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Never invite sales people to a meeting


In a well-run organization, each role has a single orientation; they either support [individual] customers or they support the market.—Peter Drucker, American management consultant.

What do you think sales people should be doing?

(It's not a trick question.)

The things you probably thought of were: building relationships with customers, helping them configure the right solution, negotiating, and closing deals. In short, selling what we have to people who want it.

In your list, did you also think sales people should be creating product presentations, developing ebooks, and determining the industry events to support?

Would you be surprised to learn roughly 50% of sales people's time is spent working on things that do not generate revenue? In short, half the time, sales people aren't working toward their objectives but are providing market expertise to the rest of the organization.

How often do you find yourself saying, "Let's ask the sales people. After all, they know the customers."

Before you invite a sales person to a meeting, ask yourself why.

Marketing and product management teams often invite sales people to planning meetings. Their hearts are in the right place; they want to ensure that the product, program, or campaign works for sales people as well as customers. But aren't we asking sales people to stop doing what they're supposed to be doing and asking them to do our jobs instead?

Product management and marketing teams need personal experience in the market. Without it, they must rely on the sales people to provide market expertise.

Some product managers get annoyed when sales people ask them to go on sales calls. After all, going on sales calls is not about managing products; it's sales support. Sure, you might accidentally learn something but the objective is to move the deal forward, not move the product forward for all customers. A sales call is for a single customer; it's a sales objective.

And many sales people love taking product managers on sales calls. Product managers know the domain and the product; they can talk technical with the buyers and share experiences from other similar clients. I can see how sales people benefit from having product managers engage with prospects. But are product managers benefiting? You could easily be engaged 120% of the time supporting the sales team but that's what sales engineering should be doing.

I use a simple rule: if you're spending more than one day a week with any department, then that department is understaffed or underskilled. Sales people almost always need more sales engineers; without them, sales people call on product managers to fill the void.

If you must get sales input to your issue, don't invite them to a meeting; go talk to a few sales people. One-on-one. Or better yet, go on a few sales calls as an observer. See where the sales person struggles or is unsure. Look for areas where you can support the sales team with tools. You're likely to see an opportunity for better sales enablement, customer worksheets, or product training.

Like any good product leader, you want your customers to inspire the product, not define the product. In this case, sales people are the customers of your sales enablement tools; gather their requirements and help them help themselves. Write down everything you can do to empower the sales team. Prioritize the list. Start working from the top of your list until you run out of time or money.

If product management builds the right product and marketing creates the necessary promotion and sales enablement tools, then sales people can focus their energies on selling. After all, that's what they're supposed to be doing.

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