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In this episode, we are talking about sales people and how product managers can improve their work with sales people. For some product managers, sales professionals are a source of tension, maybe because they overpromise and make product commitments without first coordinating with product management. For other product managers, sales professionals provide access to customers and help arrange problem-discovery interviews. They are an ally to product management.
Regardless of your working relationship with sales professionals, there is room for improvement. To explore this topic you would be hard-pressed to find anyone better than my guest, Keith Hawk. Keith has incredible street cred for this topic as he worked in a technology support role early in this career, working with sales professionals and product management. From there he served as the Director of Technology Support, Director of Marketing, VP Customer Support, and recently retired from his long-term role as the Senior Vice President of Sales for LexisNexis, a multi-billion dollar organization with over 10,000 employees. Keith has a very rich background in the information industry and he has played a broad role in the development of LexisNexis as a company. He is also the author of the book Get-Real Selling: Your Personal Coach for REAL Sales Excellence, which greatly influenced my thoughts on the function of Sales.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of some concepts discussed:
- Business-to-Business sales is about one thing – helping to make other people’s businesses more successful. Aspects of this include helping them help their customers, improving the economics of their business, and improving the personal quality of their lives.
- A poor sales person can be thought of as a bag diver – a walking, talking brochure that is just spitting out product features until they find a feature or a product someone cares about — reaching into their bag of brochures over and over.
- 3 things a good sales professional wants from product managers are:
- Availability – open communication to discuss opportunities that may require a new product feature or an entirely new product.
- Interaction – product managers that can interact with customers and understand how customers actually use products and feel their challenges.
- Formalize – define the relationship between Sales and Product Management and schedule periodic collaboration to share successes and opportunities.
- When a sales person overcommits with a customer, promising a capability that doesn’t currently exist, a big girl, big boy talk is needed between Sales and Product Management leadership. Ask if this was our money, would it be in our best interest and the best interest of the customer to create the new capability. A foundation of expectations – values and standards to live by – should exist between Sales and Product Management.
- Product Management and Sales leadership need to set ground rules for customer discovery meetings and general interactions.
- Product managers can have customer discovery meetings with sales people during the early stages of a customer sales cycle, before a sales person has created a recommendation for the customer, without concern of the meeting becoming a sales meeting.
- To avoid Sales too frequently engaging product managers to meet with customers, consider if sales engineers are needed. Also, set an expectation between Sales and Product Management for how much of a product manager’s time can be devoted to direct support of Sales, such as 10% of their time.
- Keith’s book, Get-Real Selling: Your Personal Coach for REAL Sales Excellence.
- Connect with Keith using his LinkedIn profile
- Keith’s Twitter profile
“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – General George Patton
“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.