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5 ways to get your sales force ready for better Product Management

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If you were to rank the groups involved in Product Management, your sales force will probably be at the end of your list. Often overlooked, your sales force have much more to give and should play a stronger role in Product Management.

Action one: Give your sales force the opportunity, incentives and tooling to share customer and market insights back to Product Management.

This could be happening today, but most companies doing this perform it inefficiently and gives little net benefit to your company. Think about it: your sales force are out there in the field and are the richest source of customer intelligence you have. The problem is, their voices are often drowned out and inventive schemes are aligned for selling not collective customer or product intelligence. Your sales teams know customers, have a deep awareness of competitor products and prices and are constantly seeking new opportunities.

Turn your sales force into agents of Product Management and see your Product Management improve.

How to make this work

  • At your next sales meeting, teach the sales force about Product Management and how they can help in gathering market intelligence.
  • Extend simple Ideas Management tools to the Sales Force. You can try our new Product Management tool,innovatenow.co for free.
  • Adjust the incentives you give to the sales force, for example, adjusting the compensation mix to include new elements to reward suggestions going into final products.
  • Try hard to put all items of gathered intelligence in context – meaning they are directly linked to product attributes, such as features and requirements. If you can answer the question, “what do customers think about the colour: should it be red or blue” you know what this means.
  • Ensure Product Management teams give specific feedback to the sales force when they ask something or suggested an idea. This will keep them interested.

Action two: Share a safe version of your product roadmap with your sales force.

Slowly introduce value adding pieces of product intelligence such as your high-level product strategy and other content to get them thinking about the product portfolio they are selling. Keep it simple and bite sized – the objective is not to overwhelm, it is to get them to understand why product decisions are made and provide a pathway for feedback.

So why is this important? Well customers generally fall into three main types: those exhibiting commodity behaviour (price or quality biased), problem or partnership focus (valuing the relationship or consultancy over price).
In many ways the easiest customers to serve are those having a simple commodity-like selection process: price, quality or other measurable attributes are easy to compare. In the more sophisticated models, when customers seek to engage you with problems, they expect the sales force to have a deep awareness of the product portfolio to make a better sales process. Begin sharing the roadmap and see what other aspects you go on to share.

How to make this work

  • Firstly, do not give the sales force too much information. Begin using a simple roadmap providing a sequence of features, benefits and pricing against a time series.
  • With the sales force, “coming soon” or “coming later” is not good enough; to build trust between the customer-product management and customer-sales force groups, you should use planned release dates on the roadmap.
  • Give the sales force tooling to help answer customer questions – for example, if a customer does not want to buy because it lacks a particular feature, the salesperson should be able to immediately determine if this feature is being tacked on the roadmap. If not, the salesperson should be able to suggest its inclusion on the roadmap.
  • Expose your Product Management tool to the sales force for the generation of ideas and sharing customer stories. This will be the best way to get closer alignment between the two groups.

Action three: Open up a communication channel between sales force and product management.

In addition to providing access to important attributes of your product set, the next step in evolution is to open up Frequently Asked Question boards and with a high level of maturity, live discussions with the Product Management teams.

How to do it

  • Provide an easy to use channel for Sales to open up questions to product management. Product Management should curate them into a rich knowledge base of questions and answers.
  • Reward the sales force for notifying Product Management of inaccurate or incomplete data
  • Give sales ability to influence the velocity and direction of product development if this can be specifically justified.
  • Implement a framework where live conversations (instant messaging, audio or video) can be begun with an available product manager. Curate the live discussions and provide back to the ongoing sales resources.
  • Where a high level of maturity is experienced, extend the knowledge base to top-tier customers, particularly where the customer base is classified as service or partnership focussed.

Action Four: Make sure every salesperson has access to an accurate product catalog

A major complaint given to Product Managers from sales is outdated sales information. It is surprising that the sales force of incredibly successful companies know about products through their network, hearsay and assumption. It is critical that the Product Catalog is current and correct at all times. Easier said than done – one recent international telecoms company surveyed had a team of 7 full time people just doing this activity for a single small market.

How to get going

  • Nominate a database, tool or spreadsheet to act as your authoritative source of product data. Ensure the product names, product SKUs and descriptions are consistent and correct
  • Product Managers and Sales should operate from the same Product Catalog.
  • Make sure the sales view of your catalog is simple and easy to absorb from the customer perspective.

Integrate your product catalog with your CRM so the important data items of product and customer are fully aligned.

Action Five: Probably the most difficult, open up your data stores for detailed search allowing sales teams can answer any customer questions

Teams across all business functions produce a huge amount of information and intelligence about your products, your customers and markets you operate in. Too often, this data is hidden away and the same data is requested and delivered time again, causing the sales process to slow and product development become less fluid.

How to get going

  • Try and use a document storage technology platform such as Google Docs, but make sure the security restrictions are implemented effectively. innovatenow.co allows all stakeholders to share and access data in a secure and efficient way
  • Use your product catalog as the framework to hang the knowledge from. This is because all knowledge has to relate to something to uniquely identify a product, its features and attributes