Every Product Manager Needs To Work In Sales – For Awhile

by drjim on September 8, 2014

Product managers need to work in sales to better understand what they need

Product managers need to work in sales to better understand what they need
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There is an old phrase that goes something like this “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. As product managers who have to deal with sales people all of the time, this phrase really relates to us. It can be all too easy for a product manager to become fed up with his or her sales teams. You think that you’ve provided them with all of the information that they need in order to go out and sell your product including your product development definition, and yet they are still having problems. What’s a product manager to do?

Why Working In Sales Is A Good Idea For A Product Manager

So just exactly why would anyone want to spend time working in sales? It doesn’t seem to make sense. I’d be willing to bet that just about all of us have a mental image of the type of people who work in sales. Mine was formed a long time ago by the TV show “WKRP in Cincinnati” in which all sales were done by a guy named Herb Tarlek – not a pretty sight.

However, it turns out that we are wrong. In a modern sales organization, it’s really all about communication. Give it some thought and you’ll start to understand just how important communication skills are for a product manager. This is the kind of stuff that you can add to your product manager resume.

In order for your product to be a success, you need to have the ability to explain the benefits of product decisions that you’ve made to other people in your organization. You need to be able to talk people in other departments to lend a helping hand with your product. You’ll also have to be able to convince your boss that a product related project is ultimately going to be successful. Let’s face it, you are already in sales.

What You Will Learn By Working In Sales

Yes, I understand that taking time away from your product management job to spend it working in sales will be disruptive. However, it turns out that spending the time doing this will provide you with three skills that you’ll need in order to be a successful product manager.

The first of these skills is the ability to successfully negotiate. What this means is that in order to be a successful product manager, you need to be able to get what you need from other people. This requires negotiation. By spending time working with salespeople you will learn to listen, evaluate variables, identify key drivers, overcome objections, and find ways to reach agreement. The most important part of this is that you’ll learn to do it without burning bridges.

Anyone can start to talk with someone about what they would like to accomplish; however, it takes a special set of skills to be able to get them to agree to what you want them to do for you. By taking the time to work in sales you’ll learn how to close deals. What you will quickly learn is that closing a deal with someone else is more of an art than a science. Great product managers are experts at closing the deal with other departments, partners, and customers.

Finally, you’ll discover the true meaning of persistence. Sales people rarely get what they want the first time that they ask for it. If they just gave up and went home when this happened, then they would not be working in sales for very long. Rather, what they discover is the power of keeping at it. As a product manager you need to learn to start hearing the word “no” as a challenge, not a rejection.

What All Of This Means For You

In order for a product manager to be successful, the product that you are responsible for has to be sold to customers. That selling is going to be done, at least in part, by the sales teams at your company. It can be all too easy to become fed up with or frustrated by your sales teams when you feel that they don’t know how to sell your product in a competitive market.

One way to address this problem is for you to go spend some time working in sales. No, this would not be a permanent transfer, but rather a temporary visit. Yes, I realize that this was never part of your product manager job description; however, it can provide you with some real benefits. During your time in sales, you would have an opportunity to learn how to negotiate, how to close deals, and what the true value of persistence is.

As product managers we are always looking for ways to stand out from the everyone else. Going to your management and requesting an opportunity to spend some time in sales is a great way to get noticed. The real value of this comes after you come back to your product management job – you’ll now know exactly what sales needs to have in order to make your product a success!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think that a product manager needs to work in sales in order to learn what they need to know?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When I’m talking with product managers who are first starting out, their questions all revolve around things like product road maps, how to create a product development definition, and the best way to collect customer requirements. It’s when I talk with product managers who have been doing this job for a while that the questions shift to being about how we can become more effective communicators. What these seasoned product managers know that the green ones don’t is that product management is all about the art of the effective conversation. How to do that well is the big question…

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