The relationship between Product Management and the Sales and Marketing teams in some companies can be unnecessarily strained. Often, this shows itself in such counter-productive behaviors as sales reps making promises to prospects or renewing clients based on their own interpretation of the roadmap, or the marketing teams creating collateral that materially misstates the capabilities of the product. Unfortunately, when left unchecked, these behaviors create a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of both the Sales/Marketing teams and the Product Manager.
The good news is that there are some things that we can do as Product Managers to both proactively minimize these situations, as well as to respond to them when they occur in a way that stops the vicious cycle of bad behavior and centers everyone on the same goals — to create a product that delights the buyer and users who are out there looking for solutions to their problems.
1. Don’t Take it Personal, Don’t Make it Personal
It’s really easy and tempting to take the transgressions of Sales and Marketing folks personally, since they’re often taking things that you’ve explicitly said to them, warned them about, and repeated ad nauseum to them, and twisting them to suit their own purpose. Unfortunately, taking these things personally is a trap that results in more animosity and anger, and escalating rather than resolving the underlying problems. By the same token, don’t make it personal, even when it’s clear that there’s just one sales person who’s violating your unspoken (or spoken) agreements. It’s really tempting sometimes to blame someone’s personality for their actions, but it’s essential to focus on the fact that you’re all on the same team. If, for some reason, you really need to call someone to the carpet for something that they’ve done, do it privately — with their manager around if absolutely necessary. Calling someone out in public or with their team present is the fastest way for you to blow every ounce of social capital you have with every member of that team. Remember, when it comes down to it, and that you really do want each other to succeed; most issues with Sales and Marketing are issues of communication, and thus fairly easy to discover and try to remedy.
2. Listen Twice as Much as You Talk
But, in order to remedy issues of communication, you have to figure them out. This is where the old adage comes in — “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk.” Nowhere is this adage more important than when dealing with contentious issues or with people whose primary job it is to spin and convince people. Proper care and handling of your Sales and Marketing teams requires that you engage proactively with them and regularly attend their meetings and update calls. Not as an active participant, not to “dig up dirt” on them, and certainly not to call them out publicly; rather, you are there to listen to what they’re telling each other, to hear what problems they’re experiencing within the team, and to use your Product Management skills to identify those latent needs that are really driving the behavior that’s affecting you. It helps to think of your sales training, marketing collateral, and other tools that you use to work with these teams as a product-in-a-product, and focus on solving their problems the same way that you solve your customers’ problems.
3. Don’t Raise Problems Without Thinking About Solutions
Sales teams are action-oriented, as are most Marketing teams. They’re used to making quick decisions on the fly, and putting strategies and tactics into the field quickly to gauge their effectiveness. They tend to be Type-A personalities and self-starters, and as such they have very little time for people who they see as “complainers” or who are constantly blaming others for their lack of success. Knowing this, and understanding it, means that when you do raise issues or concerns with your Sales and Marketing teams, you need to ensure that (1) it’s not in a way that “blames” them for the problems, and (2) there’s at least a strawman solution that you’ve thought of that you can present and allow them to riff on or tear apart. Technically, this should apply to all of your interactions as a Product Manager, but it’s typically very particular to Sales and Marketing; they’re focused on the next deal, the next campaign, and driving revenue and leads. They can’t afford to waste time hearing you complain about what you perceive to be problems and come up with solutions on their own. Showing that you’ve put some effort into understanding the problem and that you’ve devised a possible solution will go a long way toward building your credibility with the teams.
4. Create Opportunities for Collaboration
So you always come armed with solutions to the table, but people still aren’t biting? They’re nodding their heads when you talk about the problem, and seem to say “yes” when you ask for their commitment to your plan to resolve it, but when the next deal comes around, or the next campaign launches, you’re not seeing anything change. Recall that I said you need a strawman solution — think about how you approach solving problems with your development team, if you’re a modern Agile shop, you probably work with them to devise the solution. And that’s exactly what you need to do here — you need to communicate the problem in terms that the sales team can buy into, and you need to position your solution as one possible approach, but engage the teams to create the actual solution in much the same way that you’d work with your management team to revise your strategy, your other stakeholders to define a feature, or with your development team to create a product solution. The more you can create a feeling of collaboration and ownership on the part of the Sales and Marketing teams, the more likely you are to see results from the discussion and see the solution actually wind up as part of their daily work.
5. Understand the Motivating Forces and Factors
One thing that we often forget about when working with different teams and different people within our organizations is that while we may all be on the same ship and heading in the same direction, we don’t always have the same reason for being there, nor the same methods of achieving that one singular goal. There’s a classic truism out there — “Employees do what they’re compensated for, not what you want them to do,” and that’s especially true when it comes to traditional sales teams, who — for better or worse — are often rewarded based on the value of the deals the bring in. While there are many legitimate criticisms of such compensation packages and plans, if that’s how your teams are paid, it’s going to directly influence what they do and how they do it. Rather than fight this, or ignore it, or pretend that it’s not going to affect their logical reasoning when you present an air-tight solution to them, you need to work within this system to effect your change. You need to accept that there are motivations involved that aren’t altruistic, and work to establish that kind of buy-in and discussion talked about previously within the constraints that the system imposes. The better you understand why people are doing the things that they are, the more likely you are to be able to actually affect them for the better of everyone involved.