As product managers, we are ultimately the source of all knowledge about our products: why it was created, what it does today, and what it will be able to do tomorrow. That being said, we often become part of a sales team when the sales rep has the relationship with the customer, but doesn’t understand the product all that well. This means that we can run into so-called “problem sales” for our products. As awkward as it may feel, this is the time for a product manager to rise to the occasion and help the sales team out. Umm, ok – so now what do you do?
What are some of the problems that you can encounter as a member-of-convenience of the sales team? Here is a common situation that product manager find themselves in :
- The potential buyer really has a need for your product, they have the budget to buy it, and they have been granted the authority to make the purchase.
- Your product / service is the perfect fit for their problem.
- And yet, the buyer does not seem to be willing to make the purchase.
When The Customer Is The Problem: If the customer appears to be dragging their feet, there may be more going on than anyone on your side knows. Big changes like an impending acquisition or money troubles within the customer (like when Wall Street turns upside down!) can cause any sale of your product to slow down or even come to a complete stop. Interestingly enough, the better the relationship between your sales rep and the customer the more likely the customer will be hesitant to pass bad news (“we’re not going to buy your product”) on to them. In these cases, it’s important to develop another contact within the customer’s organization that you can talk with. If the primary decision maker doesn’t want to disappoint your sales rep, then this secondary source might be able to provide you with the straight scoop.
When Your Sales Rep Is The Problem: If the customer is unwilling to buy, then the core reason for this is that they simply just don’t understand how your product will meet their needs. This means that your sales rep has not been successful in communicating the value of your product to the customer. In order to fix this problem, more discussions with your customer are required. You need to uncover what their pain points are and then you need to be able to relate your product’s features to solving those pain points. Congratulations – if you can do this then you are now a salesperson!
When Your Sales Rep’s Boss Is The Problem: This is a tricky problem for product managers to diagnose. What you might not realize is that Sales Managers are often former star sales people. This means that they were good at selling; however, they may not be good at managing other sales persons (gosh product managers: does this sound similar to what goes on in our world?) Ultimately, the solution to this problem is to have a sit down with the sales rep and his/her boss. I find it easier to blame the product – it’s too complex, it’s too new, whatever and by doing this it allows the sales manager to feel better about the mess that they may have caused. Generally, they have just confused the situation. As Product Manger you can step in and offer to talk with the customer to work out all of the “complicated features” of the product. More often then not, the sales manager will be thrilled to have someone clean up their mess. Make sure that you take the sales rep along with you when you talk with the customer so that they can swoop in and close the deal after you’ve got everything cleared up.
So how many times have you found yourself as an unofficial member of a sales team? Were you ready to play this role or did you feel like a duck out of water? Who had caused the problem that you were having with the customer: the customer, the sales rep, or the sales manager? How did you solve it? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.