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Let’s formalize sales escalations

Level 1 2 3 image

Sales teams often need access to deep product knowledge. That’s why many product managers get involved with roadmap discussions, technical demos, and answering RFP/RFIs. In fact, 46% of product management time is spent in firefighting.

One VP claimed that product managers should be the source of all product knowledge for the entire company—the “Wikipedia of the product.” And published the home and cell numbers of the product managers. Right idea maybe but wrong implementation.

Today, do your sales people contact product managers directly? Yup.

Can individual customers contact product managers directly? Nope.

Why the double standard?

It’s not that product managers don’t want to support sales people; it’s just that there aren’t enough product managers and too many sales people. We need to support the sales teams more efficiently.

For a comparison, how does customer support do it?

In mature organizations, customer support offers a series of escalation levels for clients. Level 1 support handles basic product questions; Level 2 support handles advanced (or obscure) product questions. Once a situation has exhausted the efforts of customer support, the issue is passed to Level 3, i.e., development. Product defects and enhancement requests are generally vetted by development and often passed over to a product manager.

Why don’t we do the same with sales issues?

Consider a sales escalation method similar to a customer problem escalation. Sales teams will get the information they need and product managers will be able to focus on more strategic elements. It's a win/win in my book.

Your sales engineering organization is Level 1 support for sales issues. And I’ve found that this is the number one problem for sales teams: sales engineering is either under-staffed or under-skilled. Or both.

Product management should provide Level 3 support, once others have exhausted their resources or knowledge

Where is Level 2 support for sales issues?

Some great Level 2 implementation ideas

There are many efficient ways to support the sales teams. Here are a few that consistently get good results.

Toll-free Sales Help Desk. One easy technique is to set up a phone-based system with a mobile phone. Each person on the team carries the phone for a day and then passes it to the next person on the team. That way, the sales team has one number to call and they always reach a person who is ready to help—not in a meeting or busy with something else.

Product Demo Center. If your enterprise clients require a product demo, then treat it like a marketing program. Set up one or more demo centers with all the necessary equipment ready to go. Have a standard set of scenarios; avoid names like “Joe Customer” or “Marilyn Monroe” in the customer profiles. Put some time into developing the most common scenarios and make it a great demo.

RFP Librarian. If your sales team frequently responds to RFPs (or RFIs or ITTs), you should hire an RFP Librarian. An RFP Librarian does the project management tracking for each RFP to ensure dates are not missed. An RFP Librarian uses standard verbiage that has been used in previous RFPs and then contacts the product manager only for new questions that have never before been answered. And of course, makes sure the RFP is free of typos and grammar errors. Ideally this person is part of a Sales Ops organization but if they won’t staff it then product management should.

Do you need a level 2 sales support team?

Do you really have a problem? Let’s find out. Keep track of the frequency and type of sales requests you’re getting in product management today, and look for better ways to deliver necessary expertise to the sales teams.

Talk to your sales people about what type of help they need and how they get it today. Treat these “customer interviews” like any other product project. Gather requirements, determine the optimal, most cost-effective solution, and then build the “features” that make sense.

Product managers want to help sales people. Let’s make sure we’re getting sales people the information they need in the most time-efficient and cost-effective way. [tweet this]

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