Dear Sales, It’s Me… Your Product Manager

Kirsten Schierholt

Kirsten Schierholt
Marketing Operations Analyst at ProductPlan

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.

Sales Reps: Here Are A Few Things Product Managers Want You to Know

1. We’re doing everything we can to help you succeed.

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.

2. Act like a stakeholder.

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.

3. Please use our time strategically and responsibly.

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.

Product Managers: How to Strengthen Teamwork with Your Sales Reps

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.

Read From Product Manager to Product Leader ➜

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.

1. Make sales a part of your strategic planning.

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.

2. Build and share tools to help make your sales team more independent.

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:

  • Technical documentation listing the product’s capabilities and specifications
  • User guides, quick-start guides, and other documentation that describes the user experience and how to use the product
  • FAQs with clear and compelling answers to the most likely questions from prospects and customers
  • Self-paced training tools, such as videos, to help sales reps familiarize themselves with your product and how to demo it for prospects

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.

3. Ask your sales reps more strategic questions.

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:

  • Have you been surprised by any negative responses or complaints from prospects during your sales pitches? What are they?
  • Can we change or add anything to the existing product line that would allow you to enter a new market?

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.

So now that you’ve thought through what product managers want sales to know, you’re on your way to being a product leader. Want more tools to operate like a product leader? Download the Free Product Leadership Book