Co-opting product management into sales
My good friend Geoffrey Anderson (@ganders2112) recently wrote about a situation we product managers sometimes find ourselves in. When sales are not going well, company leadership might ask product management come in to help hit the numbers. This can be a bad thing or a good thing. As Geoff said:
…when the bookings are light, often product management is diverted to “fix” the problem. [Often] not a great idea. Apart from promotions, and aggressive discounting, there isn’t much in the product manager’s toolkit that can provide instant relief to revenue shortfalls.
We roll up our sleeves, do what we can, and then catch hell when it doesn’t really move the needle. Furthermore, and this is one of the hazards of a sales led organization, it’s all hands on deck to handle the opportunities in the pipeline, and all future work is sidelined.
Essentially, turn the product managers into sales people and forget about product management for a while.Putting product managers on the sales team can lead to no new products to sell down the road! Click To Tweet
The danger, of course, is that normally the work we do today is what enables the sales organization to have products to sell in six months, or next year.
And if that pipeline of new products shuts down for a little while, it can have a huge negative effect on the company as a whole. (Of course, so does not selling enough this quarter. If we can’t sell today, we might not have a chance to release a new product in six months!)
In the spirit of expediency, let’s recognize that the real world has more impact on our lives than our theories do.
So, how do we turn being co-opted by sales into big wins for the company’s products over time?
To start with, let’s go into the situation with a framework for future success. In other words, a plan for learning, then sharing that learning, and then exiting.
We’ll start with some assumptions:
- Let’s assume your product solves a significant problem, better than alternatives, for a particular segment, and you have some successful customers. It doesn’t matter what you do if no one wants or needs your product. We’ll assume the challenges in selling are that Marketing isn’t finding the right prospects and Sales doesn’t know how to sell to them effectively.
- We (the product managers) are the experts in our product: We know who it’s for, we know why it’s better, we know its differentiators, we know the stories of pain our prospects are suffering, and the glories of the successes of our customers. So, we should be good at least at some parts of selling it. (There are parts we might not be as good at, if we don’t have a selling background and sales training, of course.)
- Our goals throughout are: Imparting our product knowledge effectively to the sales and Marketing teams (and often to prospects directly), helping them understand how to use that knowledge, and refining our messaging as we test our theories in sales situations.
Follow the rules
Your focus should be on using the various go-to-market rules of thumb to help the Sales and Marketing teams get better:
- Understanding who needs the product and making sure your prospects fit those criteria.
- Reducing their perception of risk and increasing their perception of value.
- Redirecting from objections, especially about competitors.
- Making sure the pitching and demoing is about the prospect and her problems and not about the product.
In fact, if you triangulate to any go-to-market methodology, or sales methodology, those are the basic points.
3 things you can do when you step in to help sales
- Make sure you have a plan for a) helping the sales team get effective on their own without you, b) exiting from sales efforts, and c) taking what you learn and using it to improve the sales training and your solution.
- Focus on helping in the areas where you have expertise – the product, the target segment, the problem you solve, and the competitive differentiators – reasons to buy us versus competitors. And let the salespeople do what they’re good at – prospecting, closing, negotiating, chasing down contracts, stuff like that.
- When the emergency is over, apply what you learned to making your product easier to sell and more valuable to prospects.
Have you been called into the breach to help close more sales? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments, or drop me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org.