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Product! Stop Whining About Sales!

Published: April 19, 2016

As Product folks, we need to stop whining about Sales. We aren’t the victim. We need to break out of the “glass case of emotion”:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fmHCNfowbQIt’s our fault …

It’s our responsibility to shape a product that is easy to sell, easy to use, enables excellent outcomes for our customers, AND has a winning growth model. If that doesn’t exist, it is perfectly reasonable to expect our team — the broader team, including sales — to “flow like water” and take the path of least resistance. If that path doesn’t lead to the product as it exists today, then the path is broken, not the people.

Selling to the “right” people should be 100% natural: great customer experience resonates with the “right” people, referrals happen, case studies materialize, personas start to dot the wall and everyone zeros in on the sweet spot.

Selling “in the box” should be 100% natural because the box addresses a compelling pain point, even if it’s rough around the edges. And when it comes time to renew, the “right” product (and team, and service delivery approach) will renew itself without roadmap promises.

When that doesn’t happen, the organization becomes imbalanced and odd incentives percolate. Consider how you’d react in the same situation with a quota hanging over your head. You’d lodge yourself in the biggest and gnarliest deal you could find to slay the elephant. Or churn out sub-optimal deals. We humans are pretty darn scrappy.

It’s your job as product person to point the way and make the case. If you are still in learning mode, then make that clear!

The product can be easy to sell, but hard to use (Brita water filters). Or insanely valuable, but difficult to get into the hands of the right customer, and turn into a successful business (insert 50% of cool IoT Kickstarter projects). Step back for a moment and consider everything your company does as The Product. Your support is The Product. The way your salespeople interact with customers is The Product. Your marketing is The Product. The product “works” when all aspects of the service — yes, probably best described as a service, not a widget — are in harmony.

The challenge of getting this right was my primary motivation for joining an analytics company focused on product teams. Consider the problem. Cold hard cash, or a contract, has a way of trumping murky, disparate, and difficult to extract data. That impending deal feels real. It feels actionable. But we all know the slippery slope that can take us down.

There’s a reason why the product team is (often) viewed as the whipping boy of the organization. We talk a big game but rarely have the data and evidence to back up our gut. We try to care for the big picture but have trouble painting the big picture. Or we lead by fiat, and erode trust.

But there’s an alternative. Easy to extract, easy to present, and easy to act on evidence trumps all. Yes, this requires a cultural shift. But that’s part of why you signed up.

So with that, stop whining and take responsibility for your product! Discover a lucrative sweet spot and build something that exploits that information. Use evidence (qualitative and quantitative) to tell a compelling story. And, show empathy to your sales team!