How sales and product teams can better work together
Friction in the sales and product partnership is nothing new. Sales teams often express frustration that they’re not more involved in the process of prioritizing what product or feature to work on next. Meanwhile, product teams are often skeptical of requests from sales, citing the fear of becoming a sales-led organization or succumbing to the loudest voice in the room.
As is often the case, both sides have valid points. But what’s at the root of this problem?
The sales-product disconnect
Product teams often have inputs streaming in from way too many channels, with no way to consolidate, qualify, and/or quantify the feedback.
They may receive insights through Slack, email, Intercom, Zendesk, Salesforce, and countless other digital channels. Alternatively, their customer-facing colleagues may stop by their desks and bug them with feature requests or discuss what they need over lunch.
Without a single, central place to capture feedback, vital insights are jumbled up and lost in the noise, or they exist solely in the heads of stakeholders. When they leave the company, the insights leave with them.
Without a single, central place to capture feedback, vital insights are jumbled up and lost in the noise, or they exist solely in the heads of stakeholders.
On top of this, salespeople’s lack of training on the best ways to submit customer feedback, coupled with their limited visibility into the product team’s decision-making process, increases the likelihood of friction.
A sales rep may listen to a customer say, “If you had this feature, we’d spend this amount of money on your product. But you don’t, so we won’t.” They then hassle the product team to prioritize that particular feature. When that doesn’t happen, things can get pretty tense.
The problem is, this sort of feedback isn’t always accurate. Sales can feel like an echo chamber, and in the worst cases this can cause sales reps to inflate the importance of a particular feature request, overestimating the number of times they’ve heard it. On top of that, they might not understand the underlying strategic objectives that are guiding the product team’s decisions.
The context, desired solution, and underlying need are rarely, if ever, included, in what ultimately boils down to a directed feature request, repeated again and again, while impatience mounts at the perceived inaction of the product team.
It doesn’t have to be this way
I believe that with the right tools and mindset, we can find a more perfect union between sales and product – one that’s neither entirely product or sales-led, but driven by the voice of the customer.
This isn’t a radical or new idea, but it can only be realized if both teams reaffirm their commitment to understanding what their users truly need.
Here’s how they can accomplish this.
Invest in a system built for the task
With productboard, product teams now have a system of record that allows them to collect, aggregate, and categorize feedback, then prioritize what to build next based on these customer insights. You can even incorporate other elements into the prioritization process, such as the strategic criteria of the team and company.
You can then add features to a roadmap that’s dynamic, easy to read, and available to all. Sales doesn’t have to bother product about what’s coming out and when, or engage in lengthy Slack or email exchanges, because they have full visibility themselves.
Any successful tech company knows that the voice of the customer is important, and sales teams are extremely interested in getting feedback into the right hands because they want to close deals. Despite this, there’s never been a standardized way of providing this feedback.
Salespeople get trained on how to talk to customers, but not on how to articulate the problems they are having. They are more likely to say “my customer wants this feature, so please build it” than “my customers are having this problem – what’s the best way to fix it?”
To make matters worse, the traditional methods for collecting feedback aren’t at all efficient, whether those are a noisy Slack channel or a giant Excel spreadsheet.
What’s needed is targeted training that helps salespeople understand and communicate the “why” behind the “what,” and an effective framework for providing feedback in a way that is actionable and contextual.
Close the loop with customers
Without a system allowing you to see what feedback was given and what feature it was connected to, there’s no way to close the loop and follow up with customers on their requests. Sales reps may remember a few of the conversations they had, but the vast majority will be forgotten.
With productboard, you can see exactly which customers requested which features and reach out to them to re-engage. You can also update customers automatically once the feature they wanted is released. Customers can even track the features they requested, what else is being considered, and how all feature requests are prioritized against one another via the public Portal — all without having to reach out to the company.
This shows customers that their voices are being heard and allows sales representatives to forge stronger relationships with customers.
Celebrate wins together
Typically, sales and product teams celebrate successes separately – the former when they smash their targets, the latter when an important new feature is released. But along the way, the work that each team does to benefit the other goes unrecognized.
Sales may be the team that gets deals over the line, but there wouldn’t be a product or service worth paying for without the product team. Likewise, it’s the product team’s job to bring ideas to life, but without the valuable insight and requests that the sales team provides, they might not build a product that’s customers need. Really, we should take a more holistic view and recognize everyone for their input at all stages of the process.
My sales team uses productboard to track the feedback we submit. When we have our weekly team meeting, we ask who’s submitting feedback and who isn’t so that we can hold ourselves accountable. That way the product team can also be held accountable.
There’s a level of mutual accountability that comes with ensuring that we’re doing our job and submitting feedback that the product team can really use. So when a new feature is released, we can go back and see how we played our part in the process.
Get the right products to market faster
Before a system like productboard existed, product teams would spend weeks or months working on a feature that would go underutilized. And the reason was due to false assumptions around what users really needed.
Sometimes product teams built features exactly as the user requested, but they still went underutilized because the users themselves weren’t critically evaluating their own needs when they made a feature request, or they were skipping over key details, or perhaps they weren’t aware that a better solution was out there.
In other cases, the product team would eventually iterate their way to the right solution, but they only got there after many iterations, like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.
With productboard, you have all these user insights on hand to guide the product team’s efforts, reducing the number of development cycles and helping them to build products that customers truly need. You can automatically see which customers requested which features, and then reach out to them during discovery for feedback.
And at every stage of the process, everyone has complete visibility of what’s being built and why – product, sales, and your customers.
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productboard is a product management system that enables teams to get the right products to market faster. Built on top of the Product Excellence framework, productboard serves as the dedicated system of record for product managers and aligns everyone on the right features to build next. Access a 15-day free trial of productboard today.