Your sales don’t know what they are selling

In a previous article, I wrote that your sales team doesn’t know what they are selling. By this, I mean that they most likely aren’t users of the product. They don’t know it inside out like you should, as a product manager.

That can be true in a B2C context, but that of course happens much faster for B2B products/services.

If you are not a user of your product, how can you know for sure how it will actually solve a problem for the people using/buying it? Even worse, you can end up in a discussion between a sales person and a professional buyer, negotiating and cutting through features and usages, while you have no clue if the users will actually be able to get something out of your stuff.

You can’t have car-sellers

My belief is that “old-school” car-sales guys cannot be efficient on our markets anymore. With all due respect!

Let’s make this clear: such people have amazing skills in closing a deal as fast as possible. And that is also something you really need, in a start-up environment.

However, especially within such an environment, it is sometimes better not to sell. Trying to distort your product in order to meet some very specific needs of a customer is a disaster, wasting your focus at all levels. Your positioning gets blurred. Your business model is affected, and potentially looses relevance. Your product gets more functional and technical debt.

That 5 digits deal might end up costing you 6 digits. Selling to a single customer might lead you to miss on a lot of other prospects, or to impact your current customer’s experience.

Train them, make sure they’re part of the team

Now of course, it’s impossible to hire people who have all of the skills and the background from day one. You can keep looking for them, and after a year lost, figure that time would have enabled you to train those who lacked this or that expertise. Knowing they could also have earned you some business on the way.

Now that training will never be a one time thing! As long as the craft your product is covering isn’t theirs, it’s virtually impossible for them to have a constant market survey and to learn on their own. Actually, you’d rather have them perfecting their own craft of selling! That’s where it is so important for you to organize regular trainings. Not only about the product itself! Trainings should also help your sales team understand better the crafts around those you support. They should give context, “general knowledge”, that will enable your sales team to look smarter when discussing with your prospects, having a deeper background.

I’ve been in teams where sales people would be present at Scrum Daily Stand-ups. Half (90%?) of what devs would say wouldn’t mean anything to them. But the great part of such meetings was that once in a while, they would pick a thread, ask questions and understand more about the product, the technology, or the user’s needs. And in the meantime, the product/dev team would also get the occasion to think “Oh! you know what? That means that from now on, you should take <whatever> in account when doing a demo or telling the story to a prospect!”. Sales people should be on the field, selling. As much as possible. But having them back in the office is essential, for the team spirit just as to make sure they’re correctly tuned to the value you’re bringing to the market.

Support them, be part of their team

Let’s face it: you’ll never have time to continuously train your sales team, back in the office. It requires a lot of investment in preparing trainings. It requires them to be doing something else than selling.

Being a Product Manager, you’re the best evangelist for your product. You understand the craft you support, and master how you product provides a solution to the user’s problem, as well as how to market it, both in terms of messaging and business model. basically, you’re the best pre-sales a sales person can hope for. Go on the field with them! Probably not for all opportunities, as your time is valuable, but at least the key ones.

Actually, your job requires this. You will get opportunities to face buyers, who are not necessarily users, understand their problems and questions, and support your sales team in learning the right benefits to communicate on, or how to counter objections. In the meantime, you will also better understand the struggles of your sales team, and potentially come out with new ideas and solutions, either directly in the product, or in internal management/workflows/trainings.

One of my key learnings while doing this, for instance, is that a large part of the challenge for a sales person is in going through a proper qualification of the prospects. At first, any business can be a target to them. It’s just that some of them have a better chance to convert than others. But when you start asking the right questions to prospects, you can very fast understand exactly what kind of customer they are: is there a fit between your product and them? How much they realistically can invest your product (Is it even worthwhile trying to sell them? Are they not, on the contrary, too good in negociating a lower price?)? Would they even adopt it enough to that they renew the subscription? Are they not the kind to cause too much disturbance?

Brainstorm on pricing and offerings

Everybody in your team has their own idea about what should change in the product/offering to make it better/sell more. Clearly, all input is valuable. Even if everybody also need to understand that their input is part of a bigger picture, with potentially a lot of moving parts. And that industrialisation and lean management will require some compromises, or at least a roadmap.

With this as a given, your sales team has things to say about your pricing, offering and marketing. Are you selling at the correct price? Is it too low/high? Have you reached out to the correct market? Do you need to segment it further, with more appropriate offerings? Do customers understand easily how you packaged your offers/is it easy enough for a sales person to explain? Does your marketing generate enough lead, or do your sales team need to “hunt” a lot?

And of course, this can also mean telling them no. Just like you may have to do it to customers. It may require to remind them why your pricing/business model is like it is. It may require to ask them to keep some focus.

Featured image by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

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