Hey Product Manager: Your Sales Team Is Not Excited

Imagine that your job is to sell pencils. Number 2 pencils, to be specific. Your sales pitch is basic. “Classic wooden pencils! You can sharpen, write, and erase!” There is not much else to say. Sure, there is beauty in the pencil’s simplicity and utility, but some days it is a struggle to get excited about moving those units.

Then your product manager shares some news — recycled rubber erasers are in development. Not only is this a new talking point, but it is one the entire sales team can get excited about. Your pencils are now more environmentally friendly and that matters to your customers (and the Earth).

As a product manager, I am sure you can think of a similar story where a new feature really did make a difference.

Of course, the reality is that these “exciting” new features do not come around often. So you need to find ways to engage the team in those stretches in between the next big thing. But if you are struggling to prioritize your product’s real value and benefits to your sales team, they are probably as excited as you would be selling pencils door-to-door. And this is a problem.

Your success is closely tied to the success of your sales team. Product managers need the sales team to feel passionate about the product.

Now, regular readers of this blog know that I am not a proponent of traditional commission-based sales teams. However, I know that our business model at Aha! is unique and that many of you are working with sales teams every day.

Besides, no matter who at your company is working directly with customers (for us it is product experts like our Customer Success team), they need to understand what is new with the product and why it will benefit customers.

So if your sales team is not excited, it is your job to help explain why they should be. The best way to do this is to share your product plan — explaining it in a way that resonates with the often hard-to-see challenges customers face each day.

Here is how product managers get sales teams invested in the product:

Understand pain points
Take time to understand daily sales challenges and perceived product holes. Maybe sales is struggling to succeed because the product lacks a feature or is overpriced. Or maybe the competition is doing something better. If sales has a problem, then it is likely your problem too. Addressing it will not only help you build a better product, but it will also make the sales people’s jobs a lot easier.

Share the roadmap
You are regularly evaluating your product roadmap, setting the long-term vision for your product. But have you shared it with sales? It is critical that you do. It is the only way sales can truly understand what features will add real value to the product and to the customers they are speaking to each day. You should also give sales the chance to ask questions about the roadmap. So if they have a request that will “close a huge deal” yet does not align with your strategy, you can say “no, and here is why.” This will be much more appreciated than a flat-out “no.”

Model the excitement
As a product manager, you should be presenting directly to customers. This way, you can ensure that what you think will make them happy actually will. And yes, sales wants you to do this. Salespeople generally want to work with product managers who can get in front of customers and prove that they really are building something that those customers want and need.

Follow up fast
Sales has goals and numbers to hit, and they need you to be super-responsive to help them get there. Be considerate of this by quickly responding when they share a request or feedback from customers. By doing so, you will build a strong relationship that is built on mutual respect. So when you explain the essence of the product to sales — and why you are so excited about it — they will listen. And get excited too.

Product managers and salespeople ultimately have the same goal — to create value for customers and for the business.

In order to achieve this goal, everyone needs to be in on the plan. And not just that. Everyone needs to be energized around it. There is powerful momentum in a product that has the full support of everyone involved.

After all, I bet your product is a lot more exciting than a standard number 2 pencil.

How do you share your plans with sales?

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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Comments

  1. Tim Ryan

    Helpful coaching, Brian. We make sure to attend weekly sales team meetings to understand pain points and hurdles. I can’t think of a time where I’ve not walked away with ideas to help sales better position features. We also conduct mini applied learning sessions where sales play the role of customer. They’re given a real world customer challenges to solve by using new and existing product features. It’s a fun way for them to experience the value props firsthand.

    Thanks,

    Tim Ryan
    @youearnedit

    Reply
  2. Alex Novkov

    Great article! I would add that aligning your product team with the sales guys is just barely enough. You need to have your whole business unit to understand the product roadmap and pursue a common goal. At our company, we’ve got all hands meetings once a month where we sync our efforts and goals. Every team explains what they’ve achieved and what they plan to pursue in the following month. All suggestions and comments are welcome so we can do a better job collectively.

    Reply

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