Dealing with one-off feature requests
A reader asks: How does one deal with one-off feature requests from sales people that are supposedly deal breakers?
No product is ever finished. There's always another feature needed. That's why it seems many product managers are continually saying "no" to sales requests. Yet, to the sales person, these one-off requests for a single customer seem perfectly reasonable.
Look at it from a sales perspective: You don't have this key feature; you don't support this key technology. And the competitors do. Remember, the only time sales people hear something good about your product is at the annual kickoff meeting but they hear bad stuff all the time. [Tweet this]
Maybe sales people don't realize (or don't care) that the company has limited resources. There's always more work to do than resources to do the work.
(And by the way, the same is true for marketing programs. Why aren't we going to this industry event? Why don't we have more content? Why don't we have a sales tool for iPads? When are you going to fix the web site?)
Being behind your competitor in capabilities is one reason for this frustration. The competitor has a key feature that you don't, so the sales team hopes putting it on the backlog or in a contract will convince the customer to buy anyway. As much as we try, it's really hard to catch up with the category leader by copying all their features. Instead, focus on a key set of functionality, preferably areas where your competitors are weak, and deliver a truly unique experience.
The only rational solution is to maintain a product backlog showing all product priorities. Add new feature ideas to the list and show them relative to the current priorities. Each sales person will want their request at the top (of course they do) but other sales people have their pet projects too. It's a real balancing act: a prioritized backlog shows that some things are both less and more important than the sales group as a whole thinks it should be.
It helps to remember that sales people are not driven by your company strategy; they work for their own company. Think of them as distributors. They're focused on the needs of their immediate customers. They're less concerned (or unconcerned) with what other customers need.
One-off feature requests are usually competitive in nature so you'll want to provide a battle card showing how to win against each competitor. Admit that they have lower prices or stronger architecture or whatever. And then position yourself against them in a positive way. "They are good for this but we are good for that."
In the end, you cannot derail your current plans for one-offs or you’ll never get to the things that really matter. Look for opportunities to build capabilities that are ten times better than anything on the market. Do less better.
A competitive battle card is key part of your product playbook.
What are your techniques for dealing with sales situations? Add your comments below.