July Wrap: 7 things you need to know to work better with Sales

Our session this month got deep into the topic of working better with sales. Sometimes it can seem as if these two groups of people are from a different galaxy and luckily we had Shane Goldberg to help us navigate the topic. Shane has worked in both sales and product sides of the organisations, so certainly has some great experience to draw on to take us through this topic.

Shane got us thinking about how we see sales people and how sales people might see product managers.

How we see sales peeps:

  • cowboys
  • one trick ponies
  • sell vapourware
  • always want the product to be cheaper

How sales see the product manager:

  • someone who always says no
  • unresponsive
  • doing the wrong things
  • clueless
  • inflexible

Pretty tough description of the crowd! But they were the audience’s words!

Shane pointed out that both teams were right – but as both groups are trying to be successful they just misunderstand each other.

One of the reasons for having these different perspectives is due to how each group is paid or rewarded. While we decided not to go specifically into REM plans etc. the different motivations were important to remember as a way to help drive behaviour and aligned outcomes.

Shane had a great set of slides (with no words on them!) but a theme very quickly emerged for each one of his points – Make it easy to sell!

Make it easy – in their shoes

Product managers spend a lot of time creating great products for their customers and use various methods to understand how to do that, including HCD. Why not do the same for you Sales people? Design a sales journey map and put yourself in their shoes. What could be better or make this easier for your colleagues?

The top 6 areas to focus on to make things easier were:

1. Easy to explain products

If your product cannot be explained in under 30 seconds then your sales people can’t sell it. Too hard to explain = too hard to sell.

Shane had us all turn around to a neighbour in the audience and have a go at explaining our own product in under 30 seconds – from the sounds in the room not everyone could. My partner in the exercise certainly struggled and I had to reset at least twice before I could nail the elevator pitch!

Can you explain your product in less than 30 seconds?

2. Marketing material that helps, not hinders

In the same style as above, ensure you can explain why you are better than the competitor(s) in under 30 seconds. Ensure you have materials that are easy for the customer to understand and collateral that assists the sales process.

These type of tools help ensure your sales people can stay focussed on selling. Another way of thinking about this is make sure your teams are not caught up in admin tasks, building their own prep materials or customer service.

Sometimes depending on the stage of your organisation (e.g. start-ups or early product lifecycle) or amount of customers, your sales teams may be able to support some of these activities, but as you grow it’s important you remove this workload to be scalable as a sales organisation.

If possible, start promoting the idea of sales support teams for pre- or post-sales activities.

3. Roadmaps

At the start of the evening, we mentioned one of the things product managers are most afraid of is their sales team selling stuff on the roadmap. This fear comes in when things on the roadmap might not get built and it has been promised to a customer. However, leaving your sales team out of building your roadmap is cutting yourself off from the customer.

Including Sales in your roadmap will help ensure they understand your product better which helps them sell it well. It also means they can sell some of the future to customers and ensure the pipeline remains healthy. If they understand it they will know when best to use it to seed future upsell options.

Sharing your roadmap will also help with access to customers to help form those future ideas. While you may be conducting customer interviews, research and other design sessions, your sales teams are always at the front of the market and can help guide you to new ideas from that market.

4. Customer experience

Just because you have freed up your sales people from being wholly responsible for the customer experience doesn’t mean they don’t care about it. A bad customer experience will hurt their cross-sell and upsell opportunities. It costs 5 times as much to acquire new customers than to keep existing so it is in everyone’s interest to focus on this area.

The end-to-end experience is the product managers responsibility – starting with being a potential customer becoming aware of your product through buying, using and even cancellation. You may engage different parts of your organisation to help you with this – but you are the lead on what this needs to look like.

If you aren’t sure what this looks like – it is time for a customer journey map!

5. Product Hierarchy

What is this? If there are a lot of products to sell, you need to make sure the hierarchy makes sense or your sales teams will sell no products well.

This is a potentially difficult area for a PM as their product is the (obviously 🙂 ) most important – however both your sales team and customers need to understand how the products fit together or all products will suffer.

Shane’s suggested product managers work with marketing to agree on the featured product and then explain how the other products augment the “hero”. Personally, I think this depends on your organisations structure – if your product strategy is clear then this direction can come from your Head of Product – and the product team will already understand how the products fit together. If your product groups are split across the organisation then another approach is needed.

Once this strategy is understood a playbook can be very helpful tool to make it easy for the sales consultant to understand how to navigate the hierarchy and respond appropriately to the customer and their needs.

6. Pricing & discounting

One of the biggest frustrations for sales is their perceived inability to win a sales due to being unable to change the pricing of a product. On the flipside, one of the biggest frustrations of a product manager. after all the hard work that does into defining your pricing strategy is then being asked to discount it!

There is a real need to give your sales teams freedom to move within the price options without hurting your profitability or entering into a price war. A discounting framework is one way to support this need and the other, similar to the roadmap, is be involved in the approval process for discounts. This will help you be a better product manager and understand the factors putting stress on your pricing approach.

A discounting framework can cover:

  • options for prices if the customer meets certain conditions
  • a discount amount that can be offered without approval
  • a discount amount that requires approval

Remember the theme – make it easy! A framework done well can actually be an excellent tool for your sales teams to negotiate with their customer. If it’s too complicated, this just becomes another barrier to selling.

7. Mystery Item

While we originally talked of covering 7 items – we realised we only published 6! Hence the idea of the mystery item that the audience would determine. After covering quite a lot of really useful options to improve the sales experience and the relationship between product and sales, Shane asked the group if there was anything he’d missed.

A couple of additional points that came up:

  • Incentives
  • Skills for good sales people

Alignment is important. Make sure the product management and sales teams have the same goals and incentives are aligned (ie paid on profit margin not revenue).

The other aspect is to be clear on the difference between good sales people and those not equipped for the job. Providing a lot of tools will only take you so far – a couple of times the statement “good sales people can just sell”, or “good sales people know how to navigate a product hierarchy” or “good sales people build their own playbook” crept into the discussion.

Here is where the product manager should partner closely with their best sales people and show them as the model for others to follow. It doesn’t mean you don’t need all the tools we spoke about so far as the rest of the team will need those to become great.

Thank you!

Thank you to Shane for sharing your wisdom! Shane can be contacted at CustCore, a management consultancy which helps businesses unlock hidden growth through a focus on measuring and improving end-to-end customer and employee experience, as well as sales, product management and go to market.

Thanks again to Collective Campus for providing the venue.

Coll Campus

Our next evening meetup will be in September as we have a whole day of discussions at Product Camp Melbourne 2015 on the 22nd of August. RSVP now.