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Help! I'm a Demo Boy for Salespeople

Why product management needs to advocate for sales engineering.

Product management seeks to provide pertinent product information to the sales team in order for them to succeed. How can product managers best support the sales department? It's not by helping them one at a time.

Unfortunately, salespeople often see product managers as a one-stop resource for not only themselves as salespeople but also for their clients.

Help! I’m a demo boy for salespeople.

A VP wanted to improve the visibility and perception of product management with the salespeople, so he created a series of video introductions of his team. The videos included the product manager’s background, areas of expertise, and contact information. Once they were distributed, salespeople asked, “Can we share these with our clients?”

In a similar story, the VP of sales distributed all product managers' home and mobile phone numbers to the sales channel (including international). Within a week, all product managers had gotten new, unlisted phone numbers.

Sales engineering & product management are not the same.

In the above scenarios, the product manager found themselves acting as the sales engineer rather than the product manager. We’ve discussed on our blog before what product management isn’t, and product management is not sales engineering.

Presenting a product doesn't mean you should be tagging along on sales calls.

In my early days as a product manager, I really enjoyed sharing my product management knowledge with salespeople. I was good at presenting, and I wanted them to see the presentation and demo done correctly at least once.

Yet this led to all the salespeople saying, “Man! That kid is good. I’m going to take him on all my sales calls.”

With all the best intentions, these scenarios resulted in salespeople perceiving product management as the go-to resource for all things product.

How to fix the blurred line between sales engineering & product management.

Listen to your sales team.

If your sales team depends on product management, that clearly indicates that salespeople need a go-to resource as well as sales tools they can share with their customers.

Provide sales enablement tools that do the heavy lifting.

When salespeople ask, “Can we share these with our clients?” they’re telling you they need more or better sales tools. In fact, they’re so desperate for sales tools that they want to share videos of the product managers!

Put on your product management hat and evaluate the implied requirements. What are your salespeople requesting? Break it down into the sales funnel and strive to understand which steps need supporting tools. Develop these tools and share them broadly. And make them a key element of your product training.

Focus on sales engineering in product training.

Many product managers feel their sales teams need deep technical knowledge of their products, so they try to educate the salespeople on their years of experience.

But the salespeople quickly realize they’ll never have this level of experience. Their solution: just call on the product manager when the client needs deep knowledge.

Make product training less about showcasing your product knowledge and more about how to find and use the sales tools.

Make the agenda about the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel.

  • Start with a definition of the markets and personas.

  • Explain the compelling events that typically cause a client to initiate a project. That is, explain what a qualified prospect looks like.

  • Once you’ve profiled the buyer, distribute a list of sales enablement tools organized by step in the sales cycle, with links to the content on your sales portal.

  • Show them how they can help themselves.

The big trick: Get one of the sales engineers to deliver the presentation and demo of the product.

Sure, the sales engineer might not do quite as good a job as you would, but this approach will show the salespeople that their own field resources are knowledgeable about the product.

Advocate for sales engineering.

Sales engineers are the product experts in the field. For salespeople, the sales engineer should be their first call. Unfortunately, many teams have understaffed and sometimes under-skilled the sales engineering group. And when sales teams don’t have access to the skills they need, they’ll call on product managers.

In my experience, most companies with complex products and a direct sales force require one sales engineer for every two salespeople. What’s your ratio?

Set up a sales support desk.

If you continue getting product support calls from salespeople, it may be time to formalize your team’s sales support.

Create a sales support desk and staff it with a junior person who knows where to find answers. Put this person front and center in all your communications. Put this person in charge of the product content areas of the sales portal so they know where to find sales tools and content.

Consider a network of sales support.

Another approach is to set up a dedicated phone number and a general email for the product management team to share. Each product manager takes charge of these for one day and then passes the responsibility to the next person in the queue.

As with anything else, you should track the number and nature of these communications. Whenever the support desk gets repeated requests for a certain type of information, it’s clear that you need to develop and document a solution.

Empower your sales team through product education.

Considering all the typical company asks of salespeople—relationship building, navigating the complex sale, negotiation—it’s surprising that we also expect them to be technically adept. And maybe yours are. But if not, empower them with education on how to find answers.

The more you know about how buyers buy and sellers sell, the more you’ll know how to support your sales teams.

You might be interested in reading our eBook, "Expertise in Product Management—Beyond the Tactical."


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