Product managers are NOT sales professionals. We pride ourselves on being marketing professionals and we don’t think of ourselves as being a part of our company’s sales team no matter how closely we may work with them. However, we do play a key role in the success of our sales teams and this is because they control how successful our product is going to be. This means that the big changes that are sweeping though the world of sales are going to change how we help our sales teams to be successful.
What’s Changing In Sales?
In order for product managers to understand how best to help the sales teams that are selling their product, you first need to understand how the sales teams are going about selling your product. There is no great mystery here. Sales professionals have been using the same basic technique since sometime in the mid 1980’s.
What they do is to what they have trained to do. First, they find customers who have a problem that your product can solve. Those customers who are getting ready to buy something get the highest priority from the salesperson. In discussions with the customer, the salesperson is looking for a so-called “hook” that they can use to attach your product to the customer’s problem.
Finally, the salesperson has to find an advocate within the company who will be willing to help then navigate the company’s purchasing process and drive the deal to a close.
This approach used to work great – it was called “solution selling”. However, times have changed. Customers are now showing up with a deep understanding of their own problems and are handing sales professionals a detailed RFP to bid on. The customer is now able to create their own solutions all by themselves (isn’t the Internet a great thing?) All too often these days what this means for your sales teams is that they are transformed from solution sellers into price-driven order takers.
What Do Product Managers Need To Do Differently?
Clearly things have changed. Product managers need to be ready to step in and help your sales teams out. It turns out that there are three different areas where product managers can help their sales teams to be successful in the new world of selling your product.
The first is to change how sales people pick potential customers. The old way was to find a customer who knew that they had a problem that could be solved with your product. They would then find a “hook” that would allow them to attach your product to the customer’s problem. Next they’d identify an advocate who could then help them to navigate the company’s purchasing process.
In the new world in which we are living, you need to help your sales teams to identify customers who are agile. By this I mean customers who have the ability to act both quickly and decisively when they are presented with a solution to their problem. Old school companies that are buried in processes won’t meet this requirement.
Next, you need to help then to find potential customers who are in what is called “a state of flux”. We’ve all been there: a new acquisition has just happened, new management has just taken over, or perhaps some regulations that impact the company have just been changed. When this has happened, the customer will be more open to considering the types of product related ideas that your sales person can present them with at this time.
What Does All Of This Mean For You?
Selling your product has never been an easy thing to do. With changes in how your customers now operate, it has only become harder to do. The old way of solution selling no longer works because customers are smarter and they can build their own solutions given enough time.
Instead, what product managers need to do is to lend their sales teams a helping hand. You can do this by helping them pick the right customers. Customers who are agile and who can make quick decisions should be on the top of your priority list. Next, customers who are undergoing change for any one of a number of reasons should also be considered.
Selling your product is a hard job. Take the time to help your sales people pick the right potential customers to go after and you’ll boost your chances of your product being successful. Their success will be your success.
Question For You: How can a product manager help sales without looking like you are telling them how to do their job?
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