How to empower your product team to unlock revenue growth
Build a strong partnership between product and sales
Last month we looked at how to drive more growth from your existing customers and how demonstrating recurring impact to our customers earns us the right to ask, “what else can we do together?”
The answer to this question is always either a) higher usage of your existing products or b) adoption of new products. Both are dependent on your product, which is why your product team is as essential to driving growth as your sales team, and why a strong partnership between product and sales is essential to making it happen.
**For simplicity in this post, I’m using “sales” a shorthand for the customer-facing teams; customer success, marketing, sales, support etc and “product” a shorthand for the product development teams; engineering, design, product, UX etc.
Creating a strong partnership doesn’t happen without effort
Creating a strong partnership between product and sales doesn’t happen without intent and effort. In many cases the status quo is lopsided; companies with sales-driven founders will tend to over-index towards building for customers, whereas companies with product-driven founders will lean more towards building for markets.
When you over-index towards building for customers, you do a lot of one-off work to close a deal. This creates a broad set of use cases to maintain and a diverse set of customers to support. It’s not sustainable; your devlocity tanks and your churn spikes.
Similarly, when you over-index towards building for markets, you try to build a one-size-fits-all solution, only to find it doesn’t solve a problem that a cohesive group of customers have right now. You end up going back to the drawing board and don’t even get to ask what else you can do together.
Having been a PM and AE and led both product development and sales teams at various points during my career, I’ve found that there are two strategies to getting the right balance
Understanding the differences in how sales and product teams think.
Following a set of best practices for collaboration.
Understanding the differences in how sales and product teams think
If you are in a sales team, you generally
Have a shorter term horizon—you need to close deals this quarter in order to hit quotas.
Are resource-rich—you rarely have more qualified deals than you handle.
Hear customer feedback directly—you talk to customers every day.
Are solution-oriented—selling and problem-solving go hand-in-hand.
Need to close deals one-by-one—every deal has its nuances, not least in the people you are selling to.
If you are in a product team, you generally
Have a longer term horizon—it takes time to design, build, test and launch a product.
Are resource-constrained—you very rarely have more people than you need to build the products you want to build.
Hear customer feedback indirectly—you get a filtered version from your sales team or from your own secondary research.
Are problem-oriented—you need to understand problems before designing solutions, because it’s expensive to go down the wrong route.
Need to build for many customers—because of the longer-term horizon and resource-constraints.
A set of best practices for collaboration
1. Be clear on your ideal customer profile
When sales and product have clarity on who the customer is and what problems they have, collaboration is 10x easier. Its easier to filter out great-sounding product ideas that aren’t a fit and easier to filter in product ideas that will lead to recurring impact.
2. Be systematic about gathering customer feedback
Set up a process to collect feedback from all customers through AEs and CSMs. Don’t just pass along the outliers; the one or two vocal customers or the one you need to close specific deals. The boring ones who buy what you have and pay you on time every month are just as important to hear from.
Give your product team the opportunity to hear directly from customers. This has become 10x easier with remote-working as you can join QBRs with existing customers and listen to call recordings with prospects.
3. Describe problems before prescribing solutions
Probe on the pain to understand the problem. Just because a customer says they want X doesn’t mean X is the best way to solve their problem. It just means X is the best way they could think of solving their problem. Unless your customer is a product manager, its likely there is a better way to solve it.
4. Prioritize based on value and complexity
Rank problems by the revenue opportunity and the number of potential customers. It prevents you from focusing too much on the one-off needs of big customers and steers you towards maintaining a cohesive group of customers.
Rank solutions by the complexity to develop and maintain. This prevents you from piling up support debt in both your CS and product development teams and ensures you will have bandwidth to keep innovating.
Review priorities on a regular basis as new data comes in and be willing to move things around on the backlog.
5. Be accountable to each other
Being accountable starts with being realistic. Be realistic about launch dates, be realistic about revenue goals. Nothing feels better than crushing a goal. Nothing feels worse than falling short because you overpromised.
Create a rollout plan. Identify which customers to target and create a goal for each customer, build sales collateral, train the sales team, create a report to track progress and be transparent about the results.
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