Keeping your product and sales teams in sync means more efficiency and greater benefits for your whole company
If you talk with or are a part of B2B product organizations, you’ll eventually learn about how effectively the product and sales teams work together. In the best-case scenario, the product and sales teams collaborate closely, negotiating current needs with future strategy, and technical viability with ground-breaking ideation. In less ideal situations, the working relationship between product managers and salespeople can be fraught with tension and friction, as each role’s needs are seen as in direct opposition to the other’s.
Let’s compare and contrast the two roles in an all-too-neat way, for argument’s sake:
Product managers often gather product feedback from a minimum of two sources: intentional user/market research, testing, prototyping, and news from the field via sales. The benefit product managers have is in the more formal and targeted feedback gathering approach. They synthesize the data to generate user personas, working with designers to approach changes in UI and UX to change behavior outcomes in their existing customers, and with developers to determine the technical viability of their proposed solutions.
Salespeople and account managers gather feedback directly from the customers they’ve spent their time and energy building relationships with in order to sell their products. Their feedback sources usually come from their customers’ business owners or decision-makers that are thinking about how the product affects their company’s bottom line—both pre and post-purchase.
A pejorative way of looking at this comparison is that product folks are strategic and long-term-driven, and sales folks are tactical and short-term-driven. Rather, it’s better to think about each role as gathering data from different sources and validating each other’s feedback in the interest of achieving their company’s business outcomes.
I reject the notion that sales and product management should be in opposition. Instead, I think their partnership sits on fertile soil for which amazing results can be grown. Here are just a few ways sales and product management can enable each other’s success.
Passively Shadow Each Other
Yes, time is in short supply and we’re all terribly busy. Sales has to listen and learn from their customers about immediate needs and product management has to listen and learn from customers to determine product direction. Allowing a salesperson to shadow and observe a product manager’s activities around user and market research, especially if it involves interviewing customers or potential users, will help the salesperson to better understand and sell the product’s long-term strategy—particularly to senior leadership. Ideally, the salesperson can effectively function as a proxy for the product manager by gauging the customer’s interest in new directions the product can take (more on that below). Current customers will enjoy feeling empowered knowing their voice is contributing to the product’s direction.
Likewise, the product manager should shadow a salesperson on prospecting calls involving product demos or join on a sales trip, simply to listen and learn how a buyer thinks of the product’s value for their immediate business needs. Take heed, product managers: your products have to enable your B2B customers’ bottom line growth! It is important in this scenario for the product manager to actively listen to the interaction between sales and the buyer, rather than actively engage in the conversation. Two beneficial results come out of this interaction: 1) product managers grow in empathy for immediate needs, especially as it relates to the buyers’ financial interests, and 2) the salesperson and product manager can debrief on how the salesperson framed the value of the product to the buyer. The product manager may have some critical insight into how the salesperson can shorten the cycle with a take on the product’s value!
Learn From Each Other
At Big Nerd Ranch, we promote all learning-oriented activities company-wide. For example, we have a teaching club, where our instructors learn from each other on how to improve the teaching experience for our students. We have a bi-weekly event called Nerd Share Time. There, any Nerd can share what they’re learning—professional or otherwise—with everyone else.
Setting aside dedicated, recurring time for product and sales folks to teach and learn from each other would yield benefits for both teams and for the company at large.
You could start by discussing answers to questions such as:
- What new features are coming on the horizon?
- What have you learned from users in testing new features?
- What are our customers’ decision-makers saying about our products?
- What struggles are our sales team experiencing in the field that our product team can help with?
- What struggles is our product team facing in determining the direction that our sales team can?
- Are our combined activities achieving the business outcomes our leadership expects of us?
Actively Trade Places
This one is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch goal. For sales, time is precious and giving someone else the responsibility of engaging a prospect sounds risky. But the one or the few times product managers get an opportunity to sit in the salesperson’s chair and explore how the product aligns with a company’s business needs will reap many benefits in learning. They will develop deeper empathy for the pressures that a salesperson experiences in needing to earn the buyer’s trust and make their quarterly quotas to boot.
Likewise, it’s valuable to give the salesperson an opportunity to interview existing or potential users to develop new value streams. Since the point of user research and prototyping is to think about how the product satisfies the needs of the business’ end-users, the salesperson engaging in this exercise will have a newfound appreciation of thinking about how delivering positive value to end users benefits the buyers.
To summarize, the relationship between product and sales is ripe with creative opportunity. I would encourage teams to start organically, from the individual contributor on up, to explore how the teams can work together to make their products better. Sometimes, waiting for sales and product leadership to enact the changes may not lead to the changes we want in the time we want them.
Build bridges, find common ground, and learn from each other!