“Oh yeah! Good to know you definitely need this. I’m sure we can make it happen, Mr.Prospect. We’ll let Dan know.”
Ugh, you are Dan.
This is basically what ends up in your inbox next:
‘Hey Dan! Boogle is ready to buy! They did say they want this one little feature before they sign on officially. Could you get this out for them? A few of us have been working to get this deal since April, so I’d really like to see this go through. Thanks!”
This shortcut is great for your sales team – they make the sale and move on. Ka-ching! But it leaves you with two stunningly bad choices:
- Either follow through on building a feature that they promised for one customer, even as it threatens the integrity of your product and the vision you’ve set.
- Make your sales guys go back to the prospect and say “Sorry we can’t do that”
This headache is fairly common among product managers who don’t have strong working relationships with their sales teams.
Not your fault. It’s difficult to reconcile the polar opposite instincts that sales and product managers bring to the table.
Sales teams who don’t know how to sell the product you have or what you’re working on, end up making these seat-of-the-pants sales…and unfortunately, you’re seen as the bottleneck.
If they’re repeatedly falling back on promising new features to lure in big clients, they’re having the wrong conversations with customers.
Here’s what I recommend you do about it.
Move them away from high-pressure ultimatums
Jeff Lash, Service Director at Sirius Decisions, lays out the bleak reality of a broken sales-product relationship:
If you want to be a bad product manager, distance yourself from your sales force. Your job is to get the product defined and built, after all, not to sell it. The company has levels of sales management focused on improving sales, so they don’t need you involved. If the product isn’t selling as much as it should, that’s a problem with the sales people, not with the product. Your success as a product manager is only defined on how good the product is, not how well it’s doing in the market.
If these high-pressure ultimatums are coming in regularly (“We need to build this feature or we’re going to lose Basebook. Do you want to lose Basebook?!”), you’re not communicating well enough how your product management process works and why this one potential customer’s needs aren’t enough to throw off your plans for your existing customers.
Plus, you’re letting them fall back on a practice that’s unsustainable for you as a product manager and somewhat dangerous to your business. After a few “actually, we can’t build that…” conversations, your reputation for unreliability will start quickly.
This is where your product leadership comes in. You have to do two things:
- Make it clear you’re not going to cave to the pressure of individual/one-off feature requests
- Empower them to have productive sales conversations with that off the table
Your product roadmap figures heavily in how you lead this shift. Hopefully, you have a public product roadmap for customers and prospects – your sales team will need it to help them move away from high-pressure ultimatums. (If you don’t, here are a few good reasons to consider it.)
Make yourself available to jump on sales calls with big fish
Salespeople really like it when you show you recognize their challenges and their need to hit revenue targets. If a major prospect is coming down your pipeline, grab a copy of your product roadmap and make yourself available to join one of the sales calls.
Your presence becomes especially useful on those conference calls where heads of multiple teams have been called together to weigh their individual concerns and requirements about adopting your product.
With you on these calls, you can shift the conversation from sales mode to problem-solving mode. That makes your prospect feel less like they’re being sold to, and more like you’re working with them to outfit them with a custom solution:
- What problem are they trying to solve?
- What are they trying to achieve?
- What does success look like?
You’re uniquely positioned to talk honestly about your upcoming priorities, get their feedback, and offer workaround solutions for the meantime.
Even the most charming, approachable salesperson will still be perceived to be out trying to make a sale, but as PM, you’ll tend to sound neutral. You can win them over by just being genuinely excited by your own product and digging around help the prospect solve their problems.
- Win new customer without going back-and-forth on feature requests
- Your sales team will appreciate you helping them reach their sales goals
- You can shift tough sales calls from sales mode to a more successful problem-solving mode
Teach them how to make your product roadmap part of their sales calls
The above point is especially valuable if you’re working with a theme-based roadmap. This type of roadmap is designed to help you and your sales team have frank and open conversations about your upcoming priorities.
That’s because a theme-based roadmap is organized by the problems you’re solving and the order in which you intend to solve them. This is the tool they need to identify what’s important to their prospect, and whether your product is moving towards addressing their needs.
For example, using a product roadmap, they would be able to say:
“Yes, we have considered that feature in the past, and I’ll definitely add it to our feedback backlog. We’re focusing first on all these other cool things!”
This is a big mental shift for anyone at a company that’s used to working with Gantt chart-style release plans – so help them learn how to talk like you do!
Getting on joint sales calls with customers will help. Holding a training session in which you break down the concept of a theme-based roadmap will help. Having a regular briefing around what’s coming down the product pipeline will also help.
Having a theme-based roadmap means that nothing comes as a surprise. They’ll love it once they realize how much more control gives them over their conversations with customers.
- They won’t need to fall back on feature requests anymore
- They can confidently communicate which problems the product team is solving today and in the near future
- They know what’s coming down the product pipeline
Help them sell what you have today
In Ben Horowitz’s Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager schema, a PM that doesn’t know what’s going on out “in the field” lands you pretty quickly in the “BAD” category.
“Nothing turns off a salesperson more than a product manager who rambles on about their product features and seems to have no idea of the salesperson’s actual situation,” says Horowitz.
Your roadmap gives you the chance to communicate upcoming initiatives, and it shows your customers that you’ve got a plan for continuously improving the product.
However your sales team could use some help selling the product you have today.
Remember that today, the role of sales has shrunk. It only makes up the end of the buyer’s funnel:
Prospects have already formed an impression and done most of their homework online by the time they even talk to a sales rep. By the time these customers reach out (and many are reaching out to sales first, rather than vice versa), they’re already sales-qualified leads.
So it will make a difference if you set them up with targeted material to support more in-depth sales calls with increasingly sophisticated buyers.
You can bring in product marketers to help you build out middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel content that showcase how useful your product is today:
- highly targeted case studies
- suggested workarounds
If it turns out a prospect really isn’t right for the company, Close.io Founder, Steli Efti has found that being honest and direct like this, has still won him customers:
“Look, I want you to be our customer, but at this point our product is just not the right fit for you. We have the features you need in our development pipeline, but it’ll probably take us three to four months to get there. So what I’d like to do is to follow up with you once we’re there.”
- They know who to move forward in their sales pipeline and who to stop pursuing
- They have the selling points and reference material they need to persuade SQL
- They can leave customers with a positive impression based on openness and transparency
Update: We’re developing an e-course to help you set up and introduce a theme-based roadmap at your organization. We’ll drop it in your inbox when it’s ready – sign up here.