Sales isn’t a job. It’s fundamental to business growth and transformation, yet we’ve all been disenfranchising our product and engineering teams by telling them it is indeed a job — someone else’s.
As leaders, we’re guilty of perpetuating this rift far beyond mere division of labor. Product & Engineering teams collaborate naturally in a laboratory environment, while Sales is often left gazing in from the other side of the glass. And because Sales isn’t in the lab, they naively reach for whatever pieces of the roadmap seem the most provocative, even if those pieces are 18 months out. Typically, the outcome is a promising buyer opportunity and no product to fulfill it (or worse, a hectic & haphazard shuffling of priorities to stand up a shell of what the buyer was promised).
My question to Chief Product Officers (CPOs) & other execs is this: if Sales can provoke buy-in without any real product to sell, what does that say about Product’s understanding of the buyer?
The reality is that everyone is in sales, regardless of title. Most Product teams implicitly accept part of this responsibility whenever they develop user stories & personas, or execute UX testing or run focus groups; such work ensures the user will be sold on the product. But in business environments, the user is rarely the ultimate buyer (i.e. budget holder/contract signer)… and that’s where a disconnect between Product & Sales is blatantly exposed. The same delight and utility that are designed and built into products are rarely the same metrics the signer of the contract will evaluate, at least for the majority of their purchase consideration process – you can argue with the semantics here but if we all step back it’s a lot more true than not.
The sales-led transformation approach I teach — both with Headstorm clients and at Carnegie Mellon University — pushes product & engineering teams to align with sales on distilling the motivations, triggers, and objections that settle at the foundation of buying & investment decisions. And when I say “the foundation”, I mean it: the reason product & engineering suffer through bake-offs and scope creep is that they’re chasing a buyer’s mental model, rather than influencing it.
Building products fueled by sales engagements (which again, is everyone’s job) aligns your entire organization to buyer archetypes. Mastering these archetypes sets realistic expectations across product, sales, and engineering on what needs to get built, and how to best collaborate on it. Product-led transformations aren’t wrong per se… but they are slower, and there’s not much promise in transforming slower than your competitors.
The simple logic is that your sellers identify and feed the change in value an archetype needs to experience in order to spend money; only then, can you plug the product to work through more tactical considerations. If your team can’t speak the language of a buyer (their reward system, their roadblocks, even their communication style), then no list of snazzy features will win their head or heart.
To start getting into the mindset of sales-led transformation, here are some quick resources (let me know if you want more):
- Learn from the brilliant Sheena Iyengar: How to make choosing easier
- Never Split The Difference with Chris Voss
- Pick A Fight as a one night listen to frame the power of being provocative with David Burkus
- In a down economy, provoke as a general mindset for creating change (or really anytime in an early stage company)
- Against Empathy: a contrarian view that pushes against some of the most amplified blog-post wisdom
It’s not at all to say that CPOs should hand the controls over to a Sales team. Sales is just as guilty of operating in an overly stratified manner which thwarts collaboration. Rather, a transformative approach comes through the nurturing of a shared language between Sales & Product & Engineering — an approach aligned to getting stronger commitments from buyers, in shorter cycles, with stronger product stability, security & scale. It’s transformation at a healthier pace because everyone involved shares an intimate understanding of their buyer, through archetypes.
Achieving organizational alignment between Product, Engineering, & Sales means dropping the prescriptive and embracing the provocative. If you’re ready to upskill teams for a positive sum, I’m here to help you make it happen. Come learn about our boundary-pushing way of enabling product and engineering leaders to acquire commercial leadership skills.
Interested in seeing sales-led transformation come to fruition? Come work with me: headstorm.com/careers.