Ask A Good Product Manager

Your product management questions answered

How can a salesperson become a product manager?

Posted on June 30, 2008 · 4 Comments

Question: How can I move from sales to product management?

I’ve been a sales manager and then director of operations for a small web based software company for about 5 years. For the last two years I have been an independent consultant for creating and implementing sales strategies and processes. Since my work has been around small companies, we never had a formal “product management” role, but I have always been intrigued by the work that is involved in bringing a product to life.

I have now decided to pursue this passion, and am currently looking for a job in product management. How can I best position myself considering my experience in sales? How can I best persuade a fellow product manager to consider me as a candidate for the job?

Answer from Adrienne Tan of brainmates: Your best tactic for persuading a Product Manager that you are interested in Product Management is talking about the customer and the needs of the customer. Sales people have the added benefit of being at the forefront of organisations and have the opportunity to interact with customers. Having a solid understanding of customers will stand you in good stead in the realm of Product Management.

One of the key roles of a Product Manager is to understand and solve customer problems, and ultimately create products that customers love. Without a clear understanding of the customer problem, the products you develop may be solutions that “miss the mark.”

It’s important to distinguish that Product Managers do not create product solutions for individual customers or individual groups of customers. Product Managers look at the aggregate view of the customer and target a particular segment, a segment that will hopefully derive a return to the business.

You will also want to highlight your work as a Director of Operations when persuading a Product Manager that you are interested in Product Management. Good processes are fundamental to delivering a product. Product Managers that create great core products without the supporting operational processes will not be successful in the market place. Customers will tend to a find a substition to avoid the frustrations of poor processes.

You may want to review your work in small companies to determine the steps you took to “bring a product to life.” You may find that you’ve acted as the Product Manager in parts or throughout the whole development process. This information demonstrates that you’ve had hands on experience as a Product Manager even if you didn’t have the formal title.

Your passion for Product Management should also be noted.

I would hire a Product Manager based on passion because Product Management methodology can be learnt and experience can be gained. Passion however is inherent!

4 other answers so far ↓

  • Gopal Shenoy // Jul 2, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    If you plan to stay in the same domain space that you are in, you are actually in an enviable position.

    As a sales guy, hopefully you know what makes customers to buy the sausages, and as a director of operations, hopefully you know what it takes to get the sausages cooked and also keep them in good taste once the customer buys them.

    I think you have gained experience in two of the tougher tasks that a product manager has to do – understanding what products customers would love to buy, what operational issues you need to take into account while developing a solution for the customer’s problem etc. Hopefully, in your operational role, you also got to really learn what it takes to maintain a product during its life cycle – this is something that is often forgotten by PM’s – creating something is very easy, but maintaining it is hell especially if engineering did not think through the solution.

    Learning the other PM tasks such as discovering the unmet customer needs, writing MRD, PRD etc. are not that difficult for anyone to learn.

    One thing I would suggest you learn to forget is the sales mentality that the last issue raised by the customer is the most important issue that needs to be solved. There is nothing that drives me crazy as a PM than this because today’s important issue is quickly forgotten when you unearth tomorrow’s hot button issue. This is exactly what Adrienne has pointed out in her remarks about aggregating the issues and targetting a customer segment that will give the biggest bang for the buck.

    Good luck.


  • bob corrigan // Jul 15, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    My path to the product management craft came through sales, starting in pre-sales engineering, then progressing through sales and sales “evangelist”. What made my “transition” possible was the evangelist role, in which I got awfully close to the developers and other product managers. They came to rely on me as a credible and reliable source for “voice of the customer” feedback, which brought me to the attention of the head of the division who offered me a PM job.

    It can be done. But be prepared for a cut in pay if you were a successful sales person.

  • George // Jul 22, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    What are the most common questions in product management interviews?

  • The Cranky Product Manager // Sep 30, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Step One: Be prepared to make a LOT less money in PM than in Sales. Many (most? ) entry-level PM positions do not have a bonus of any kind. Even if you are director or VP of Products, the compensation don’t come close to matching what decent sales people get.

    Step Two: Come to grips with the utter lack of appreciation your will endure as a PM, especially compared to Sales. In Sales, you probably got to attend a high-end festive gala each year, and if you hit your quota (or even got close), you’d collect a bevy of awards to thunderous applause and be rewarded with week-long, “plus spouse” vacations to exotic locales without taking vacation time. Alas, in PM if you do a decent job you will never receive a reward.

    Step 3: Be prepared to fly coach.