A Brief History of Product Management: Starts With a Spark
Product management was originally seated in marketing but has evolved. It's still misunderstood but it's now getting the recognition it deserves with product people...
Should a product manager accompany the sales rep to prospect meetings to demo the product? When a customer calls their account manager for support, should the rep pass that request on to the product manager? Should sales reps call a product manager anytime they have a technical question about the product?
Every company is unique. But for most organizations, the answers to those questions should be no. Sales engineers (SEs) or the sales reps themselves should be able to demo the product for a prospect. Support requests should be directed to the company’s customer success team—not to a product manager. And when they have a tech-spec question about the product, the sales team should refer to the guides, technical documentation, and FAQs product management has already created.
Sales and product management are on the same team, with a common goal: a product that succeeds in the market. But this all-important fact can get lost in the day-to-day tasks and obligations of both departments, and each team can lose sight of the fact that the other is there to help them succeed.
With that in mind, this post is our attempt to speak with both teams. First, we’ll let sales teams in on a few things product managers wish they knew. Then we’ll talk with product managers and offer some suggestions on how to improve communication and teamwork with sales reps.
It can sometimes seem to salespeople that product management isn’t doing everything it can to help them. The product team, for example, might turn down a rep’s request to fast-track a new feature, because a customer or prospect asked for it.
But sales reps need to understand these declined requests in a broader context. Product managers have limited resources and limited time to release new products to the market. They are also under pressure from various stakeholders, including the company’s executives and even its investors.
Also, even though your product managers might turn down your request, the other product priorities they are focusing on right now are still designed to help you sell more products down the road.
Product managers place a high value on input from their sales teams. But your PMs are counting on this input early in the development process. They will want to hear your feedback from users after the product has reached general availability on the market. Still, they also want as much insight as possible from your customers and prospects before they begin building.
When your product team invites you to a core team meeting to discuss product features, market trends, and other strategic issues, please attend these meetings. This is the time your PMs need to hear what your prospects and customers are telling you.
When your PMs offer to train you on the product, take them up on this offer. It will familiarize you with the user experience and the product’s capabilities, which will help you discuss and demo the product more compellingly.
Can your product manager jump on a prospect video conference at the last minute and demo the product for you? Sometimes, yes, if the PM is available.
Similarly, if you call your product manager with a prospect’s questions about technical specs and capabilities, or to help with a bug fix, you might be able to get the PM’s help with that as well.
But these are not the most strategically beneficial uses of your product team’s limited time.
Your product managers are not your pre-sales team, your sales engineers (SEs), or your technical support reps. They are the strategic driving force behind your company’s products. They need to focus forward on developing and maintaining products for you to sell.
So please, treat your product managers like the strategic partners they are.
PMs, you’re not entirely off the hook here, either. You share some of the responsibility for improving communication and teamwork between your department and sales. As our friends at Appcues put it, working with the sales team is a crucial part of product management.
The more positive you can make the relationship between your departments, the more strategically valuable business intelligence you will gain for your sales reps. That information will help everyone in your organization. Also, as you improve communication with sales, you will enjoy more of their trust and understanding when you inevitably have to turn down their requests.
Here are a few suggestions for building bonds with your sales reps.
If you are not already doing so, you should bring in stakeholders from your sales department as early as possible in your product planning. Because they spend so much time in the field, talking with your user personas and buyer personas, these reps will have insights into what motivates these people that your product team might not have.
Go out of your way to make your sales department feel appreciated. Show them that their insights will be invaluable to your decisions about how to build and prioritize your products. You can do this by inviting them to all of your key strategy sessions.
It can be frustrating for product management when sales reps are always calling, emailing, and Slacking the team for questions about its product. But if this is happening at your company, you need to ask yourself: Have we given sales the tools to answer these questions themselves?
Your sales team needs a wide range of tools to help them deal with the many and varied issues that come up when they’re trying to sell. That includes:
Creating a toolset like this allows you to answer these questions once. That way, your reps don’t have to ping you over and over with the same requests.
If you do not have these tools available for your sales department, your product team should prioritize developing them.
When you’ve brought your sales stakeholders into your strategic meetings, or if you’ve just secured a few minutes to chat with them, you want to make sure you’re using their limited time as effectively as possible. That means asking smart, strategic questions, such as:
The more thought you put into asking the right questions of your sales team, the more valuable their answers will be to the strategic plan you develop for your product.