How Product Management Can Work Effectively with Sales

by
Torre Matthew
Product Manager

What’s the most common reason a user doesn’t adopt your product? If you’re not sure, you’re missing an opportunity to align your product management team with the sales department: people who have hard-earned knowledge about what customers need and what they think of your product.  

An effective relationship with sales lets everyone do a better job: sales is equipped with the tools, support, and information that make it easier to close a deal, while product management gets real-world feedback from and exposure to high-level prospects. However, it takes some work to establish that level of collaboration. As a product manager, you can take steps to communicate with and learn from your sales team—and that benefits your overall product success.

1. Help Your Sales Reps Sell the Product You Have

How many times have you heard a salesperson say a prospect would buy your product if only it did X or had feature Y? It’s a common occurrence, and it’s not because you have a sub-par sales team. They’re merely reacting to what they see and hear when they’re out talking to prospects and your product is being compared to the competition.

Information from lost prospects (and churned customers) can give you actionable ideas about possible changes to your product. When the sales team passes that feedback along, you have an opportunity to distill it into something useful for the product development process. For example, if your sales representatives regularly report that prospects are asking for something that your existing product doesn’t offer, it may be worth adding a new feature to your product

Sometimes, however, a lead is asking for something your product doesn’t do because they’re stalling, seeking leverage, or not wanting to say no. Your sales team is merely passing this feedback on to you and your management team. So how do you tell the difference between these two “if only” dynamics? Collaborate with your sales team so you’re both prepared to address the issue.

Partner with the Sales Team So They Give the Right Pitch

Your potential customer has a problem; you have a solution (it’s called your product). If your product doesn’t address their problem, your sales team either hasn’t shown them that your product does solve their pain point or they may be trying to sell to the wrong people. You don’t simply want customers—you want the right customers.

As a product manager, you have access to valuable information that can steer your sales team toward the right prospects. Share details that you learned through product validation: Which potential customers fit your use case? Which product features got them the most excited? Which demographic characteristics do they all share? 

Make Potential Customers Put Their Money Where Their Mouths Are

Let’s say your sales team has an ideal prospect who’s itching to make that purchase if only your product did one other thing. In this case, they should have no problem placing a contingency-based order. While this doesn’t mean that sales can promise features or functionality without getting approval from product management and engineering, it does mean that if the requested enhancement fits into the overall product roadmap and direction of the product, it shouldn’t be ruled out. 

Give your sales reps instructions on how to share these feature requests and create a process within the product and engineering teams on how you’ll review and consider them. Reviewing requests from leads could be an agenda item in a cross-departmental meeting, for example, or they could be shared ad hoc through a dedicated channel.

If a request makes sense—and the customer has a dedicated budget, internal buy-in, executive approval, installation dates, and the details squared away—then it shows you’re flexible and responsive to the market. Plus, your sales team should have many more of these deals lined up once the “if only” gets implemented if it’s truly that much of a dealmaker.

2. Align All Teams with Customer Feedback

If you’ve ever questioned whether or not you’re delivering on your product goals, customer feedback holds the answer. Your customers know if your product is valuable, just like they know if your sales process is smooth or if your customer success team is helpful.

From product development to sales, it’s helpful to align your entire team around meeting customer needs. That focus is part of customer centricity: a company-wide mindset that encourages everyone to deliver what customers want. Customer centricity requires you to share feedback across departments continuously, so everyone across the team can keep track of changing customer needs. 

Because they interact with customers directly on the front lines, your sales team has a unique window into what potential customers want and need from your product. They can share stories of leads who wouldn’t close because of a missing feature, or they can talk about times when added functionality demonstrably increased sales or shortened their cycle. 

Check in regularly with your sales team to find out if they’ve learned anything new from prospects or current customers. This could be an agenda item for a regularly scheduled cross-departmental meeting, or you could use an automated integration to import customer updates from your sales enablement tools or CRM into a shared channel. 

3. Always Be Educating

As we know from Glengarry Glen Ross (and every fan of that movie), every salesperson should “always be closing.” Your job as a product manager is to always be educating your sales team. Whether it’s webinars, lunch and learns, or in-depth demos, you need to be on the agenda at every sales gathering.

Your reps need deep product knowledge to be able to sell well. Great salespeople can answer prospects’ questions on the fly and overcome any doubts they have about whether your offering is a good fit for their needs. Because reps need to have a complete understanding of your product to be able to do those things, offering product knowledge is a crucial part of the sales training process.   

However, product training can get tricky in the SaaS industry. Software changes very quickly and, sometimes, very dramatically. Entirely new products are launched frequently as well—as often as quarterly. Start with a good foundation by giving all reps a basic product tutorial. To be able to consistently make effective sales, however, your reps may also need additional training with each update and each new product launch. 

When you’re training your sales staff, try to go beyond offering product demos and spec sheets. Instead, explain the customer experience that you’re trying to deliver with your product. If possible, work together with your marketing team to deliver specific messaging that sales reps can use to pitch to prospects. Focusing on customer experience instead of trying to memorize product specs may help your sales team adjust their strategy as needed during sales calls.  

If your company sells more than one product, your continuing education of the team is doubly important as your product may not be top of mind. Take every opportunity to release a FAQ, highlight a customer success, or hype a new feature, so the team is excited and motivated to focus on pushing your product.

4. Go on Sales Calls…But Not Every Sales Call

There is nothing like seeing how a potential customer reacts to your product’s value proposition and messaging in person. No trip report will include details like which features caused them to check their watch and what prompted follow-up questions and scribbling in notebooks. Making qualitative observations during sales calls can be an important step in your overall continuous validation process. These details offer valuable insights into the thoughts and feelings of your potential customers.  

Most salespeople love having an uber-knowledgeable product manager along for the ride; if they don’t know the answer, they’ve got the expert right in the room, plus it can only make the prospect feel that much more valued that you were inclined to attend.

Try to use these joint sales calls as educational opportunities for reps who aren’t as familiar with your product. Encourage them to handle the demos while you take on the role of an expert who can answer difficult questions or troubleshoot through technical hiccups. That way, sales calls can be learning experiences for both of you: your sales team gets to practice articulating the value and nuances of your product while you learn the ins and outs of the sales process. 

If you’re feeling particularly bold, another great experience is to make a sales call on your own. This obviously shouldn’t be for a key account, but going through the process solo can be a humbling experience and might shed some light on a few areas where sales enablement could use some extra help.

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5. Sit in on Account and Pipeline Reviews

The goal of attending sales reviews isn’t just to satisfy your morbid curiosity about what successful salespeople actually do all day or to feel important; it’s to understand what roadblocks your sales team is running into and to offer advice or guidance on what product features or characteristics might be useful to close the deal. 

Whether it’s suggesting they demo a certain aspect of the product or providing a particularly relevant customer reference, this assistance can be invaluable to sales and reinforce that you’re all working toward the same goals. These meetings can also provide a big picture view of what deals are coming down the pipe that might influence your roadmap priorities or strain your operation’s organization.

6. Create Sales Tools That Make Their Lives Easier

A product data sheet is handy, but what else would help your salespeople show off all your product has to offer and craft proposals that become no-brainers for prospects? Whether it’s ROI calculators, case studies, FAQs, videos, or pitch decks, it’s your job to make sure they’re armed with the tools they need to succeed.

If you’re lucky enough to have a product marketing or sales support organization, you might not have to actually build them all out yourself. However, you should make sure the right tools are being created and that they have the correct data and messaging. Meet regularly with your marketing team to align around their latest tools. This becomes doubly important any time you launch a new product or feature.

It’s also possible that you’ve already created materials that would help your sales team. Customer case studies include insights into precisely what your users find most valuable about your product. Data that you’ve gathered using surveys, interviews, and focus groups can help inform your sales team about user preferences—and that’s information that can help them narrow their search for prospects. Your marketing department may be able to contribute customer personas and information on which messaging drives conversions. 

7. Seek Out Their Counsel

Aside from pure input from the field, sales reps can provide valuable opinions and insights during product development cycles. Having a salesperson participate in structured product review and roadmapping meetings is a great “market check” for product management.

An even more valuable area for sales input is when you’re figuring out how much to charge. Your sales team has in-depth knowledge about how much customers are willing to pay, what the competition is charging, and how your product pricing will impact their sales strategy. Seeking input from your salespeople helps you understand your potential profitability and product-market fit before you make any pricing changes. 

8. Keep in Mind How Your Company’s Salespeople Are Getting Paid

Working in sales is unlike pretty much any other job. Their pay is more than likely commission-based. So, while you’re getting paid no matter what, they make most of their money when they meet their sales quotas.

Commission-based sales creates commission-based thinking, so you need to think about how they’re viewing the world. Anything that complicates the sales cycle, slows it down, or shrinks the size of the deal is a negative, while anything that helps them quickly snag a purchase order or increases the size of the purchase is a huge win for them.

Ultimately, you want the same thing as your sales team: a well-crafted product that sells. If you can adjust your thinking and consider how you can make work easier for sales, the entire company will benefit. This is an area where providing sales reps with approved messaging may help. Or, if sales reps are having trouble meeting their quotas, you may need to rethink your current messaging or marketing strategy. 

The more you can communicate with and educate your sales team, the better they’ll be able to close deals and meet their sales goals.

9. Assemble a Team of Sales Leaders

In a perfect world, you would have the time to win over every salesperson in the company and provide them with the extra training and support they need. However, there are only so many hours in the day, so your best bet is to focus on a few influential salespeople who have taken an interest in your product and your assistance. The most influential sales leaders in your organization will vary and could include sales managers and account managers for key customers.

Once you’ve selected your personal all-star sales team, set up a way to check in with them regularly through a scheduled meeting or shared asynchronous channel. Then you can use them to test things out with soft launches before rolling out new products and messaging to the entire rank and file. Include them in your ideation sessions for a sales perspective on your product’s trajectory. You can also tap them for help creating sales tools and new training information—they’re the experts on how you can best support the sales team as a whole.  

10. Be Responsive

Last but certainly not least, if you want to maintain a good rapport with your sales team, you need to get back to them as quickly as possible. Unnecessary delays can squash a deal, whether it’s a potential client’s budget getting reallocated or a competitor swooping in with a sweeter offer.

Part of being a good product manager is building and managing relationships with your team members—even outside of your development team. The product manager role includes in-depth knowledge and influence over the final product. Because your product impacts the success of the entire company, it makes sense to respond quickly to cross-departmental stakeholders and do your best to support their needs through your work.

Respond to requests from sales as quickly as you can. Providing them with information or support now in the short term can help them sell better, leading to long-term wins for your company. 

Stay Connected with Your Sales Reps for Insights into Your Customers

Connecting with your sales staff through all of the iterations of your product will help them sell—and help you deliver a truly valuable addition to the marketplace. So, go find a salesperson and conduct an impromptu win/loss review of their latest trip. Ask the VP of sales if you can sit in on a pipeline review. Schedule a refresher webinar for the regional reps. It’s time to spend some quality time with your sales team.

You can support that level of connection with an organization-wide customer feedback solution. UserVoice Discovery syncs your customer-facing teams with product to ensure that everyone in your company has an eye on what prospects and customers think about your product. Try it for free today.