How often does the following scenario play itself out?
Product management has defined the product roadmap. And is releasing new or enhanced products to the marketplace. Sales is trained on the new offering when the product is ready for release. A few conversations with prospects take place and a handful of sales are made. A small revenue lift is realized. The product team is frustrated sales is not selling enough of the new offering. The sales team is disappointed that the new product is not in higher demand with buyers.
The situation does not need to unfold this way. Product has a plan and a roadmap. Sales has a plan and a pipeline. But why are the two plans not united? Why is the product roadmap not tied into the sales pipeline? If a B2B company is spending 10% on Product (R&D) and 25% on Sales, these two teams account for over one third of all the investments the company is making. How can a company afford to not optimize 35% of its spend?
The time has come for Product and Sales teams to work more closely together. Their strategic plans need to be aligned. As the Sales Leader, you should initiate this collaboration. You control more of the budget, manage more headcount and have more at stake. Your offer to the Product team is the ability to turn their new products into revenue. No product manager can ignore the opportunity to exceed his business plan projections.
How do you begin?
As discussed in a prior post, the planning for product launch does not begin when it is time for a release. The product roadmap should be governed by input from the 3 key stakeholders – users, buyers and sellers. Including sellers in your product roadmap prioritization will result in offerings that gain mindshare with the sales team.
When approached by the product group, the sales team needs to take seriously the offer to provide input. This is the sales team’s opportunity to control your own destiny. Take time to provide thoughtful feedback on:
- Users – What are sales reps hearing from users about your product? What is needed to solve market problems that prevent users from doing their job?
- Buyers – What is the sales team hearing from buyers about your offerings? What is needed in your solution to get more buyers to choose you over the alternatives?
- Sellers – What is the sales team’s internal feedback on your products? What does sales need to feel comfortable having necessary conversations with buyers?
That gets us started. Sales is now providing meaningful feedback to product managers. Product management is now incorporating the input in their roadmap. New product releases will now be tailored to the needs of all the market place stakeholders.
As the sales leader you also need to think about the implications of the roadmap on your sales plan. You can’t be successful selling only your existing products. Doing this exposes you to getting outpaced by the competition. Eventually you will become irrelevant with your customers. You also can’t be successful solely relying on new products. If something gets delayed in the product development process, you run the risk of not having anything to sell. Over time this will cause you to lose the trust of your customers. Therefore, your sales plan needs to hedge your exposure to legacy and new offerings. How much you lean one way or the other depends on the pace of change in your industry.
The entire process of linking product and sales finally becomes real when you consider your pipeline. The pipeline is where tomorrow’s revenue resides. Waiting to generate pipeline until the new product is released, will set you back a full sales cycle. Even longer if you account for the time it takes reps to master the new talk track. In the complex B2B environment, this can exceed 12 months. With the pace of change today, the hot new product released 12 months ago is likely to be yesterday’s irrelevant news.
The fix is to work with the product team throughout the product development cycle. You don’t want your sales team selling exclusively on tomorrow’s capabilities. But you can begin building demand prior to the next release. Especially if you are building sales enablement materials in parallel with the product development.
Say you have a 9 month sales cycle. 6 months before a product release you begin working on enabling sales. 3 months before a product release your sales reps are highlighting the market problems your new product will solve for customers. Your sales team is now helping buyers think through possible solutions. Your pipeline is starting to grow. By the time the buyer is ready to seriously consider your solution, the product release will be available. Now instead of delaying revenue 12 months, you are realizing results in 6 months. Those 6 months can be the difference between making your number and missing it. And the product’s business plan being realized vs. failing short.
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