Should Product Managers Learn to Sell?

Selling your Product *vision*, vs. Selling the *Product* itself

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If you are in Product Management, the core of your job is to constantly test out new product ideas with potential customers, come up with solutions to problems that lots of people care about and turn them into products.

That’s all great, But here’s an important question. Once the product is ready — Who is actually selling the product that your team built?

If you are Managing a B2C SAAS product — the sales channels are perhaps totally online — without the need for any feet on the street or a Salesforce. Your product already has (or should have) inbuilt Lead Capture & Conversion funnels such that the product will sell itself.

But if you are building products (say B2B products, or a Hardware product) that need a sales team to pursue potential customers ) — then it is highly likely that once the product is built and launched — it’s tossed over the fence to the sales team to go sell it.

I’ve seen this happen many many times, especially in large multi-product companies. Product Managers consider their jobs done once the product is launched, and they move on to the next thing. Product Managers are almost never the ones to actually sell the products that their teams are building. The selling is left to the sales team.

Such a setup inevitably leads to the PM being detached with the changing market realities and evolving customer preferences. In such companies, PMs are disconnected from their own sales teams and don’t really understand the selling process that gets their products into customers’ hands. They get used to making key product decisions sitting in the confines of their cabins/offices — when the truth about the customer is actually outside the office.

Further, and often unbeknownst to even themselves, the PM can color the viewpoints of key leaders of the company with their own outdated worldview — a sure-shot recipe for making really bad business decisions.

Should PMs Learn to Sell?

The ability to sell is one of the most important aspects of successful product management. As a Product Manager, you need to sell the product vision to business leaders so your vision and product ideas are well funded, you need to sell the vision to engineering teams — convince them that of all the problems they can work on, your product solves the most important ones. You need to convince the sales teams that out of all the products that they can go sell, your products have the highest Return per unit Selling time Invested. So you see, Selling is inherent and ingrained into every stage of Product Management itself.

What about Selling the products your team built? That’s not for the Product Managers to do right?

While Selling products is not the primary responsibility of a Product Manager — Understanding the sales process and customer pursuit is a key aspect of Product Management. If you don’t understand the sales process of your own product, then you shouldn’t be the one responsible to manage and launch that product.

Of course, lot of Product Managers do get feedback from the salespeople about the market and target customers — but that is not enough.

Product Managers must actively be engaged with the sales teams and try selling the products as they are building it. After the product is launched, PMs must tag along with their salespeople and call on potential customers. If you are a Product Manager reading this, it will do the product you are building a world of good if you just experience — or better still — learn the art of selling.

Join your sales teams on cold calls, product demos, and after-sales visits. It is in these interactions that you will truly understand what an intense experience making a sale is.

Selling is super competitive

Selling is a highly competitive sport. Most salespeople get only a small number of real shots with the customer and each interaction can be a “make-it or break-it” type situation.

Depending upon what you are selling, at any given time there might be scores of other salespeople fighting for the same business. You have to be on your toes all the time. If you are a salesperson, you have targets to hit, and a couple of poor sales months can pretty much put you on the firing line.

Product development groups in most organizations are shielded from these intense competitive circumstances. If you are a Product person, iterations are important and it is OK to Fail — But when you are in Sales there are very few second chances. An opportunity lost today may very well be an opportunity lost for the next several years as its very hard to displace a competitor once they are in.

People don’t like to be sold.

That’s just the truth. People hate to be sold, and most people are not in buying mode most of the time. What that means is, If you are a salesperson trying to sell your product — your window of opportunity is very very limited.

People generally buy things when they want to buy things, and most people I know get upset when they are cold-called. I bet there are thousands of promotional and sales emails eating dust in your inbox because heck — you have more important stuff to do! I am sure all of us at some point have rebuked a cold calling salesperson asking them to remove our phone number from their calling lists.

So as Product Manager, whats your role here? Obviously, there’s little you can do to influence people’s purchase behavior — but here’s what you can definitely do.

  1. Build a product that helps generate high quality leads that Sales can act upon and that have much higher probability to convert.
  2. If it’s a hardware product, make it standout in the crowd and clearly articulate the unique value proposition that your sales team understands and buys into.
  3. Create high-quality product marketing collateral and product demos for your sales teams, especially true for complex technical products. Make it easy to talk about the product.
  4. If it’s a software product, make on boarding really really easy and let people try your product right away. Incorporate some growth hacks in the product that creates demand pull through instead of just your sales teams trying to push it through the distribution channels. This will really help bring a potential customer further down the sales funnel so that sales can quickly and effectively close it.

Customers will trick you.

Even when the product team built a great product that will sell itself — there are intense negotiations involved in actually making a sale. In a competitive market where customers have buying power and the power to choose what to buy — a salesperson often finds themselves in this tricky situation. A potential customer who is leveraging your best pricing to get even better pricing from your competitors and asking them to undercut you.

Here’s something you can probably relate to if you’ve ever bought a car.

Several car salespeople will pursue you for days or even months and provide you with their quotes — and you’d have used price quotes from one salesman against another to get the best deal possible. Its a real thing and as a buyer that’s a smart way to buy anything.

But from the sales side, you have to be very strategic in deal-making and ensure that — 1. that you are not being tricked & 2. that the opportunity isn’t lost.

Reconnect with your sales teams

So PMs, find a way to get out of the office (for now do it virtually ) and spend more time talking to customers alongside your Sales team. Understand the customer’s problem, the salesperson’s problem, the sales process for your product, industry sales cycles & factors that correlate strongly to a successful sale. Validate that business model you are coming up with (and your assumptions) against what it really like out there. Pressure test the sales plan for repeatability and scalability across channels.

Your sales team is closest to the customer and understands them inside out — make them a part of the product development from day 1.

Thanks for reading! If you have questions or comments, leave them here or your can find me on twitter.

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