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Product Management and those pesky Sales People (or why Rich Mironov isn’t always right)

Disclaimer I – I have led my own startup- after about 14 months we hadn’t made any sales so we folded.

This experience taught me – that sales are important, nay critical, to commercial survival. I’m not sure this is always obvious to some product managers who are busy over-seeing customer value maps, innovation workshops and scrumban boards from standing desks and getting paid a nice steady wage thank you.

Disclaimer II – my husband is in sales, at the pointy end, with no retainer. If he makes a sale he gets paid a lump sum of tens of thousands of dollars; if not, we eat more vegetables and reach for the sparkling wine instead of the champagne. This focuses the mind.

So, when I see the current trend in product management to keep the “Sales Team” at arm’s length and don’t let them near the roadmap at all costs, with articles such as Rich Mironov’s the ‘Slippery slope of Sales-Led development adding to the hysteria; a number of things come to mind:

 The company needs revenue to survive (as do we). I have been through a retrenchment, based largely on exec nervousness that the planned hockey stick in sales was not eventuating which led to a 50% reduction in our share price in a year. Half our product team was gone.

Revenue comes from great products that make money. I’m a big proponent of the fact that great products sell themselves (check out Fortnite) – but in notably a B2B model where an intermediary is adding value –  if sales can help us understand how to make more money that’s useful.

The canary in the gold mine. In Product, we aspire to be out with customers maybe if we’re doing well 4 times a week, in a roadmap planning week maybe that’s twice or we’re too busy thrashing things out with engineering in the office so not at all.

The sales team’s job is to be out on the road – they hot desk, have company cars, wear shirts with company embroidered logos – their whole raison d’etre is sitting with prospects to convert and drag that prey home back to the fireside.

More than formal interviews or presentation discussions, the Sales team hear chatter, I liken it to dark data. Data acquired as an aside to achieving the formally stated task but gathered nevertheless over the post-pitch lunch, drink, golf day.

This informal chatter can give us leads and insight into where the industry is heading, what a type of customer is interested in right now, what they are less interested in than they used to be. Is the company trending towards building a community of advocates or critics?

The best way to channel this into the product development roadmap is by working alongside sales, either formally with regular market insight presentations, or through more organic channels.

Product Managers – ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ up. The Sales team come up with a new idea – so it is up to us to push back with data both quantitive and qualitative. That’s our job, to take the dross from the mine, and find the diamonds.

We should be encouraging Sales, our customers through open forums and idea submission portals and our co-workers to supply us with a constant stream of what’s going on for them, trends and product ideas, which then as Product Managers we sift through and make a call on what is going to be the best plan of action.

After all, if we are worth our salt – it is our job to convince the Senior Executive that yes, that sales idea is great.. or not so much.

We’re all in this together

A commercial entity rises or fails on the strength of its customer solutions and happiness.

Yes, Product Managers let’s show leadership in roadmap planning – but let’s not put up walls and shut out those with opinions counter to our own.

Let us build a mesh network of intelligence across the whole organization recognizing the different ways all roles can contribute to the ongoing success of the enterprise. By mashing all these inputs together this is where we can truly find the product innovation and inspiration we are seeking.

Image Credit: Rawpixel from Unsplash

About author

Rebecca Kemp is a Senior Product Manager at EROAD, a NZ headquartered integrated fleet services, and tolling provider. She has a wealth of international experience in the financial and technology sectors with companies including Goldman Sachs, Deloitte, Honda UK, and ASB.

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