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Aligning Product Management and Sales to Win

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While it may not seem evident in day to day business, there is quite a bit of symmetry between product management and sales teams. In fact, both teams want the same thing: products that customers love and want to buy. So why then, is there often friction between product management and sales?

The short answer is timing. Sales teams are motivated by the deal they can close now, while product managers tend to have a longer range view of the product. For mature products, or ones that “sell themselves”, this may not be as much of an issue, but this tension is heightened at certain points in a product’s lifecycle, especially when the product is new and/or the market for the product unproven.

While it is important to keep one’s finger on the pulse of the target market and the customer needs, the danger here is that it is possible, even likely, that the product strategy can easily be compromised to win short-term deals. Building a product whereby 80% of the features are relevant to 1% of your target market is not a recipe for success. On the other hand, building a product whereby 100% of the features are valued by 0% of your target market is certainly a recipe for a hard learning opportunity.

So how does a company that is bringing a new product to market, jumping verticals, or even doing a pivot harness these tensions and use them constructively instead of creating unresolved conflict between product and sales? The answer is multi-faceted and entails understanding the competing drivers for each team so they can be brought into an alignment that is good for the company. Note that the outcome here is good for the company. Not sales, not product, but the company.

Many product managers are responsible for a myriad of tasks and only get to spend a fraction of their time in front of customers, but need to leverage feedback from customers to drive product decisions. On the other hand, the sales team is in constant communication with customers and can provide the insight required for the product managers to stay informed of their product/service related issues and desired new features. The best product and sales managers understand this tension and work side-by-side to deliver a product experience that exceeds customer and market expectations.

Here are few things to watch for that may indicate a breakdown in the working relationship between product management and sales.:

  • The positioning of the product does not match the actual capabilities. This will result in lost revenue, sunk cost, and a poor reputation in the market not to mention all manner of internal strife and infighting.
  • The strategic plan for the product does not overlay the demand (buying behavior) in the market. Sales can’t sell whats on the truck but the product is not evolving based on real market feedback.
  • Product management and sales are not working together as a team to develop marketing and sales tools based on the product strategy and positioning. Sales will end up selling what customers are asking for, even if it’s not what the product does.

If you see or experience any of these symptoms, it is time to act and get your product and sales teams behind the same objectives. But what to do? A good place to start is to call Ten Mile Square. As experts with decades-long track-record bringing and scaling products in the market, we can help you get your teams aligned and back on track quickly.

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