Sales calls are an excellent opportunity for product managers to do product discovery and market research. By attending sales calls, PMs of all levels can develop empathy for the sales organization, the users, and the customers. It is a great way to measure the efficiency of your product marketing function (sales enablement aspects) and assess the Product Market Fit of your product.
Sales calls are also tricky, especially in the B2B world. In the B2B world, when the prospect represents lots of potential revenue for your company, the pressure on the PM can be pretty intense. Here are some tips to manage this tension and enjoy sales calls more.
Rule number 1: During a sales call, never promise anything!
While it sounds self-evident, share this with the sales team before the call. As a product expert, you will act like an advisor, not as a deal-maker or saviour!
When you introduce yourself, make it super clear that there will be no decision made today—you are here to understand the customer's needs (or, more accurately, their problems) and assess whether or not your current offering can solve these business problems. As both a domain and product expert, your role is to contribute meaningfully to the discussion and help both the customer and sales team assess whether or not a solution can be implemented with the current offering.
With rule number 1 (in fact, the only rule) firmly established, let’s review the typical scenarios you will encounter during B2B sales calls:
Scenario 1: The prospect needs a feature that is being actively developed
This prospect has a need that is being worked on by the team. After a few checks, you can safely assess that this particular customer is a good fit for your future release. I know from experience that you may be tempted to appear as “the saviour” and then make promises about the delivery of this feature in one week, one month, et cetera.
Don’t do this. Remember rule number 1: never promise anything!
- You don’t know this prospect that well.
- This is a sales call, and you should assume that every discussion is at the surface level. How certain are you that the solution you are implementing will miraculously match this prospect's exact needs?
Here are the two most common next steps:
- Dig deeper and validate the key assumptions your team has made to develop this feature.
- If (and only if!) you feel confident this is a good match after having double-checked with the sales team, you should share this is on your product roadmap and potentially invite this customer for the early access/beta program.
Scenario 2: There is a known workaround (or “hack”) to this prospect’s problem
Sometimes, the customer wants something and you have one or more workarounds to somehow solve this need, either based on your product knowledge, other customers implementations, advanced/beta functionalities, partnerships, or other factors.
The sales team is driving the show, so double check with your sales team whether you can share it or not!
In general, I would advise against sharing a “hack” during a sales call. Here is why:
- They have high costs over time and either directly create technical debt or cause major problems for other teams (support, technical account management, accounting, etc.)
- The sales team will now learn the “hack” and will present it as a fully supported functionality on all the future sales calls.
This being said, for major contracts and RFPs, it may well be your only way to move forward with this prospect. The sales team will discover what this particular customer’s desires are: is it a mandatory requirement (in which case, only propose clean and feature complete workarounds), or is it a “nice to have,” in which case, you can be bolder and recommend a partial/”hacky” workaround.
Once again, do not decide on the fly—discuss this prior to the call with the sales team or ask your team during the call what to do with the information you have.
Scenario 3: The prospect’s desired feature is on your product roadmap
During a sales call, a prospect may describe a very specific need or a need that you have already examined while doing some product discovery work. Let’s say that you know that this particular need is either on your priorities for the next period or later.
Just for the sake of clarity, remember rule number 1: never promise anything! Don’t put your foot in your mouth and jeopardize your company’s brand trust during a sales call.
Remember your role; the sales team is running the show and you are a trusted advisor. Check with your sales team during prep time or via Slack how to position yourself during the call.
Here are two battle-proven possibilities:
- Full transparency: In general, I tend to be quite transparent with prospects. While you can acknowledge their specific need, I tend to share upfront with the customer that while we have considered this need, we decided not implement it because of A, B and C.
- Keep this information private: If the sales team does not feel like it would be helpful to share this information, keep it to yourself. You can simply acknowledge the need and try to move to another product area asking if they have any other unmet needs with your current product offering.
Do you have the product-market fit, or not?
Each sales call produces a few data points that you should aggregate to continuously assess whether you are losing product-market fit or progressing toward product-market fit. All this aggregated sales data gives you an opportunity to revisit your strategy, market positioning, and value propositions with your sales, marketing and product teams.
Signs that you’re losing product-market fit
If you are consistently on calls where the prospects do not match your product offering, this is a clear sign that either your product marketing strategy is not targeting the right customers or the product does not meet the needs of the targeted customers.
Don’t linger on these problems as they can rapidly become existential for your company.
If you don’t have product marketing as a function, the PMs need to step up and fill this gap. It would be much more efficient to properly enable sales & marketing to target the right segment than to attend numerous sales calls with few positive outcomes.
If this is not a product marketing problem, then it becomes mostly a product problem. Leverage this data and work with your company leaders to prioritize the right feature set for the targeted markets. Generally speaking, usual iterations on existing features are the way to go. Or, it may require some dreaded “pivot,” depending on the growth phase of your organization.
Signs that you’re winning product-market fit
You are invited only for specific sales calls that are at the limit of your current offering, and everyone (as in, the sales, marketing, and product teams) is aware of this.
Or, even better, the sales and marketing teams know the roadmap. In this best-case scenario, they only invite product managers for future work on the roadmap to help gather requirements and find early adopters for new features.
No promises, myriad benefits.
Sales calls in the B2B world can be quite stressful for PMs especially when the prospect represents a large chunk of next quarter's revenues (or more!) for your company. When PMs adopt the simple rule to never promise anything during these calls, PMs can now relinquish the ownership of these calls to sales, act as domain experts, and help assess the needs of this particular prospect. By taking this role, you may even enjoy the sales call!
Once aggregated, these sales-call data points become essential to continuously measuring the oh-so-elusive product-market fit. During these calls, you are effectively testing the sales-marketing-product processes end-to-end. You will have an opportunity to find problematic processes that can be improved, while also gaining an early warning regarding existential risk or losing product-market fit for your offering.