Making the switch to sell for a product-led company
It was a Tuesday morning. Our team was gathered around a long conference room table, each of us seated comfortably, coffee cups in hand, and necks craned. Two Goldendoodles splayed out in the laps of their doting companions. The oversized television screen in front of us connected us to our team in Prague while our Google Slides presentation was ready to take us through our recent accomplishments.
The weekly all-hands—a tech company staple.
But this one was particularly special for me. My colleague and I had just joined productboard to create the company’s newly formed sales team. Our VP of Finance was going to announce our latest sales numbers after we had been growing our sales operations for over a month. One of the great things about sales is that you can easily talk about results in a way that anyone can understand—revenue.
As we rolled through our slide, he talked about how we’d quickly started growing our sales, gotten some major name brands as new customers, and that we were gearing up for even bigger months ahead. I can’t say that I was expecting any kind of specific response, but I was a little surprised by the silence that followed. Before moving on, someone finally put their and hand up.
“This is great news, but I want to make sure we’re not becoming too focused on revenue. I just want to make sure we’re not losing sight of what’s important.”
As someone who’s been in sales his whole life, this was actually a breath of fresh air.
. . .
So, I’ve been in SaaS sales for about 5 years now though I’ve been selling since high school. It’s in my blood. After college, I took sales roles at a couple of high-growth SaaS startups. For me, it’s always been about closing the deal. I reported up through a chain of sales leaders, and we had to hit our goals—whatever it took.
Then something interesting happened. At one of my previous companies, I sat in a pretty heated meeting between a product manager and some of the sales staff. Sales wanted to know why a certain feature hadn’t been released yet saying that they needed it to close a deal. The product manager stood up and declared, “I will not be held hostage by sales!”
Up to that point, I hadn’t interacted with product management much, and I really didn’t know what they did. But it was such an explosive meeting that I had to find out more. As I dug in, I was fascinated by the diversity of issues that PMs had to take on. I was blown away by how much customer feedback they were processing to figure out what work they needed to do. Unfortunately, I also really got a sense for the massive disconnect between my sales team and the product management team. We were most definitely a sales-driven company, but I empathized with product management’s challenges in getting their voice heard.
Coincidentally, that’s what made me aware of productboard. First, I thought it was a system we could have used to bridge that divide, and second, I really dug Winston’s writing about all things PM. As I checked out the product more, I realized I wasn’t just fascinated by the product but what the company was trying to do. As Hubert, our CEO, said “We believe that every product manager should be able to deliver the best products they can and their tools or lack of tools shouldn’t stand in their way.” It’s an amazing sentiment, and I think about how that could have helped that PM at my previous company.
It’s been an interesting transition to go from a sales-focused mentality, but the team here makes it easy. Recently, a sizable customer prospect reached the end of their evaluation saying it had been a major success, save for one blocker. “This is a dealbreaker” is hard for any salesperson to hear. In any case, I pushed the feedback into productboard. The team agreed to re-prioritize this feature. The fix wasn’t a perfect solution and would need to be optimized over time. But the team went to work, and the prospective customer recognized our efforts to create a short term solution, keeping the deal alive.
We still haven’t reached the point of thunderous applause during an all-hands, and why should we? We’re all part of the same team helping folks make great products. The product practically sells itself, and my job has never been easier.