Paul’s 2nd Postulate of Product Management

The 1st Postulate of Product Management dealt with Development. The 2nd Postulate involves Sales:

The feature that Sales needs to make their number is always the next feature on your roadmap.

Salespeople are tactically focused. They hate losing deals and are frustrated by growing quotas. When their VP asks them to make reports on why they haven’t made their number, they need a reason – and sales effectiveness rarely makes their list. Again, this isn’t a necessarily a bad thing; a friend of mine once said “I want my Sales guys to have their credit cards maxed out, over extended on their house, and over their head on their car lease.” You want your salespeople to be confident. So if you’re a salesperson not hitting your number, where do you turn next? The roadmap.

In my experience, product gaps are the #1 reason sales will bring up if they aren’t meeting quota (Price is #2 – they could ship a ton of units if it were free!) By choosing features or products on the roadmap, the clever salesperson puts the Product Manager in a bind. Obviously the product/feature is valuable and backed by data if it is upcoming on the roadmap. Yet, just a few short months ago, the same salesperson was making the same argument about a feature you just delivered. How do you blunt this excuse?

I give sales a voice (through their executive, also directly) in the product planning process. Let them weigh one feature versus another, then, when they come pointing to product gaps as the reason they haven’t met their number, ask them to outline how many deals they have won due to the feature they prioritized on the last go-around. If they can’t point to specific deals that they won due to their own prioritization, that’s all the info you need to count or discount their opinion. Sales is always looking at the deal…so Product Management must represent at the Market.

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3 Comments

  • Reply Stewart Rogers October 27, 2006 at 6:53 am

    Generally this is accomplished through win/loss analysis, rather than capturing individual opinions. This way, to prioritize the next feature – you can use simple metrics. “We lost more deals because of this feature – so this one is in the next release”. Fact based decisioning, rather than incorporating more opinions. As you said – Sales is deal focused.

  • Reply bob corrigan October 30, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    A few thoughts on “sales”:

    1. They are coin-operated – which is good.
    2. We love them dearly – without them, we’re dead.
    3. They will do anything to achieve #1 by leveraging #2.

    Don’t forget – sales can kill the career of any PM by complaining about the PM’s responsiveness (specifically their lack thereof), their lack of customer-facing skills, their inability to “deliver what the customer wants” and most dangerously, by suggesting “their understanding of the market isn’t correct”.

    In the absence of a plan that everyone up and down the organization agrees to – a shared strategic vision for what markets you’re targeting and which ones you’re not and a shared view of what will come out when and for whom – you’re at the mercy of sales.

    And they know it.

  • Reply Paul October 30, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    Awesome comments! My strategy, and the direction I give to my team at the beginning of every quarter, is that I want Product Management to talk to more customers than any other part of the company – including Sales and Tech Support. That’s a great stretch goal that we don’t always hit, but it gives us plenty of ammo if/when sales pushes back that we don’t understand the market, I can say with confidence that we do, since we spend days and weeks interviewing, prodding, and otherwise getting in customers’ heads!

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