There has been a good discussion over the past couple of weeks at the How To Be A Good Product Manager and Ask A Good Product Manager blogs run by Jeff Lash on the topic of how Product Management can work effectively with Sales.
One of the questions that was discussed caught our attention:
How much should Sales be involved in Product Development?
In my opinion, we should just keep them informed… of the progress of the projects and whether they are on track, waiting, etc. — and not any more.
How involved should our sales group be in product development planning?
This question of “Should Sales have a strong say in defining product requirements?” is one of the important questions faced by Product Management at many companies. Here is our take on it.
A key thing to keep in mind as we ponder this question is the motivation of the Sales personnel – i.e. what drives them? At the vast majority of software and high-tech companies, a substantial part (say 30-70%) of Sales personnel compensation is from commissions. They get this commission when they close deals.
So… the most important motivating factor for a Sales person is closing the deals he has on his plate – right at this moment. This means: the features a Sales person will push for at any point in time is based on the deals he is working on at that moment. Alrighty then – How should Product Management work with Sales when it comes to defining requirements?
We believe that Product Management should take input from Sales personnel, and then use objective criteria (such as ROI, revenue & profit potential, NPV, etc) to pick which requirements to implement while keeping the following in mind:
- How many customers have requested the same (or similar) feature?
- Can you validate the requests by directly talking with customers who requested them?
- How does a given feature fit with your company’s product strategy and roadmap?
- Would implementing a certain feature give your company a key competitive advantage? How sustainable is it?
- Is it within your company’s capabilities to implement this feature?
- How can you implement this feature without negatively impacting the product’s ease-of-use?
We think Product Management should certainly listen to requests coming from Sales – they are in direct contact with the customers and the market every day, and their input is crucial. That said, Product Managers should validate these requests, and use objective criteria before defining product requirements based on these requests.
Product Management’s role is to make the product as successful as possible – which often times may be compromised by giving Sales free reign to drive product requirements. We’ve seen some companies in the valley where Sales indeed drives product requirements – although we’ve noticed that these companies are usually not leaders in their market segments. Coincidence? We think not!