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What Does “Sales-Driven” Even Mean?

Published: May 08, 2016

I frequently use the term “sales-driven” and contrast it with other focus descriptors like product-driven, technology-driven, and marketing-driven. Until recently I didn’t give the phrase much thought. I sort of knew what it meant — and so did most people I spoke to — but to be honest I had a tough time describing it. So what do I mean?

When taking a sales-driven approach you:

  1. Prioritize the curb-appeal of your product over long-term customer value. For example, you actively build and sell flashy features which provide limited lasting value or fail to deliver on the sales promise. In short, you focus on what sells or attracts attention vs. what works
  2. Allow sales opportunities to impact the product roadmap disproportionately. Agreeing to build something for a prospect is a major commitment, as even the savviest prospects tend to botch their requirements. It is also rare for a hastily developed feature to be productized vs. being held together with bailing wire for the customer. More often than not, the sales-driven roadmap item becomes a liability and sits in limbo.
  3. Let sales dictate the target persona (or lack thereof). As product people, we build products with specific “jobs to be done”, people, needs, and psychologies in mind. In a sales-driven approach, there will often be a mismatch between product’s target end users, and the people you sell to. Sometimes the sales target is simply broader, but often it is just plain different.
  4. Saying No is one of the toughest things in product management. When selling, you’ll inevitably hear about ancillary and complimentary needs. They love your product, and if it can do [insert something else] they’ll love it even more. A sales-driven approach tends to guide your product management hand a bit broader than a product-driven approach.
  5. A sales-driven company tends to prioritize developing new features over optimizing existing features for existing customers. A bulleted list of features is the calling card for new sales. The bigger the list, the more doors that open. Most businesses need some form of sales. You can be amazingly good at sales, but not be sales-driven. A product-driven company doesn’t stop selling … rather it puts more emphasis on assuring that customers get value out of the product vs. drive the car off the lot. Before jumping to the next feature, you validate that you’ve hit the mark.

As a UX-centric product person, I tend to feel better about my work when I’m working in a product-driven setting. It just feels more focused, sustainable, and impactful. I’ve also been bitten numerous times by the byproducts of a prolonged sales-driven effort. That said, countless businesses have succeeded by taking a sales-driven stance. On some level, it boils down to your sense of craft, and your tolerance for things to be a little less-than-ideal for your existing customers.

And with some products you have no choice. The market is competitive, busy, and fierce, and it is hard to sell on differentiation. No matter how you slice it, your product is not going to sell itself. You will win BECAUSE you learn how to out-sell and outmaneuver the competition. Like it or not, your product is secondary.