Sue Raisty is explicit — “No salespeople with external roadmaps“. Comparing doing so with giving her son a steak knife, she stresses that external roadmaps are, by their nature, too sensitive to change. And we really can’t blame a salesperson for selling exactly what they see planned in the roadmap, can we?
All it takes is one salesperson insisting on an important customer’s feature request to scupper a well laid out product roadmap. So what’s a Product Manager to do? Shrinath suggests you first become more acquainted with how sales works, then produce different versions of the roadmap. Finally, why not try and negotiate (albeit with someone who does that for a living)?
So how do we get along? Let’s start by being mutually respectful — the salesperson is the lifeblood of a company but couldn’t do anything without someone building sellable products. Then recognize where you can work together, such as in the communication with customers, sharing of competitive information and the defining of roadmaps, amongst other things described by Peter S. Buchanan.
It should come as no surprise that salespeople have one singular goal — to sell. As we’ve seen, this can cause conflicts. However, there is one question that a product manager can ask themselves to help craft the right pitch for your methods — “How will this help [the sales person] close more deals?”. Through this lens, the Clever PM explains, we can better understand the motivations in sales and more effectively communicate why you approach product development the way you do. “Work with sales, not against them”.