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Lessons Learnt from a Conversation with Sales
About diverse perspectives, commercial mindset, and humility in the workplace.
As Product Managers, we are always pursuing better ways to undercover the pains and needs of our customers, by using various techniques, experiments, making various assumptions and hypotheses, endless prototyping, interviewing, iterating… We believe that proper product discovery is essential for building products that would improve our customers’ lives.
However, and without surprise, not everyone in our organisations shares this perspective. Too often, resistance, even criticism flew in from colleagues, especially Sales, Customer Success, and Consultants. They’d tell us what feature to build and whose requirement to prioritise (which is always that of the most significant customers in their own target markets).
The more PMs I exchange this frustration with, especially in B2B, the more frequently I hear that, over time, it makes us feel stupid and that our discipline doesn’t deserve respect.
As it happens, I also don’t want to become arrogant or dismissive of stakeholder opinions. After all, many of them do engage with customers every day and have valuable market insights. The only thing that worries me is the feeling of compromising our product vision or an evident-based product management approach whenever I’m talking to them.
Are Sales that terrifying? We have discussed some practical tips on communicating as a Product Manager in our B2B Playbook. Today, I’m actually going to share a recent learning that brings quite a bit of a positive vibe into listening to Sales.
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It was one of those meetings where a Sales colleague brought in numerous ideas. As usual, I asked questions for a better understanding. By chance, the conversation led to product pricing. That’s when a casual remark fascinated and intrigued me at the same time.
Our product is on a path to becoming more international, with Sales working hard to expand our customer base globally. Our teams are looking into a new solution that could potentially attract new customers outside our domestic regions. As a standard software that steers away from bespoke solutions, our product solves the core and common problems for a defined Ideal Customer Profile. That said, when a feature is released, it’s released to all customers who had paid for the licence. But the Sales colleague thought of an idea – why don’t we offer this upcoming “international feature” on demand? For example, via a feature flag, where it can be enabled and disabled per customer. This would mean that the feature can be sold on the basis of additional licencing, in case our domestic customers might want an “international upgrade”. And if they don’t, they won’t have to see and get disturbed by the irrelevant new feature. Since it’s indeed a mutual understanding that the new feature isn’t essential for domestic customers, this idea caught my absolute attention.
Although the willingness to pay, the business model, the feasibility, and many more assumptions that came with this idea are yet to be researched and tested, it struck me that as the Product Manager, this idea didn’t come from me. This is neither a complicated technical concept nor an obscure product delivery model. It didn’t occur to me because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the business side of things. I was obviously blind sided by my “solving the customer problem” bubble, in which everything is an issue that’s preventing the customers from doing their jobs. And it was easy to forget that there are commercial opportunities in solving those problems. Regardless of pursuing this particular opportunity or not, this is a good reminder that the perspectives of solving customer issues and increasing business revenue can exist at the same time.
Sales are like us. They want the best for our product and business. I certainly feel that we underestimated how much they strive to maximise our revenue and keep the business successful. No doubt, we in Product Management have a lot to learn from them. In the meantime, what can we offer in return?
What’s the dynamic between Sales and Product Management in your organisation? And what’s your approach to learn more from them or encourage learning from each other? Let us know in the comment session!