Category: Sales

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.  
  2. NOTE THE EXACT WORDING THE CUSTOMER USES TO DESCRIBE THE SOUGHT-AFTER BENEFITS.  
  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.

Is There Anything as Predictable as a Sales Droid?

For years, the Cranky Product Manager has been dealing with all those whiny Sales Droids. 

You know, those people who moan all the time about how Sales is The. Hardest. Job. Ever., as they yap on their bluetooths while driving around in their Porche 911s?   You know, those dudes/dudettes who always win deals because of their mad persistence, unequaled interpersonal aptitude, and their wicked awesome sales skills? Yet when they lose it’s always the fault of the product or the price?  

Yep.  Those Droids.  You know who the CPM is talkin’ about.

Anyway, the Droids have been bitching for YEARS to the Cranky Product Manager about the price of her product.  “It’s way too expensive.”,  “I can’t sell it at that price,”  “The competition is priced so much lower we can’t compete,” “We need to drop the price by at least 20%,”  blah, blah, blah. 

All that time the Cranky Product Manager resisted dropping the price.  Yes, her product was priced higher than the competition, but it offered way more value.  Plus, being a wicked big geek, the Cranky PM created this elaborate pricing model spreadsheet based on shitloads of historical pricing and sales data .  It showed price was relatively inelastic. 

Well, fast forward to 2009.  The economy is in the shit and the Droids all miss their numbers by a mile.  Their screaming about the “too high” price reaches 120 decibels.  Loud enough that it catches the attention of The Man, AKA The Quasi-Playboy, AKA The Dirty Semi-Old (50-65 years old) Man Who is Always Scanning the Marketing Events Planning Staff for New Blond Mistresses.  AKA  The CEO.

So, the CEO calls the Cranky Product Manager into his office.  After complimenting her hair and the way her jeans fit, asking her if she is still happily married, and trying to give her a George-W-style shoulder rub,  The Big Boss tells her to drop the price to the one the Droids are begging for. 

The Cranky Product Manager sez, “No Effing Way,  Mr. CEO (and I mean that in the most respectful way).  Behold my awesome spreadsheet!  Dropping the price will NOT lead to more units sold and will make the product unprofitable.”

“You look hot when you’re angry,” sez the CEO, “But we’re still dropping the price.  I want you to create a new forecast based on the new price.  Not your lovely theoretical spreadsheet.  Instead, do it bottoms-up and go ask each sales rep how much he’ll sell at the new price.  Oh, and let me know when you tire of that husband of yours.”

And so the Cranky PM announces the price cut to the field. She then asks each rep, one at  a time, how much product he/she was committing to sell based on the new price.

And SHOCK OF ALL SHOCKS, the Droids sandbag it.  Apparently, even with a 25% price cut they can only sell about 3% more units than the numbers they had signed up for just 3 weeks earlier. 

Guess price wasn’t the issue after all.  WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED THAT WOULD HAPPEN?   Oh wait, I know this one…. Yep.  The CRANKY PRODUCT MANAGER guessed it!

AS EXPECTED, the New and Improved bitching and moaning from the Droids began immediately .  “The price is too low”,  “You just made it 25% harder to make my number!“, “With a price like that, people will think we offer less capability than the competition”, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.  Will. It. Never. End.

Even the 2-year-old CrankyKid changes his mind less often.  And even the CrankyDog can remember past events  better than Sales Droids. 

There are two things you can always count on at DysfunctoSoft: 1) The Droids will never like the price, and 2) The CEO will always skeeve you out.

Guest Post: The Cranky Sales Engineer on how to get R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The Cranky Sales Engineer has been truly touched by the tales of abuse heaped upon his brethren in Marketing (see the Cranky Marketer Posts).  Sitting among a din of the kind of violin music that must surely accompany such tales of woe, the Cranky Sales Engineer helps in the only way he can.  So, to wit, here is The Cranky Sales Engineer’s Guide for Marketing: How to Get the Respect of Sales.

There is ONE major issue the marketing person must understand in order to gain the respect of Sales.  This understanding is easier to come by when one has actually worked in sales (hint: never use the phrase, “well I’ve never been in sales myself”  to try to influence a sales person), but a marketing person who has never carried a bag or a number can still work to intellectually understand the issue.

The marketing person must understand the massive, crushing, and depressing rate of failure that goes into every sale, especially a sale to a new account.  For a smaller product,  you typically call 100 people to find 10 who have some need for the product, but just one who will be able to negotiate the budgetary hurdles necessary to buy the product.

For larger deals (larger being B2B deals of a million dollars or more) a sales person must find at least three million dollars of potential business to guarantee one million dollars of revenue.  The other two million will be lost to budget cuts, organizational changes, and competition.

Unless you can understand, in your gut, the true and alarming rarity of a real deal with real revenue behind it, you will not be able to truly gain the respect of a sales person whose personal fortune is tied to bringing that rare real deal through to closure. Unless you truly get what the sales team is dealing with or asking for, you will be deemed irrelevant to the process of success and shunted aside.  You gain respect, by making the rare live deal happen.  Here are something things to do to gain respect:

Tell the Truth

If a product is not going to be ready in time for the deal, tell the sales person it won’t be ready.  If a feature won’t be out, tell the sales person it won’t be out.  You know what will happen if you do that?  You will probably get yelled at.  Because the sales person has sifted through three tons of dreck to find this one live deal and now you’re saying we don’t have the product the customer is asking for.

When that happens, suck it up and step back.  Let the storm pass and find out why the customer wants the feature.  See if you can get to the solution a different way.  If you can’t give a firm, real, date for when the feature will ship.  Be pessimistic, but be right.

Deliver on Time

If you are the kind of person who delivers when you say you will, the Cranky Sales Engineer can build mountains with you.  But if you don’t deliver, you are just another problem to be managed or worked around.  Being a problem is not the road to respect.

Work in Field Time not Factory Time

Things happen fast in the field.  When a customer asks a question, a clock starts.  A fast clock.  A clock that wants an answer in a day.  A clock that cannot wait for everyone to get together and have a meeting to discuss the question, and that meeting will happen next week because that’s when we have that meeting, and no, Cranky Sales Engineer, you can’t tell the customer anything before that meeting, because it will probably be wrong, and yes you’ll have to stand out there, with your thumb up your ass, looking like an idiot because we can’t move any faster than getting an answer to you in a week.

The field works fast.  If you want respect, you need to work fast too.

Earning Respect

Folks in marketing have a handicap when it comes to gaining respect.  The things they do are just so damn intangible that its hard to say whether marketing has gone well or gone poorly.  This is a handicap when it comes to dealing with the Cranky Sales Engineer who is measured on hard dollars and being connected to successful deals.  The Cranky Sales Engineer doesn’t have time to figure out if marketing is really working.

Instead, the Cranky Sales Engineer has been called into an account because, after hundreds of phone calls, and dozens of meetings a sales person has found a real live wiggling deal that could actually result in some money.  And now, at this crucial point, the sales person needs the Cranky Sales Engineer to make the product hum and demonstrate to the customer that the CSE’s company is worth the money.

This is when marketing can earn the respect of the sales force, by recognizing the difficulty of finding a real deal and responding quickly and accurately when a deal presents itself.

Marketers who recognizes the difficulty of finding a real opportunity and responds to calls for help with urgency and accuracy will be respected.

The rest will be ignored.

Guest Post: The Cranky Sales Engineer Shares Sales Secrets

Annual planning is nearly over and the Cranky Sales Engineer almost has his quota for the year.  In a tequila inspired fit of account-planning ecstasy, he has decided to share how he and his brethren actually sell products and what product managers can actually do to help.

The Cranky Sales Engineer and the rest of the sales force look for a mystical confluence of three features to make any deal happen:

  • A Technical Problem—Nobody buys anything because its “cool” or “neat” unless they are penniless early adopters.  The rest of the market needs a problem to solve or they aren’t interested.  We need to find a real problem.  Not a “my back bothers me sometimes” problem but a “I’m going to knock my own septic molar out with an ice skate” kind of problem.
  • A Relationship—The Cranky Sales Engineers spends an inordinate amount of time at sporting events, dinners, lunches, and, yes, pub crawls, with customers.  Why?  Because customers will only buy if there is a relationship. Without it, they don’t trust us to actually solve the problem.
  • A Business Proposition—There needs to be a business deal on the table that makes economic sense.  Without it, the problem remains unsolved, and the relationship is just another excuse to go to the ball game.  The business numbers must add up.

The Cranky Sales Engineer is constantly astounded by product managers who manage to be completely irrelvent to this process.  These managers talk about features with no problems.  In fact, that’s all they talk about.  Features they have, features they will have, features they don’t have, and the Cranky SE’s favorite: features that don’t work.

What can you do to help your SE’s sell your product?

  • Tie features to technical problems—You should know what gawd-awful problem you’re solving before you invest in new features.  It’s true, that sometimes the problem being solved is that the customer is tired of five mouse-clicks when there could be three. But that’s a problem if you have to do it 100 times a day.  Show us a technical problem to solve.
  • Make sure the features work—Trust is one of the keys to a sale, and the Cranky Sales Engineer loses trust and credibility every time a feature isn’t fully tested.  Here is a clue to when your sales engineers have lost the customer’s trust: the customer asks, “Don’t you guys test your programs?  Why do I have to do it?”
  • Ask the sales team about pricing—You can screw up pricing two ways.  If you make it too high, we can’t sell the product.  But worse, if you make it too low, we can’t make any money selling the product.  Here’s a thought.  Ask us.  Ask the good account managers and good sales engineers.  The good ones don’t want to sell cheap products, and they especially don’t sell on price.  Make it worth our while.

It’s hard to make all three parts of a deal line up.  Customers have no money.  They are retrenching.  Help us find toothaches and give your sales team the tools to pull the the deals together.