Or, Be careful what you teach your sales teams
A VP wanted to improve the visibility and perception of product management with the sales people so he created a series of video introductions of his team. The videos included the product manager’s background, areas of expertise, and contact information. Once they were distributed, sales people asked, “Can we share these with our clients?”
In my early days as a product manager, I really enjoyed doing product training for the sales people. I was good at presenting. I enjoyed it. And I wanted them to see the presentation and demo done correctly at least once. Yet all the sales people said, “Man! That kid is good. I’m going to take him on all my sales calls.”
In a similar story, the VP of sales distributed the home and mobile phone numbers of all product managers to the sales channel (including international). Within a week, all of the product managers had gotten new, unlisted phone numbers.
These scenarios—with all the best intentions—resulted in sales people perceiving product management as the go-to resource for all things product.
Is that what you want your product managers to do?
How to fix it
The key to fixing this is to listen to what your sales team is telling you. They need a go-to resource and they need tools they can share with their customers. When your sales team doesn’t have deep product expertise, you need to empower them with sales tools that do the heavy lifting. Here are some suggestions.
Sales enablement tools
When sales people ask, “Can we share these with our clients?” they’re telling you they need more and/or better sales tools. In fact, they’re so desperate for sales tools that they want to share videos of the product managers! What’s that about?
Put on your product management hat and evaluate the implied requirements. What are your sales people requesting? Break it down into the sales funnel and strive to understand which steps need supporting tools. Develop these tools and share them broadly. And make them a key element of your product training.
Many product managers feel their sales teams need deep technical knowledge of their products so they try to educate the sales people on their years of experience. But the sales people quickly realize they’ll never have this level of experience. Their solution: just call on the product manager when the client needs deep knowledge.
Make product training less about transferring your knowledge and more about finding information.
Here’s an alternative approach to product training. Make the agenda about the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel. Start with a definition of the markets and personas. Explain the compelling events that typically cause a client to initiate a project. That is, explain what a qualified prospect looks like. Once you’ve profiled the buyer, distribute a list of sales enablement tools, organized by step in the sales cycle, with links to where the content can be found on your sales portal. Show them how they can help themselves.
When it comes to product, get one of the sales engineers to deliver the presentation and demo. Sure, the sales engineer might not do quite as good as job as you would but it will show the sales people that their own field resources are knowledgeable about the product.
Perhaps the best way to support the sales effort in your company is to be an advocate for sales engineering. Sales engineers are product experts in the field. For sales people, the SE should be their first call. In my experience, most companies with complex products and a direct sales force require one sales engineer for every two sales people. What’s your ratio? Unfortunately, many teams have understaffed and sometimes underskilled the sales engineering group. And when sales teams don’t have access to the skills they need, they’ll call on product managers.
Set up a sales support desk
If you continue to get product support calls from sales people, maybe it’s time to formalize your team’s sales support. Create a sales support desk and staff it with a junior person who knows where to find answers. Put this person front-and-center in all your communications. Put this person in charge of the product content areas of the sales portal so he or she knows where to find sales tools and content.
And maybe it’s not just one person. Another approach is to set up a dedicated mobile phone and a general email account for the product management team to share. Each product manager takes charge of these for one day and then passes the responsibility (and the phone) to the next person in the queue.
As with anything else, you should track the number and nature of these communications. Whenever the support desk gets repeated requests for a certain type of information, it’s clear that you have to develop and document a solution.
Considering all the typical company asks of sales people—relationship building, navigating the complex sale, negotiation—it’s really surprising that we also expect them to be technically adept. And maybe yours are. But if not, empower them not with education on the technology but with education on how to provide answers. The more you know about how buyers buy and sellers sell, the more you’ll know how to support your sales teams.