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The best way to support sales teams

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It seems that many sales people are hired for reasons other than their industry expertise. We typically attempt to hire “closers” and “elephant hunters.” But without industry expertise, these sales folks will need lots of technical support.

What is the product manager’s role in supporting sales teams?

One of the roles of product management is to be a resource for sales teams. For many, this means supporting sales people on individual deals—such as doing presentations and demos or authoring RFPs. After all, the product manager knows a lot about the market and the product and the domain. But when you add up the number of requests from a large sales force, it becomes obvious that one product manager cannot possibly support dozens or hundreds of sales people.

Today, many product managers are serving as sales engineers, usually because the existing sales engineering team is understaffed or under-skilled. What product managers should be doing to support sales people is looking for opportunities to help them all.

Analyzing your wins and losses reveals many opportunities to support the sales teams with better tools.

Which steps of the sales cycle are encountering friction? How often does responding to an RFP result in a new sale? How often does a custom demo outperform a standard one? Could demos be put online in a video format? Should we set up a demo center? Answering these questions will result in new or better sales tools, helping all sales teams.

I see product management involved in three major aspects of product: definition, delivery, and sales enablement. Looking for ways to improve the performance of all sales teams is product management; supporting sales people one at a time is sales engineering.

Some studies show that four sales people share access to only one sales engineer. Yet industry best practices reveal the need for one sales engineer for every one or two sales people. When the sales people don’t get the sales engineering support they need, they contact the product manager for product expertise.

Increasing the number of sales people doesn’t magically create knowledgeable sales people. They say it takes 6 months to get a sales rep up to speed—but who is supporting him or her during that period and beyond? If you have a complex product, you need to hire a sales engineer for every new hire in sales.

Periodically, product managers should analyze how their time is being used. Take a moment to look at your sales support activity over the last few months and examine whether your time was used effectively. Look for ways to better support your sales efforts with better sales enablement.

“Your trusted advisors” isn’t a marketing slogan—it’s a hiring profile.

One of the best marketing approaches for a complex product is to create trusted advisors in your sales team. But that means they have to be able to advise and they have to be trustworthy. The sales teams that succeed have a business savvy sales person paired with a technical sales engineer.

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