I talk a lot about sales topics. But, I also talk about product items and sometimes people are surprised that my background is in engineering, turned PM, and not sales. In fact I’ve never “directly” worked in sales (debatable, lol).
So what gives? And why do you care?
Once you’ve been a founder, no matter your background, you realize just how important sales is. Or more generally, distribution. Getting customers. On Twitter, Justin Khan says, “First time founders are obsessed with Product. Second time founders are obsessed with Distribution.” Growth, customers, distribution, etc — these are the lifeblood of your business. They are paramount. Yeah, you have to have a good product. Yeah, get your data and your operations figured out. But without sales, you are dead in the water. So yes, my background is product. And I obsess over product details — but then I will quickly shift to the market needs. What does the market want?
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At my company, Broadly.com, I spent more time with my Sales team than my Product team. But I was immersed in both. I made sure the Product team understood what the Sales team was hearing. How I thought about the important items. What the killer features were. The things that we could ignore. And then, I spent my time with sales. Is the pitch right? Is the story resonating? Is the price right? Could we get more for the product? Which features were moving the needle? I myself learned these topics the most from several mentors at Demandforce and then our acquisition by Intuit. I also spent a year working for Salesforce.com — which was also very instructional for understanding longer sales processes, the importance of pricing (they do pricing really well — product complexity not so much hehe), and just generally how to build products the market actually wants to buy.
As product leaders, I think understanding the customer frontline is the biggest priority. Now, there are different types of PM roles, some more inbound, some more outbound, some get closer to Eng management or Scrum management. But as you move into leadership roles in PM, I think getting closer to the customer and distribution / sales process is super critical. I often ask PM candidates what their definition of PM is. There’s lots of definitions. My favorite is “Voice of the Customer’’. Many of you probably agree. But even those who agree, many may not always understand the depth of that idea. I often see PMs discount sales or sales people. I hear things like “Sales people aren’t technical enough. They wouldn’t understand.” “They don’t get the tradeoffs” etc. Some of that may be true, but be careful with that line of thinking. Sales reps are the front line. They often represent the voice of the customer, the very definition of your job title as PM. So listen carefully.
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So what are the takeaways? If you are a PM, get closer to your sales teams. Find those great reps that really get it. Understand their pressure. Find ways to help them, they’ll instantly be your friend, and I guarantee you’ll learn something and you’ll better understand your customers by doing so.
If you are in sales, keep selling internally. Find the PMs that will listen. Help them understand. Don’t worry if they aren’t as social as you, remember many of us were engineers in a past life. You can learn from us though when it works. Try to understand the tradeoffs and the complexity. It will help you sell too. And I almost always see the best reps doing this. The best salespeople know the product and the customer cold. Be like that.
Happy selling and happy building!
For more information please check out my website https://www.joshuamelick.com/.