Aligning Sales and Product Teams on Your Roadmap

Jim Semick
Co-founder, Board Member at ProductPlan

align sales and product teams

One of the biggest challenges product managers face is working with diverse stakeholders and managing their conflicting priorities. You’re pulled in a hundred different directions, and often it’s the sales team applying pressure on your roadmap priorities.

At times it’s tempting to build what the latest big sales prospect asked for. And sometimes, to close the deal, it’s tempting to make promises on release dates or to mention features that are still a few months out on the roadmap.

I’ll elaborate on some of the points I made during our recent webinar, and explain how product managers can better work with sales teams to ensure they don’t over-promise and under-deliver.

What successful methods have you found to manage the sales team selling roadmap features before readiness?

The sales team understandably is looking for ways to close the deal. That’s how they’re compensated, and I think it’s important for product managers to recognize that.

You can set expectations with the sales department that plans will change and you can talk all you want about being agile. You can tell them that you’re not sure when the exact delivery dates for certain features will be. But the reality is that when you send the sales team a roadmap, many will consider it to be a commitment.

The last thing you want is for sales to be attaching a copy of that roadmap to a customer contract. One option to consider: creating a separate sales-oriented roadmap — one that doesn’t have dates and that is less granular. A sales-oriented roadmap could also limit the timeframe, showing just what you’ll be delivering in the short term — maybe three months out.

It’s important to involve sales leadership in the roadmap planning process. Not only does it get their important input, but it helps establish buy-in. You also have the opportunity to guide them on why certain features are important from a strategic perspective.
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How do you keep sales and product teams on the same page?

It’s important for product managers to make sure that the sales team is targeting the same market that the product team has identified for the product. Product managers usually work with personas, and I think that’s a really important concept, but sales teams may not necessarily have a similar sales persona.

For example, let’s say you’re a B2B company and you’re targeting companies with 1,000 to 2,000 employees. Well, your sales team better be doing the same. You’re building a product that solves a problem for that market, but if your sales team is then approaching startups, there’s going to be a problem. A product/market mismatch. The sales team will inevitably be disappointed, and of course, the customer will inevitably be disappointed.

You need to make sure that there’s alignment between your target market and the market that your sales department is actually selling to. Everybody should be pulling for the same team.

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Also, I think it’s important to nicely remind your stakeholders that sales and revenue aren’t the only success metrics. The success of a product is based on a whole lot of other things. For example, customer satisfaction after a sale is critical. If your sales team is selling actively but you have a lot of customers churning, that’s not good. So it’s important to recognize that there are other metrics out there besides sales that are worth paying attention to.
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How do you avoid getting distracted by high-paying clients?

When a high-profile client comes in and asks for a feature, it means something else is not going to get built. If everything is equal, if one feature is added to the roadmap, another one moves out. And it’s easy to get distracted from your core roadmap when a large prospect says, “If you build this feature, we’ll buy.”

Check them against your strategic objectives — this is where having those clear objectives and goals mapped out with your team becomes really critical. You need to make sure your team is aligned on strategic goals because if you’re making these decisions by yourself, you’re going to have an even harder time weighing the risks and benefits.

Whatever this big deal is that’s being dangled in front of you, the feature they’re requesting needs to be tied back to your product vision. If you’re doing a good job of that, then it should be fairly clear what the right answer is. Sometimes it’s tough but you just have to say no or not yet.

Have other suggestions on how to better align sales and product teams? Share them in the comments below.