Product Monetization

Selling to Sales: Convert your Sales Team into Your Product's Biggest Advocates

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In the Enterprise space, the success of a product depends on how effectively the Sales team is able to represent and sell the product. So how do you ensure that the Sales team is in your corner? In her talk, Parul will share her past successes and failures in working with the Sales team, and the valuable lessons she has learned from these experiences. After attending this talk, you will:

Understand why strong relationship between PMs and Sales team is a win-win proposition.

Learn four effective ways to collaborate with the Sales team to ensure they are able to sell your product effectively.

Know how to find balance between building products and supporting your Sales team.

Parul Goel:
Hello, everyone, thank you for being here. My name is Parul Goel, and I lead the Partner Payments team at PayPal. I have spent the last four years of my career building a payment platform for partners and marketplaces. In fact, this is the payments product that powers Facebook Shop. Today, I'm going to tell you about an important product management skill that I learned by building this product. And the skill is selling to the sales team, how do you partner with your sales team effectively? If you have worked on an enterprise product, you know that it's your sales team that goes out and sells your product. They are the ones who go out and advocate for your product. But for them to do this well, they have to really know your product. They have to advocate for your product. This is where as PMs we can add value. This is where we can partner with the sales team.

Parul Goel:
But when we partner with the sales team, our main focus remains building the product that the sales team is going to sell. What that means is this partnership has to be effective but also efficient. Easier said than done, as I found out through my own firsthand experience. So, let me tell you a little bit more about my journey. About two years ago, my team started building products related to pricing for this platform. Now, anything related to pricing is a special interest to sales, because pricing has a direct impact on whether we win the deal or not. Secondly, pricing terms go into the contract. So my team was in the critical path for sales to close some of these deals.

Parul Goel:
What that meant was we started getting a lot of attention from the sales team. We loved it, because the sales team brought the outside in perspective. They were a goldmine of valuable information such as customer needs, market trends, competitive landscape. But we soon realized that this attention from sales was a double-edged sword. While there were four of us on my team, the sales team was an global army. So we found ourselves caught in a flurry of emails, meetings. We literally couldn't keep up. And so we started falling behind. When we started falling behind in responding to the sales team, there were several escalations, and that put even more pressure on this team which was already behind.

Parul Goel:
This went on for a while, and finally I realized, "This can't be normal. This can't go on, it's broken." So I took a step back and I assessed the situation. Two things became clear to me. Number one, as enterprise PMs, we had to find a way to support our sales team. Not supporting them was not an option. We were going to do a huge disservice to our product, to our customers. Number two, but we had to come up with a sustainable engagement model, one that would allow us to support the sales team but at the same time, also, our main focus will be building the product itself. So today I'm going to share with you three strategies that helped me and my team engage with the sales team effectively. Let's get started.

Parul Goel:
The first one, let's start with the most foundational one; educating the sales team. As PMs, it is our responsibility to ensure that the sales team has information about the product that they need to sell it. This could be, who is it for, what does it do, how does it compare to the competition? Put yourself in the shoes of the sales team. They have probably worked very hard to find prospective clients, to get in the doom to pitch to them, or rather get on a call to pitch to them these days. And they're motivated to close the deal. In such scenario, if a question about the product comes up and if you haven't provided clarity, guess what? The sales team is going to fill those gaps for you.

Parul Goel:
I, again, expedience this while working on the pricing product. Our first delivery for this pricing product was an MVP. So because it was an MVP, it solved for some customer needs but not all of them, which was not really out of ordinary by itself. But what made this experience painful was the fact that we did not take the time to educate the sales team, educate them about, number one, what does this MVP solve for? But in this case, more importantly, what does it not solve for? This led to months of communication and miscommunication and misunderstanding and confusion. In fact, the flurry of emails and meetings that I talked about, a lot of them were connected to this MVP.

Parul Goel:
This is something we could have easily avoided by educating the sales team. If you take the time to educate the sales team, these are some of the benefits you're going to see, number one, it will inspire confidence in your sales team. They are going to know that, "Oh, I understand this product. I feel okay selling it." Number two, it puts you, or rather us PMs in control because now the sales team is selling based on the information we gave them. They don't have to fill those gaps anymore because, hopefully, there aren't any. Finally, it saves everyone time. Now when sales has a question, they know how to get it answered. You have already probably either provided them documentation, video, whatever medium you chose for education. So they don't have to come to you directly.

Parul Goel:
If you decide to come up with an engagement model for your sales team, this is how I would suggest you incorporate the education piece, right, some tactical recommendations. Number one, identify who are the players who will participate in this activity. There will be somebody from the product team, maybe multiple product managers. There will be somebody from the sales team. Depending on your company, there might be other players like PMMs or go to market team. Who are these people? What are their responsibilities? Define this upfront. Now, people from your team who are participating in sales education, make sure you make the capacity for them to engage in these activities, because this is going to be an ongoing activity.

Parul Goel:
The second thing I would suggest you do is standardize the format and the medium that you're going to use to educate the sales team. Again, it could be documentation, could be videos, could be tutorials. But work with your sales team to figure out how are you going to educate them? What are the topics that you are going to cover? What level of detail is going to be useful to them? If you align on these things upfront, you will see two big benefits. Number one, it will make your job much easier. Now every time you have to come up with a feature documentation or a product documentation you have a template that you need to follow. It will also make it easier for the sales team to consume this information because they're already used to the format. Of course, the format can evolve over time, but at least upfront take a stab at it. Engage with them to come up with a standardized format that works for them.

Parul Goel:
And finally, the number three should be your longterm goal. Create experts within the sales team who can help educate the sales team, right? These people know the product almost as well as you do. So then if the sales team has a question that your documentation doesn't address, then they go to this person within the sales team to get the answers rather than coming to you. This should be a long-term goal, that you are creating product experts within the sales team. To summarize, take the time to educate your sales team so that they can sell with confidence, but align on R&R, the frequency, the standard format upfront to save you time.

Parul Goel:
The second pillar that I'm going to talk about, or the second strategy I'm going to talk about for an effective engagement model is predictability. Most of us do not like surprises, even small ones. Let me give you my personal example. Every night before I go to bed, I check my Outlook Calendar, what time is my first meeting in the morning? Sometimes I get lucky, I don't have a meeting until 9:00. So then I take the time in the morning to make myself coffee, I make myself some nice breakfast. And suddenly I will get a text or a call, "Are you joining?" Somebody set up a last minute meeting. Now instead of scrambling eggs I am scrambling to make it to the meeting. It drives me crazy.

Parul Goel:
As product managers, sometimes we are guilty of doing this to our sales team, except the consequences for them are a lot more serious than a ruined breakfast. It could mean losing a deal. It could mean ruining an important relationship for them or losing face with a customer. In enterprise space, the sales cycles are pretty long. It takes a few months, maybe quarters to close the deals. What that means is the sales team usually sells ahead of the bill cycle. So if I am delivering something at the end of June, the sales team probably has been selling it since Q4 of last year and setting expectation that this feature will be become available at the end of Q2. Now, if there are changes in our roadmap, on our schedule, we should keep the sales team in the loop.

Parul Goel:
If we provide this transparency and predictability to the sales team, these are some of the benefits you will see. Number one, again, this will inspire confidence in the sales team. They now know that they have the latest on the product from you. So they will be able to go out and sell with confidence. The second thing this is going to do is if there is a delay, if there is a change in plans, now they have to go deliver this not so good news to the customer. This gives them a little bit more room for maneuvering. Imagine if my June delivery is now delayed to July, isn't it easier to deliver this message to the customer in March rather than in June? So if you were to give them transparency ahead of time, this is something that they will be able to do.

Parul Goel:
Finally, it builds trust with the sales team, right? Sales team will realize that, yes, you understand that your roadmap, your execution status impacts them directly, and you're going out of your way to help them. So over time it will improve your relationship with the sales team. This is how I recommend building it in your engagement model. Number one, align with the sales team on your roadmap. Whether you do annual planning, quarterly planning, make sure your sales team knows what is it you're delivering and when.

Parul Goel:
Number two, as you execute on this roadmap, again, keep the sales team in the loop, keep them in the loop for the execution status. Now the level of details and the frequency is going to be different for the sales team. They probably don't need weekly status, maybe bi-weekly, monthly, again, something you can decide on based on your situation. But if something is going to slip, it shouldn't be a surprise to the sales team. Hopefully they have seen the journey from yellow to orange, to red. So keep them in the loop about the execution.

Parul Goel:
And finally, there are times when there we have to make a trade-off between scope or timeline. In that case, include the sales team in these discussions. They can provide you important input that can help you with these trade-off decisions. Something else I have seen is that sales team can go out and advocate for you, or they can go make noise to your leadership on your behalf and get you the support that you need. They are a powerful stakeholder to have in your corner. To summarize, strive to provide transparency and predictability to your sales team. Help them make their life, their jobs, a little bit easier.

Parul Goel:
And finally, the third strategy is deal support. As enterprise PMs, we should make time to participate in the sales process, whether it is responding to RFPs, whether it is attending pitch meetings to customers. This is a great fee for us to get direct feedback about our product. Now, when I was in the consumer space, there were numerous ways I would collect this feedback. I would do surveys. I would do A/B testing. In the enterprise product space, these forums are somewhat limited. But participating in the sales process is a great way to get this feedback.

Parul Goel:
So if you were to participate in the sales process, if you were to make it a priority, these are some of the benefits you will see. Number one, as I already mentioned, you will get direct feedback from the customer. Let me tell you something that happened to me. There was this one particular feature that my team had put in a lot of time and love and designing and solutioning. And when I pitched it to the customer, it fell flat. They were confused. We had completely missed the mark. As painful as this moment was for me, it was also very powerful. It was a very strong feedback, not only for our product but also our process. Now, if I had gotten the same feedback through sales, it probably wouldn't have been as effective. So direct feedback from customers is powerful.

Parul Goel:
The second thing is it helps you build empathy for your sales team. When I get a request from sales team via email saying, "Oh, this customer is asking for this." Easy for me to say no, "This is our roadmap. This is what it is." But when I am in the room and the spotlight's on me and I have to say no to a valid request, it's much harder. I still have to do it. Maybe what they're asking for is not a priority, but at least I have better insight of what sales team does on a regular basis.

Parul Goel:
And finally, as I mentioned in the context of educating the sales team, it will help you create experts within the sales team. If you participate in the sales process, you can identify who some of these experts might be. Partner with them, transfer some of your knowledge to them so that they can step in for you and answer some of these questions. So, this is what a tactical engagement model would look like for participating in the deal process. Number one, if you are going to participate in the sales process, make time for it. Understand that usually responding to RFPs or supporting a customer are time sensitive activities. These are things that are going to be urgent. You will have to drop whatever you're doing and pay attention to it. You're going to have to free up your calendar to participate in the sales process.

Parul Goel:
Also set clear expectations with the sales team upfront. What is your role going to be? Realistically, how much time are you going to be able to spend on it? Number two, pick the right deals. You're obviously not going to participate in every deal, or in fact, even most deals. Again, our main job is to build the product. So be selective about what deals you choose to participate in. I usually lean towards pilot deals, so a customer who's using a feature or a product for the first time, or large strategic partners who are using multiple of my capabilities, and I'm really interested to see how the bundle comes together. So be selective about the deals that you get involved in.

Parul Goel:
Finally, be very clear in your communication to both the sales team as well as to the customer, right? We will find ourselves in a situation where the question is about, is this available? Be very clear about yes, it's available, no, not yet, but it's coming soon, or it's not planned. Saying no, this last one, is really hard, but this is where as product managers we can add value, we can provide clarity. To summarize, make the time to participate in the sales process. You will get direct customer feedback, and it will also help you make better products in future.

Parul Goel:
To summarize, these are the three strategies that you can use to develop an effective engagement model with the sales team. Number one, take the time to educate the sales team about your product. They will be able to go out and sell with confidence. Number two, strive to provide predictability and transparency to your sales team about what is coming when. Let's try to help them make their lives, their jobs slightly easier. And finally, make the time to participate in the sales process. You will get really good direct feedback from customers and you will strengthened your relationship with sales.

Parul Goel:
So, I want to summarize by saying this, as product managers, we work very hard to build a good product, the right product. We put in our blood, our sweat, and coming up with an engagement model with sales, an effective engagement model with sales, it's just going this last mile. It will set up our hard work for success. It will make sure that our product gets the love and the attention it deserves. So take the time, put in the effort, the planning to come up with an effective and efficient engagement model with your sales team. Partner with your sales team, go this last mile.

Parul Goel:
Please go to goelparul.com to give me feedback. It will take two minutes of your time, but it would really help me improve. Thank you again for your time and, hopefully, your feedback.

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Gretchen Duhaime
Parul Goel
Group Product Manager of PayPal2
A builder of products and communities. Parul is a Product Leader at PayPal, and heads payments for the PayPal Commerce Platform. She is passionate about enabling easy payments for her customers.