But while I’ve sung the praises of working alongside your sales team, I haven’t yet discussed how to determine when it’s appropriate to join the sales team.
So, in this final article of our series, I’ll provide a framework that addresses how often you should be joining the sales team to maximize impact for you, your team, and your organization.
You should join your sales team at a minimum of once per quarter, and no more frequently than once per month.
Why should we aim for joining the sales team at least once per quarter?
Product managers should be aware of how their industry and competitive landscape is changing.
Furthermore, sales organizations are continuously optimizing their processes, experimenting with new sales tactics, and shifting priorities on what to sell.
Therefore, by joining the sales team at least once a quarter, you’ll stay grounded within your industry and you’ll stay abreast of major developments within your sales team.
If you participate less frequently, you’ll find that new competitors will catch you off guard. You’ll also find that your sales team may no longer be aligned with your product priorities.
By regularly diving in with your sales team, you gain critical context on customer segments, customer sentiment, competitive pressures, and industry trends.
If that’s the case, then why should we set a maximum frequency of no more than once per month?
First, you don’t want the sales team to be dependent on you. If you create a dependence from your sales team, you become the bottleneck for sales, which is dangerous.
I’ve made this mistake myself, where I joined nearly every single sales call for my particular product.
It reached a point where our prospects were booked out for nearly a month, which caused resentment both internally and externally. Be careful not to create this dependence!
Furthermore, you get diminishing marginal returns for each additional call that you join.
At some point, you won’t learn net new information about how your sales team operates, and you’ll know exactly what kind of prospect is on the other side of the line.
As a product manager, your job is to prioritize and to maximize value.
You have other initiatives to tackle. Sales should not be your primary responsibility. Rather, you should join your sales team to strengthen your product and to increase product adoption.
Remember that product managers need to prioritize - and priorities mean that you need to know when to say “no”!
I’ve noticed that different kinds of organizations have different default expectations for how they expect product teams to interact with sales teams.
When you work in a heavily product-driven organizations, the sales team is very unlikely to reach out to you. You need to be proactive and reach out to them.
When you work in a heavily sales-driven organizations, or in industries where sales cycles are long and complex, the sales team is very likely to reach out to you. In these cases, you need to be defensive and to protect your time.
Joining Your First Sales Call
I’d also like to call out when you should join your first sales call within an organization.
I’ve found that the earlier you can join your sales team, the faster you’ll learn about your product and its competitive position.
Within your first month of joining a new company, you should shadow a sales call.
This simple act will provide you a holistic view into your product’s value proposition and into your target customer segments.
If you were recently internally promoted to product management, you should also hop onto a sales call as soon as possible.
You’ll learn lots more about how to best support your sales team, and how to build products that actually matter.
Now that we’ve discussed ideal frequency, let’s discuss participation methods.
How do you decide on whether to shadow, partner, or drive sales calls? Here’s a matrix with my recommendations:
fGenerally speaking, the longer you’ve been at the company, the more you should lean towards partnering or driving the call, because you have more context.
Furthermore, the more experience you have as a product manager, the more you should lean towards partnering or driving the call, because you have more experience in handling objections and driving actionable insight.
As you lean into partnering and driving, you’ll find key breaking points in the existing sales process.
Reflect on those points to build a more robust product and to build a more robust organization.
After all, product managers aren’t just responsible for building good products.
They’re responsible for securing product adoption, and they’re responsible for building organizational engines that lead to well-built products and robust distribution strategies.
As you continue to rise that ranks, you should start to drive sales calls yourself - especially in cases where you’re managing a mature product.
That way, you can learn about your salespeople’s pain points firsthand, and hear directly from prospects.
I’ve found that when senior product managers are disconnected from prospects for too long, they start making poor decisions because they can no longer empathize with their target audience or with their sales team.
Of course, as discussed in our previous article, if you’re leading a new product area, you’ll lean towards leading sales calls just by virtue of the role, regardless of your tenure at the company and regardless of your product management experience.
Summary and Additional Resources
By working with sales on a regular and thoughtful cadence, you dramatically improve your product.
You’ll learn about your customers. You’ll find out what kinds of customers are out there, what matters to them the most, how they make decisions, and who they consider as your competitors.
You’ll learn more about your sales team. You’ll find out their processes and their structure, and you’ll find ways to better enable them to sell your products well. After all, without sales, you can’t get product adoption!
You’ll learn more about your product. You’ll see where you have product / market fit, and where you don’t. You’ll learn whether your value proposition actually holds water.
Remember that you’re always fighting for more product adoption as your success metric. Working with sales is a fantastic way to accelerate adoption, but it’s not the only lever at your disposal. Remember to work with your other stakeholders as well!
Interested in learning about how to best work with other stakeholders? Check out these other articles on PMHQ:
- Working with Customer Support
- Working with Remote Development Teams
- Working With Product Marketing
- Working with UX Designers
- Working with Executives
- Stakeholder Empathy
For further reading on sales, check out this article from Pragmatic Marketing.
Have thoughts that you'd like to contribute around working with sales? Chat with other product managers around the world in our PMHQ Community!