Productive Collaboration Between a Product Team and Sales Team

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Nifty. If you’re interested in writing a piece for us, contact gaby@productschool.com

Today, almost all business models are built on a high growth sales strategy, a methodology that puts a sales team in the spotlight as the most important division in any company.  Without a successful sales team the company cannot sustain its growth and expectations.

However, equally important, but behind the scenes and out of the public spotlight, is the product team that focuses on a product’s offerings, functionality and the company’s product roadmap.  Thus, Engineers, Product Managers and Sales Representatives need to work together as much as possible from the earliest of stages until the company becomes a successful enterprise.

What are the best ways for a product manager to develop a productive relationship with the sales team?

How to engage a relationship between a Product and Sales team

It is well known that collaboration between the product team and sales team often creates friction and can result in an unsustainable product roadmap, unrealistic sales proposals or an atmosphere of competing company resources and attention. 

sales team graphic

Here are some common situations that are often misunderstood when teams try to establish a sustainable relationship:

  • Product Managers and Sales Reps usually are guided by a different strategy, and therefore the metrics of success are measured differently. The focus needs to be on the corresponding parameters from different points of view.  
  • Everyday goals need to be consistent with the company’s overall business plan and focused on strategic objectives, not just short sighted sales. 
  • Product and Sales teams need to have clear roles and responsibilities that correspond with the primary strategy – a quality product that fits market needs. This is crucial for avoiding miscommunication gaps, or overlaps in internal workflows and enhancing team collaboration throughout the company.
  • Establish early communication with the product team and collaborate on the product roadmap strategy toward a common goal such as increasing revenue from existing accounts and client base.  
  • Utilize innovative cloud-based project management software  that focuses on team collaboration to centralize all the workload under a single platform and create a transparent pipeline with reliable and standardized success metrics. 

At Nifty, for example, a common tension between our sales team and our product team is the sales team’s efforts to accelerate certain features on our product roadmap which can be a deciding factor for a large account.  The product team would prefer to grow the company without prioritizing certain short term features.

 What is the correct course of action in a situation like this?

Three factors that need to be evaluated are:

Account size. It goes without saying that in order for the product roadmap to be compromised and certain features to be “bumped up” on the product roadmap it must be that the account size is worthwhile and that this client’s particular situation can likewise be a benefit to others with similar needs and timeframes.  For example if the client wanted an integration to a unique tax software then it would make sense in the future for the sales team to target others looking for a solution that has this integration as well.

Does this help your company’s existing customers? Product and sales teams that are working with customers and potential customers in the early stages are aware that it is extremely important to create a sort of “cult” following among early adopters.  That can be done by catering to a very specific niche and being the best in the industry in that area.  For example, Facebook has created this unique culture with college students and Amazon originally maintained a following based upon its selection of available books. In our case would this sudden change of product roadmap prioritization add value to your existing group of early adopters?

Can this partnership be of additional benefit to your company? Given that this situation can potentially put other features in the product roadmap on pause are there other opportunities for your company to benefit from here? Such as a well conducted case study with a reputable client, or maybe an opportunity to get some positive PR. Around a month ago we did something similar to this at Nifty and it turned out to be a very powerful stunt that yielded us some good publicity through a government agency.  

Notwithstanding the above, product development and placement are oftentimes not on the same page. The main reason is that many companies do not recognize this until there is a huge gap between a product and a sales strategy.

Product team graphic

Warning signs: Conflict ahead

The interaction with the product and sales groups requires some collaboration, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be constant.  An example of this would be to envision two vertical lines that go toward the same goal, but do not necessarily interact with each other all the time. 

In other words: Same goal – different tactics. 

A sales team’s primary objective must be selling the company products.  Conversely, a product team’s objectives are to fulfill the product roadmap.  This can be accomplished by adding new features based on feedback, considering competitive innovations and levering the existing customer base . A crucial point to keep in mind is that collaboration does not necessarily mean constant communication, rather it also includes two important aspects: teams being transparent with timelines and workload distribution. 

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To achieve productive collaboration, here are some observations that can avoid a potential conflict between the product and sales team. 

  • Does the Sales team communicate customer feedback on fixed or improved features toward existing product users?
  • Is the Product team asking sales for information on the new features that customers want?
  • Do Product and Sales teams have a weekly or monthly meeting – discussing overall progress?

To keep both sides on the same page regarding objectives and goals, there must be collaboration. Poor communication can lead to a loss in revenue and internal conflict that can easily be avoided.

As claimed by Pragmatic Marketing Survey on Product Management and Marketing, there are several pitfalls for a product manager in order to keep up with sales team proposals:

  • 46% of Product managers concern is about the sales team requesting customized sales tools on an account-by-account basis
  • 35% of Product managers must commit to adding features to close a deal and obtain a new customer
  • 31% of Product managers stress about the sales pipeline being below the revenue forecast 

To prevent these traps, your teams need an all inclusive  project management software that focuses on team collaboration.  This will help centralize all workloads and create a transparent pipeline with reliable and standardized success metrics.

Standardization of success metrics and workload centralization

Innovative cloud-based project management software helps centralize all workloads under a single platform.  Utilizing a centralized collaboration hub – and creating a transparent pipeline, can lead to automatically improving workflow for all team members along with all internal teams from development to marketing. 

This way, the company can have an overview of every process in the timeline and can quickly initiate and redistribute resources toward the central project goals. Using a milestones view, the company can standardize success metrics using a percentage scale and automatize a progress tracking. Now every team will have a transparent representation of project achievement on the percentage scale. 

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The sales team will know at what stage a product team is testing or adding a new feature, and the product team will see what revenue metrics are and what the results are of a product features evaluation. 

Making it work

In every large company, it is a challenge to create collaboration between internal teams – especially in the product, marketing, sales and engineering teams. There will always be some misunderstanding. However a good solution is to centralize all workloads and standardize success metrics of all project objectives – creating a workflow collaboration. 

Interaction between the product team and the sales team – can result not always with conflict of interest – but with a mutual collaboration toward a common strategic-level goal. 

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Kagan is the Chief Revenue Officer & Product Enthusiast at Nifty, a new-wave project management that reduces project development cycles and improves team productivity by combining collaboration, communication, and automation. The result is milestone-driven results that keep teams inspired and organizational goals on schedule.

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