Why Sales Bitches About Product Management & What to Do About It

You’ve heard that old chestnut. You’ve seen it in a million articles. The big advice Sales Droids offer to Product Management is “Don’t just talk about features.  Tie the features to problems.”

And whenever the Cranky Product Manager sees Yet Another Article offering this advice, she thinks, “Doesn’t every product manager already know this stuff? Duh? How is the Cranky Product Manager going to create a blog post from this nugget of obvious non-wisdom?”

But then the Cranky Product Manager thought about it.  Then she had a nice glass of Chardonnay. Then more thinking. And then mentally watching the game film from all the customer presentations she’s ever given or watched another Product Manager give, and from her years of observing Sales Engineers and Sales Droids interact with the customers.

And here’s what the Cranky Product Manager came up with.

When It’s Good (with a sex analogy on the side)

There are times when the Sales Droid-Product Manager-Customer interaction is, well, orgasmic: everyone is in sync, everyone is providing what the others need at exactly the time they need it, and everyone leaves satisfied and revved up to do it again.

It does happen sometimes. About as often as the Detroit Lions winning a game, but it does happen.

When It’s Bad (with yet another sex analogy)

But more often, it is a clumsy, inept dance, with everyone thinking he’s/she’s giving what the others need but completely missing the mark. Kind of like the Cranky Product Manager’s freshman year boyfriend. (oooh! badump dum.)

In these cases, the Cranky Product Manager will bet ONE MILLION DOLLARS that the Product Manager in question truly believes she is tying each feature to customer benefits, all while the Sales Engineer/Account Rep thinks the Product Manager is just blathering on and on about features.

The Disconnect

How can this happen?  Because there are several steps between the “we added Warp Drive in release 2.0″ Product Manager-ish statement and the “Warp Drive increases your revenues AND decreases your costs” Sales-ish statement.

Using this example, the Product Manager would probably say “We added Warp Drive in release 2.0.  That makes our rocket ships now go faster than the speed of light, which means space travel will take one bajillionth of the time it currently does”. And the Product Manager often leaves it there, believing she successfully tied feature to customer benefit.

Meanwhile, the Droids think the Product Manager left out the business benefit.  After all, she did not tie the warp drive feature to either “saving money” or “making more money” (the only two customer benefits some Droids can understand).

Thus the schism.

To most Product Managers, it is OBVIOUS that faster space travel means people will spend more time working instead traveling, and will thus become more efficient, saving money.  And that with Warp Drive we’ll be able to reach more of the galaxy and thereby increase the number of customers we can reach, increasing revenue.  blah, blah, blah.

In fact, it seems SO obvious that many Product Managers worry they’ll insult the customers’ intelligence or annoy them if the Product Manager explains how each and every feature ultimately saves money or increases revenue.

Truth is, the customers probably need a bit more hand-holding.  As Product Managers we are genetically engineered for our superior feature-X-yields-benefit-Y perception. We forget that not everyone thinks like that.

But on the OTHER hand, the Sales Droid who can only talk about “saving money” or “making more money,” (aka “lower TCO” and “increased ROI”), often seems like a huge dumbass to the customer. Trust the Cranky Product Manager on this, she once was a customer.

An Obvious Tactic That Often Works

**So, for Product Managers, here’s a technique that sometimes works: **

  1. Before demo-ing or presenting the roadmap or whatever, ask the customer about his/her problems and the benefits that he/she is seeking from your software.  
  3. During your demo/presentation, tie the features back to the specific benefits the customer seeks, using EXACTLY the same wording.

Of course, this technique only works if you are able to talk to this customer one-on-one beforehand; it works less well if you are presenting to a huge crowd at a conference.  Also, this technique does not guarantee that the Sales Droid will be happy, only the customer.  After all, the Sales Droid might not understand the benefits the customer seeks – they might be too “low level” for a Droid to possibly comprehend.

This concludes the Cranky Product Manager’s “Obvious Lesson of the Day.”  

No doubt, huge swaths of Product Managers are out there saying* “Isn’t this advice obvious?  Doesn’t every product manager already know this?”*  Hopefully, most of you do.  But for those who don’t, or who occasionally forget, hopefully this advise is more specific and more actionable than that “Tie features to benefits” platitude.


  1. Luke Hohmann

    Another brilliant post. Thank you.

    And if you’re a Product Manager who struggles with this, try playing the Innovation Game® Product Box with your customers, and listen (really listen!) to them as they sell your product back to you.


    Luke Hohmann
    http://www.innovationgames.com: The seriously fun way to do serious work — seriously.
    Follow me on twitter at lukehohmann
    Knowsy Knows…

  2. Tim Johnson


    Though obvious, it bears repeating, repeatedly. Kind of like parenting: If you say it often enough, eventually they will get it and start putting it into practice.


  3. My Inner Marketing Bitch

    I like this post. Made me laugh! At the company I work for our interaction with sales in analogous to the jr. high school dance where boys are on one side and girls on the other and I am once again the weird chick in the middle that actually asks a boy to dance or even worse dances with myself. :) Sad but true that we still have to endure these types of horrors well past our formative years.

  4. Ravi

    This is soo true..especially we need to learn to repeat the same set of words used by the droid/customer and tie it to the features.. Some DO not just putting food infront of them, but also spoon feed them.

  5. Mark Wickersham

    Cannot understate the importance of language. Great tip of repeating the same words your customerprospect uses. You may think you are speaking the same language, but could be on completely different wavelengths.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>