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Sales and the Product Team – How Strong Is Your Relationship?

In 2014, Agile, Alignment, Product Management, Product Management Consulting, Product Management Facts, Product Management Training, Product Marketing, Product Owner, Product Teams, Project Management, Scrum, Take Charge Product Management, The Study of Product Team Performance by 2 Comments

How Do Product Teams Perceive Their Relationship With Sales?

In our recent study of high performance product teams we asked a question regarding how product teams view their relationship with the sales organization. As it turns out, just over 9% of product teams report being “completely aligned with the sales organization with little or no friction.” Here’s a closer look at the findings.

Actuation Consulting, Product Management Consulting, The Study of Product Team Performance

Product Teams Perceptions of the Relationship with Sales

When asked how they would describe the relationship between the sales organization and the product team, nearly three quarters of responders, 73.41%, indicated that they are either mostly aligned with the sales force with occasional friction or completely aligned with little or no friction.

Still, over a fourth of respondents were both lacking alignment and feeling a significant amount of friction (23.70%) or were in a constant state of friction with the sales force (2.89%).

For these companies, there is definitely significant opportunity for improvement in relations that have the potential to greatly benefit the bottom line.

Are All Forms Of Friction Actually A Problem?

While this year’s study did not differentiate between different types of friction it is our belief that some friction can be healthy – if managed appropriately. Healthy friction can result from the product team and the sales organization appropriately channeling their different points of view in the best interests of the organization.

Product teams typically take a longer view of what they are trying to accomplish normally represented in a product strategy or a 12 month roadmap. Conversely, sales teams are under pressure to deliver on a quarterly basis. Therefore, it is not improbable that friction results from these two variances in perspective and expectations. The key is to effectively balance the long-term goals of the product team against the shorter-term needs of the sales organization and this often entails compromise or in more extreme cases adjudication by executive stakeholders.

Conclusion

If properly managed, friction can be healthy and potentially lead to better outcomes. If poorly managed, or left to fester, friction can lead to toxicity. The good news is that the majority of product teams perceive that they are effectively handling the sales relationship. The bad news? Over a quarter of product teams currently report a high degree of dysfunction in this important relationship.

So that leaves us with a final question. How do sales organizations perceive THEIR relationship with the product team? The other half of this equation will be very telling.

 

Comments

  1. Great points, Greg. I wonder if the salespeople at the same organizations would have a different response.

    I absolutely agree that conflict – if defined as different healthy perspectives – is ideal. Conflict requires respect, in this case for the salesperson.

    We’ve been too successful at teaching product managers to say ‘no.’ Once product understands how to say ‘no,’ we need to immediately question our stance or risk closing off the possibility of learning something new. Maybe sales heard something new. Maybe the way a request from the field is worded is masking an important finding. Authentic respect for sales enables better listening. I hope your study supports this alignment, but I expect the reality is mixed.

    Understanding and using ‘no’ leads to strategy; listening leads to product-market fit.

    1. Author

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your comments. Like you, I’m willing to bet that the sales force would have a slightly different perspective on this issue.

      I believe that the systems organizations create, the rewards that they use, the people they hire often dictate the culture and ultimately the relationship between the functions. If constructed thoughtfully these elements can lead to positive friction. Friction tends to be perceived as having a negative connotation but friction, if managed proactively, can actually lead to a positive result.

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