Category Archives for "Go-to-market"

The Secrets of Highly Successful Products: The Sales Discovery Call

When the sales team has the right product knowledge, they will be much more successful. Which means they sell a lot more of your product.

This starts from the first call with the prospect. If a sales person asks the wrong questions during that first call…

… then even a good prospect can turn into total loss.

But, ask the right questions …

… and the chances of closing them go way up!

When the sales team has the right product knowledge they can sell a lot more of your product. Click To Tweet

Product Knowledge Drives Successful Discovery Calls

For a good sales person, the goal of the first call, often called the “discovery call,” is understanding the prospect’s pain, in detail. The more they understand about the prospect the more likely they are to close the deal.

In this article I show you how to take what you know about the problems your product solves and turn it into tools that enable sales to blow out their numbers. (This is the fourth installment in my ongoing series about better go-to-market and the leverage that product managers have on sales success. Read the previous articles here: Sales Team Missing Quota? It’s Not Their Fault, What Successful Companies Do To Get Better Leads, and A Better Approach To Demoing Can Turn Sales Around.)

What Does The Prospect Want?

Starting in the discovery call and continuing through the rest of the sales process, the prospect wants to hear certain things:

  • Validation that we understand their problem.
  • An offer of a solution to their problem.
  • Some level of risk reduction that our solution actually works and can be implemented effectively.
  • To minimize the cost of change for them, to the extent possible.
  • To understand why our solution is better than other alternative solutions (including doing nothing).

Those are the prospect’s goals. How do we help them achieve those goals?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the best way to reassure the prospect that we understand their problem is to ask good questions. We need to surface the specific challenges and concerns the prospect faces:

  • What is the problem they are trying to solve? And what are the specifics of their situation?
  • How have they tried to solve this problem in the past? What were the results?
  • What systems do they have to connect to?
  • How did they find out about us, and why are they looking at us for a solution? (This helps us understand the position we have in their brain.)
  • The competitors are they looking at.
  • If they have budget?

Then the sales person can talk about how we address those challenges, and schedule a demo to show how we address them.


Perhaps your product is a project management tool that’s particularly strong in resource management. The sales person might ask “How do you manage resources on your projects? Do the project managers have the authority to assign resources?”

Why use this question? Since we have product strengths in that area, we know in advance that a prospect with that problem will get a lot of value from our solution.

That means it’s not just a discovery question, it’s also a qualifying question. If the prospect does not have resource management problems, then maybe they aren’t a good fit for our product.

On the other hand, if the prospect is a good fit, then we’ve shown that we understand one important part of her problem.

Developing Good Discovery Questions

How do you come up with this list of good questions for sales people to ask?

As the product manager, you understand the types of problems your solution solves. You can use this knowledge to give sales good questions to get at those details. For example, if the sales person just knows that you have a project management solution, then they are only going to be able to ask about projects at a generic level. (For example, “How many projects do you have?”)

But with better sales enablement from product management, the sales person can know how to ask about “resource management in the context of projects.”

Using The Power Of Existing Customers

There’s one more piece of power information that you can provide for the sales people to use during a discovery call. This is examples of customers who have solved similar problems with your solution.

Let’s put this all together in a sample conversation.

Continuing the Project Management Example

We’ll take a look at the portion of the call related to resource management:

Sales person: “How are you managing the assignment of resources to projects? Do project managers have the authority to do that, or does that need to go through the resource’s managers?”

Prospect: “Oh, that’s definitely one of our big challenges right now. We have a weekly meeting with all the project managers and all the resource managers to get agreement on who is assigned to what project. We keep the data in a spreadsheet. The fact is the spreadsheet doesn’t always get updated, and sometimes there are multiple copies, so there’s lots of ‘I thought Jim was assigned to my project, it says so right here, but he thinks he’s working on something else!’ and that kind of thing. And of course those meetings just take a lot of time, which contributes to everyone’s frustration.”

Sales person: “You know, we hear that a lot. Our customers have found that our resource management capabilities have really helped them out in this area. Would you like my team to show you how we address resource management in a demo next week?”

Prospect: “Yes, that would be great. I’d love to get out from under these stupid meeting and have all that happening in a system of record. It would make my life much better!”

The sales person has established a lot in this interchange:

  • We understand her problem
  • We have customers who have solved that problem with our solution.
  • We can show how we solve this resource management challenge during a demo.
  • And the sales person has done a presumptive close on the next step of the sales process – the demo.

All in all, a lot of power in one little bit of discussion. And this can be done for several different key challenges during the discovery call. (For example, you might provide some questions to explore if the prospect has challenges presenting project status information to the executives.)

Three things you can do today

How do you make use of these ideas?

  1. Develop a list of criteria that make a prospect a good candidate for your solution: the types of problems they have, the scale of the problem, and so on. This list will be quite different for different types of products. For example, in project management one criterion might be: “They have a challenge with managing resource allocations to all the projects in the portfolio.”
  2. Turn the list of criteria into open-ended questions that are appropriate for a non-technical sales person to ask. For example, “How do you allocate resources to projects? Is that done by project managers or by resource managers?” Ideally, provide several followup questions as well. “Tell me about the meetings you have for resource allocations. How many people attend? How often? How are the decisions captured? What other resource management solutions have you tried?” Provide commentary responses about how existing customers have addressed these challenges with our solution. (Call this set of questions and responses a “scriptlet.”)
  3. Work regularly with the sales team to help them learn and use these questions in their discovery and qualification calls. Simply having three or four of these discovery question scriptlets will help them become significantly more effective. Work regularly with the sales engineering team (the people who demo) to make sure they can demonstrate how your solution solves these challenges.

Next Steps

Asking better discovery questions can make a big difference in sales effectiveness. But there’s one more step that will accelerate things even more. Using this information to present a killer demo that’s totally focused on the prospect’s problems can make a giant difference to your sales success. That’s the topic of the next post in this series on how product managers can help the sales organization beat quota on their products.


For more on the structure of good discovery calls, I highly recommend Dan Smith’s article on The Anatomy Of A Perfect Sales Call.

Improving lead quality - sales enablement

What Successful Companies Do To Get Better Leads

(This is the second post in my series about using product knowledge to create better sales enablement and jumpstart a repeatable sales process. Read the first post, on the overall topic.)

“I Need Better Leads!”

Does your salesforce complain “We don’t get enough leads from Marketing, and the leads we get aren’t any good?”

I’ve heard this a lot from sales teams.

But what does this complaint really mean? It simply means the leads they are getting don’t need or want your solution. They don’t have the problem your product solves, or they don’t have it badly enough to spend money to solve it.

If this is happening – and often it is – your company will have a hard time making the number of sales you need to be successful.

Marketing Uses Product Knowledge To Know Who To Target

The job of Marketing is to find people to buy your product. Marketing creates programs create awareness, interest, desire, and get prospects to take action. When prospects come in via this pipeline of marketing programs, they are handed over to Sales, who then continue the sales process.

So why isn’t Marketing finding the right people in their lead generation activities?

The fact is that Marketing doesn’t decide who to target. The fact is that Marketing doesn't decide who to target with their programs - defining the ideal customer and segment is #prodmgmt's responsibility! Click To Tweet

The definition of the ideal customer – the demographics, the characteristics, the industries – comes from Product Management.

  • Product Management does the research to determine that there is a problem that can be solved.
  • Product Management validates that there are enough people in the market who need your solution and who will buy it.

For Marketing to be effective, Product Management needs to communicate all this “market segment” data to Marketing. Sharing this knowledge with Marketing is a fundamental step in a successful sales enablement program.

You’d be surprised – or maybe not – how often Product Management does not communicate this information to Marketing effectively. And so Marketing does its best to find who they think might be good prospects. But without the knowledge that Product Management has, they are inevitably going to be off, often far enough off that the leads are not good.


Imagine your product is a project management tool. It has a lot of familiar project management features, and that’s what Marketing knows. So, they market your product to project managers of all types. That makes sense, right? They aren’t marketing to non-project managers.

But it turns out that not all project managers need a tool like yours. In fact many of them only need a much simpler and cheaper tool. Do you want that lower-priced segment in your lead pipeline? No, you do not. But if Marketing only knows “project management” that’s what you’re likely to get.

Improve sales performance by getting better leads

There are a lot of ways to improve your sales performance, but Step One is improving your lead quality.

And Step One of improving your lead quality is making sure that Marketing knows who to look for. And that’s up to Product Management.

Three Things You Can Do Today

Here are three things you can do to help Marketing find and collect the ideal prospects for your sales team.

(Note: There’s actually a step 0. Product Management must know the characteristics of your best prospects so that you can communicate them to Marketing.)

  1. Assess if you – Product Management – are giving Marketing the market segment information they need. This can include:
    • Their demographics (i.e., mid-sized company, number of projects, types of projects, how many project managers.
    • The specific types of problems they they face (heterogeneous projects that all require separate treatment, lots of conflicting information in their existing project management approaches, importance of having a cross-company or cross-enterprise dashboard or reporting, and so on).
    • How the other alternative solutions might be failing them.
  2. Review your company’s marketing message around your product. Is it crafted so that the people who have the specific problems you solve are moved to action? Is it crafted so that undesirable prospects are less likely to take action? Is it targeted toward the right segments (e.g., mid-sized companies with x projects and y project managers)?
  3. Step into a relationship with Marketing where you share this information continually. The expertise of Marketing is to find and attract leads who fit a desired profile or persona. It’s Product Management’s responsibility to define that profile.

Next Time

The next post in this series covers another critical component of sales enablement:

  • Make sure Sales knows how to qualify their leads effectively, discover the details of the prospect’s problem, and communicate those findings to the sales engineers.

Sales Team Missing Quota? It’s Not Their Fault

Successful customers, quality product, but bad sales

When I started as the Director of Product Management at my last company, they had a lot of successful and enthusiastic customers, a product that worked – although a bit long in the tooth – and a good lead pipeline.

But they had one big problem. The sales team was missing quota, every quarter!

The sales engineers brought me in to help them articulate the product story better, especially for the demo. When I drilled down, I realized the one big thing that was holding sales back. The sales process and demo were about us and our product, not about the prospect and their pains.

Sales is about your prospect, not about you and your product Click To Tweet

I realized that until I got there, the only product knowledge they were getting from the product team was lists of features and functions. Well, that clearly wasn’t working well, was it? Over the next quarter I helped sales fix their process by giving them better product knowledge.

In this post, I give you the components of a product knowledge package that will help your sales team make quota.

If you give sales the right information, everyone can make quota!

There’s nothing more frustrating to a sales person than knowing the prospect will benefit from the product, but having to pitch from the wrong information, or having to make the pitch up themselves. If all they have is a list of features, they are not going to be successful. And that means the company is not going to be successful.

If your product team doesn’t provide the right information to sales, your sales people can’t make quota Click To Tweet

We know that features and functions are there to solve problems. Those problems are what prospects care about.

The minimum viable product knowledge for making quota

The following four items are the minimum product knowledge the sales team requires:

  • The value proposition – who the product is for, the problem it solves, how it solves the problem (its features and functions), and why it’s superior to alternatives, both competitors and “business as usual.”
  • The market segments to attack – that is, the people who have the problems our product solves, along with specific qualifying questions to ensure we’re talking to the right people.
  • Product-specific objection handling guides.
  • Competitive information – key differentiators, hit sheets, pricing.

These are the foundation pieces of sales enablement. With a good value proposition and good qualifying questions, sales engineers can create a demo that converts. Marketing can create programs that pull the right prospects. And sales can position competitors out of the deal.


By improving the product knowledge shared from the product team, our sales and marketing results took off. The sales people now use their initial discovery calls to uncover the prospect’s key problems, using the improved qualifying questions. I coached the sales engineers to refocus their product demos to show how we tackle those problems specifically.

And these changes had an impact! After we implemented this new approach, sales started beating their quota. In fact, business was so good that the company was acquired by a competitor, who felt us nipping at their heels.

Three things you can do today

To sell your product successfully, the sales team must have more than a list of features. Here’s what you can do today to make your product more successful.

  1. Observe how the sales team sells your product – are they focused on the customer’s problems and how your product solves them? Or are they focused on the product’s features and functions?
  2. Make sure you provide the four key pieces of product knowledge: value proposition (including the problem you solve and why your solution is better than alternatives); segmentation and qualifying questions; objection handling guidance; and competitor information.
  3. Sign up for The Secret Product Manager Handbook mailing list to be sure to get the rest of the articles in this series on product knowledge and go to market. When you sign up with that link you’ll get a great free resource on how to get customers and prospects talking with open-ended questions.

1 A Better Approach To Demoing Can Turn Sales Around

A Sales Demo Challenge

At one of my previous companies our new logo sales – that is, new customers – were tanking. The account reps were not hitting quota on new logos.

The sales engineers felt this was due to a large degree to our “story” on agile. Our product was not as strong as some of our competitors for managing agile projects. Even though we had a lot of customers successfully using it for agile projects, the sales engineers felt severely challenged because we didn’t have the features to show in the sales demo.

Doing a great job of go-to-market is one of my passions. I love working with marketing and sales to make sure they can sell my products effectively. But as I wrote the recent post on how my various articles align with the Secret Product Management Framework I realized I didn’t have many articles on go-to-market. So I thought I’d share a few go-to-market related stories. The first one is about “how to demo.”

Problem One: It’s Not About Agile

Because I have a long, strong background in agile, having created an agile tool myself (as a component of Accept360) and been involved in multiple agile transformations, the sales engineers asked for my help.

After reviewing the current sales demo, and following several long discussions about how to sell (from me to them), I gave them two specific areas to improve.

First, they were doing a feature-function type of demo. It was full of “Our product does X” and “Let me show you how our product does Y.” All without reference to whether the customer cared about X or Y. That wasn’t doing them, or our customers/prospects, any good.

Focus on customer’s problems

I had them rework the demo to be focused on the customer’s problems and how our product solved them. We had to learn about the problems in earlier discovery calls, or simply by asking questions during the demo.

Making the demo about the customers themselves is a very powerful technique. Talking about the problems that concern them shows we care about them.

Problem Two: Use all your ammo

To get out of the “agile project management” minefield, I had them move the agile discussion up a level. Our product’s portfolio management capabilities were a significant differentiator. But they weren’t being used effectively to differentiate in the demo.

Portfolio management has always been an “agile” activity. You take all the projects you want to do, and figure out which is the most important, and do those. You can think of it as “stack ranking” your project portfolio. Our solution was better than the competitors in this area, and we could reset the conversation.

Back on Track

These changes made it easier to sell, and easier to beat competitors. As a result we reversed the trends on new logo sales, where the demos are most important. I asked the Sales Engineering VP for her assessment, and she said “We really changed the way we demo. And we beat our quota on new logos the last three quarters in a row.”

Tying it All Together

The key takeaway in this story, and the relationship to the Secret Product Management Framework is this: if your product doesn’t actually solve a market problem, your demo doesn’t matter much. No one is going to buy it no matter how you take it to market.

On the other hand, if you solve a problem, as this product did, then your go-to-market can have a significant effect on how successfully you can sell the solution.

For more on demoing check out the article Everything I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Demoing SaaS from Joanna Weibe of Copyhackers. She goes into a lot more detail about these and other techniques for making your demo a LOT better.