Hey Product Manager: Stop Listening to the Sales Team

sales and product manager

Being a product manager is a balancing act. You need to be super responsive to the requests of colleagues and customers. But you also need to give them what they actually need — the things that will help you deliver more value to more customers in the long run.

What happens when your product starts being predominantly driven by requests from sales and support, not vision and strategy? It starts becoming less valuable.

Yes, this may sound harsh. But it is true. It is dangerous to set your product roadmap based on what sales and support teams are demanding. This is because the majority of their requests are often solving for an immediate gain — securing a new account or soothing a disgruntled customer.

But if you and the team are always grappling for the next quick fix, you will miss creating long-term value. And your job as a product manager is to build a product that creates real value for the long haul.

This is hard — even harder when the whole organization is driven by quarterly goals and commissions. You alone cannot shift the organizational mindset, but you can take steps to look out at what your product and team can really become.

Here is how to rally the team around your longer-term vision while still driving against those shorter-term objectives:

Lead with goals
Even if your product’s goals are collecting digital dust, they likely do exist somewhere. You need to remind people what those goals are and how the team’s work is collectively building towards the company’s greater vision. To get started, create a visual product roadmap that is accessible to everyone on the team. You can then hold a weekly meeting to review the roadmap, talking through what everyone is working on. This roadmap meeting will also help with determining what is going to be prioritized next and why. (Or why not.)

Create structure
Minimize the “We-really-need-this-in-the-next-release” chaos by putting some processes in place. One way to do this is to have an internal scoring system, so you can give each request a strategic value based on the goals for the product. Another way is to create an ideas portal where stakeholders (customers, internal teammates, you decide) can submit ideas for product improvements. You and the team can then prioritize based on how those ideas align with product goals.

Explain the “no”
It can feel easier to say “yes” to sales when they “really need” that feature to close the deal — less discussion, less work. When a request does not align with the product’s goals, you should say no kindly and explain your reasoning. But that alone might not be enough, so work out how the customer might work around the challenge or agree to talk with the customer yourself to find an alternative approach.

Show curiosity
All of the above will be a lot easier once you build trust. Do this by getting curious and showing interest: Ask sales what customers are sharing with them and explain what you are hearing as well. That means you need to be talking with customers too. If you are working on something that would help the sales team, talk about it and when you expect it to be delivered. Remember that you are all ultimately working towards the same future.

If you want the space to work against longer-term goals, you need to help sales and support solve problems today.  

Of course, I know that it can be hard to look out when it feels like the organization is on fire every month. So establish what those longer-term goals are for the product and be willing to work with sales and support teams to help meet their shorter-term objectives — even if you are not prioritizing their immediate product requests.

You cannot change how your entire organization works or makes decisions, but you can control your own actions and impact the people you worth with. Start by making strategy a priority in all you do. You might find that your teammates start following your lead.

How do you help your team meet short-term goals but focus on longer-term initiatives?

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About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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