Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

How can a product manager motivate sales?

Posted on March 16, 2008 · 4 Comments

Question: How can a product manager motivate sales and make sure they are not “cheating” me as a PM?

In our company, the PM role is different in the way that we are mainly focusing on being technical experts, developing marketing/market plans, pushing sales of sell more both to new and existing customers, and finally to be involved in customer negotiations. Therefore, we are not expected to be involved in R&D projects; however, we provide information backwards in the organization about new needs and competitor/market information.

In my role, I have to regularly follow up on our sales figures and motivate our sales people in achieving our sales targets. However, I feel sometimes that some of the sales guys just tell me a story, or that it is impossible to sell my product due to the strong competition on the market. However, my product group is our biggest product group in our company. Therefore, I would like to know if anybody has a specific tool that I can use both to understand the true market forces and how I can motivate the sales, without being involved in all sales meetings directly.

I have to promote our products to around 40 sales managers globally. I try to meet with the sales to better understand their situation, but I also feel that it would be impossible for me to meet with all of them.

Answer from Steve Johnson of Pragmatic Marketing: Yuck. Call it something but don’t call it product management. As I understand it, your job is to push sales people to sell more of your stuff. And your complaint is they are not and you believes that they are lying to you. Double yuck.

But let’s make this a product management answer:

Whenever we encounter problems in the sales process, the answer is win/loss analysis. Set up interviews with 3 wins and 3 losses. In your case, you may also want to set up appointments with clients that are buying below expectation and some above. Your customers will tell you what you sales people won’t–or can’t. They’ll tell you the industry has changed, they’ve found a more reliable vendor, or they don’t like their sales guy.

Once you’ve identified product and process problems from these interviews, do a survey of 100 clients to get quantified information — for example, “I heard this problem twice and the survey says 78% of our clients are experiencing it.”

And it wouldn’t hurt to have someone (other than you) interview the sales team to find out what’s happening in their heads. “My boss is pushing me to see this instead of your product” or “your product is getting harder to sell because of the changing market.” It could be that sales people won’t tell you the truth because they know you’ll get mad or upset, just like customers don’t want to have a follow up with a sales guy after a loss.

When there’s sales problems, look to win/loss analysis for the answer — not the opinions of sales but the facts of the market.

4 other answers so far ↓

  • Jeff Lash // Mar 16, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    I’ll echo Steve’s response: “Call it something but don’t call it product management.”

    I don’t like to get too much into labels and titles, though what you’re describing is really far from what most people would consider product management. It seems more like product marketing with a bit of sales management thrown in.

    The reason I bring this up is to ask: if the people in “product management” aren’t the ones defining the new products, who is? You research needs, and then push the salespeople to sell products developed around those needs, though someone else is actually deciding what those new products are?

    This could be part of the problem — without a single voice of the customer/market, without a single product owner, there are discrepancies along the way between the identification of market needs, the product definition, the product delivery, and the product marketing. Win/loss analysis will tell you for sure where some issues are, though I’d be willing to guess that at least part of the problem lies in the apparent lack of a “president” of the product.

  • Raj P (Accompa) // Mar 16, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I agree with Steve and Jeff’s points.

    One thing I’d add is to follow up the Win/Loss reports from your sales team with direct customer contact whenever possible (phone call, email survey, etc). Often times the Win/Loss reports from your sales team can be misleading due to factors such as:
    * Sales rep didn’t bother to find out actual reasons for loss (many sales reps tend to abhor paperwork such as Win/Loss reports!)
    * Customer didn’t tell the sales rep the true reason, and instead gave a reason that would get the rep off their back ASAP

    I’d also reiterate the point Jeff made. It seems likely that at your company, there is no one driving the product strategy/roadmap with a clear vision. If so, make sure to address that – as it could be a root cause of other issues.

    Best,
    Raj
    Accompa – Affordable software for managing requirements

  • Üstün Harc // Mar 17, 2008 at 3:11 am

    Thank you for all the answers.
    Yes it is true that it isn’t a typical product management role, because I’m not leading the producut development team or reseach teams internally. In my role I meet with our technical product specialst in our manufacturing to discuss what is going on in the market and what kind of competition we facing. Based on this we agree on new product initiatives and market activities.

  • Derek Britton // Mar 25, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Another way to look at this – if you are looking for a genuine ‘motivation’, is to get an understanding of how the sales teams compensation plans are structured. Invariably, sales behaviour (and therefore the destiny of certain product lines) will follow the rules set out by Sales Management / Exec Leadership of each rep. Depending on your business model, there may be uniqueness based on different pieces of tech, different customer segments, verticals, whatever; but the comp’ plan should follow at least a basic structure.

    In some companies, depending on the competitive situation, there may be additional dispensation available for competitive situations. But invariably, going head-to-head in a kind of bake-off or taste-test is not a good use of company resources; oftentimes y0u will find that – as a vendor – you have only been invited to put a proposal in to help the buyer justify a decision that may already have been taken. Keep an eye on being ‘column fodder’.

    Back to the issue, the sales plan should give you pointers regarding behaviour. Perhaps there is a volume of deals measure in the plan, which means that the pipeline has to be x3, x5, x10 or wahtever the targets are due to the likely shrinkage, not caused by competition, but just caused by tardiness. If a sales guy has to close out 10 deals a quarter, and one deal is just running and running over months and months, he will necessarily qualify out and move on. What better way than to put the issue down to competition – there must be another vendor in there!

    A way through this is to build up your contacts in the field teams who are not selling directly; e.g. either partner managers, service consultants, SE’s or other sales-support functions. They won’t be on exactly the same plans and may be a little more honest (or even brutal) about the sales cycle, the reasons for success or failure, and suggestions for change.

    So I agree with another answer that you can call this “win/loss analysis”, and do a brief internal survey (preferably face to face) of as many field people as possible. Include the sales teams too.

    Then you may find some enlightening information not normally captured about the real reason behind frequent losses to unnamed competition.

    In many industries, can I add, the primary competitor is inertia. This is often brought about by the fact that the customer ‘issue’ was never fully understood or, just a unforgivably, the value of your offering was never correctly explained. In either case, you’ve just prolonged your sales cycle right there to a point where it may never close…. which is where this issue does genuinely become one of product management, because you must assume ownership of the entire go to market discipline to remove such impediments.

What do you think?