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Pissing Off Product Management - Sales

A topic on Quora a while back was a tongue in cheek how to piss off a product manager. I naturally have my own list. Product management, being at the center of so much of an organization’s activity, and power flow, we clearly can affect much of what happens.

In general, product managers are unflappable, bearing good and bad news with aplomb. But sometimes, people go out of their way to really piss us off. How many of the following do you agree with:

Sales Mayhem

  • We can’t sell without XYZ feature – top of the list is the claim that the competition is killing us in the market place because we lack a specific feature. They whine to you. They whine to their manager(s), they get it escalated with the GM or the group VP. They will attempt to go direct to development. When you finally cave in, because you are getting blasted on all sides by the organization, and get the feature added, you notice a funny thing. Bookings don’t budge. Your competitor still wins the same percentage of deals. However, attempts to explain this to your manager or to the rest of the organization leads to apathy. Which leads to ...

  • We can’t charge for that, software has no cost – Seriously, a very large fraction of my sales people throughout my career have argued that since there isn’t any incremental cost to software, they should be able to give away software options. I had one sales person tell me that a new optional software package that we had spent 5 man years developing, that truly was state of the art, that we had applied for and received patent protection on should be given free. It would make their job of selling easier. He was very offended when I laughed in his face. Tell that to the 12 developers, 3 software QA people and the 2 PhD’s in our R&D group that created this new technique. Nothing, I mean nothing pisses a software engineer off more than some sales monkey telling them that the fruit of their labor has no intrinsic value, and should be given away to sweeten the sales deal. Sheesh.

  • Sales is convinced they know product management better than the product manager – Sales is never happy. Along the lines of the first item above, sales often has a We need X product where X is some new version of one of your products. Often they pretend they are marketers, and know that this market niche is ripe for plucking. Perhaps they tried to sell the wrong product into an account and were convinced that some easy product development would have allowed them to win. It really boils down to wanting to sell something they don’t have. Sure, if we were an engineering company, with the ability to turn out a custom product for each customer, it would make sales life super sweet. Hell, they could close any order. But the real world happens, and you can’t do one off customs for everybody unless you are Orange County Choppers. Oh, did I forget to mention that they want 100% custom products for each case, and they don’t want it to cost more than the current product. Yeah, that is important too. Defense contractors can get away with “cost – plus” contracts. The rest of the world, not so much. Of course, sales will pitch this to anybody they can bend the ear of, and sadly, too often senior management will cave, and dictate an ill-advised product process. I am sure this is how the Pontiac Aztek saw the light of day.

  • Selling Futures – No product manager I have ever met has been enthusiastic about selling futures. We are optimistic, pragmatic people who live in the real world, and the constraints. Sales has proven time and again that they can’t be trusted with knowing the roadmap more than 3 months out, because once they hear of a project 2 years out, they start selling it. Even if the confidence of completion, and schedule is minuscule. I would love to share my vision, and the plans as far as the horizon can be, but sales (and sometimes general managers) have repeatedly proven that they can’t keep that information to themselves.

  • Selling what we don’t have – I live in an instrumentation business, that has a significant market in academic and government lab research. Very creative people buy our gear, and do truly groundbreaking research. But they often want their system customized. I work for a fortune 500 company. We do not have the resources to sell engineer-to-order products. Yet our sales team is constantly selling things that aren’t on the price sheet. These specials are never huge, but combined, they draw a significant fraction of our engineering resources. The funny thing is, most of our avant garde customers are willing to do the customization themselves, but sales would prefer to use this process as a differentiator. Yet, if I even once mention to management that it would be nice if sales sold what was in the cart, I get slapped around like a prize-fighter.

  • Can’t sell without discounting – New product, unmatched performance, differentiated out the wazoo, and out of the gate Sales is asking for 30 – 35% discounts. Really? We have at least 6 months before the competition responds, people who see the product love it, but you can’t sell without deep discount? Sigh. Naturally, this is a known entity, and we price accordingly to account for the need to discount, but for once, it would be nice to be able to set a fair price, not inflate it with the knowledge that you will be discounting it. I know that is standard in retail, but it shouldn’t be standard for scientific instrumentation. In my 16 years in product management, I can count on one hand the number of times we were able to sell at full ticket price.

  • Wasted Trips – I can’t count the number of times I have been urgently dragged into the field to “close” a deal, only to find that we aren’t ready to close, the customer prefers the competitor, or they customer resents the extra effort. No doubt, bringing an important factory resource like a product manager can be very influential to a deal. And truth be told, I enjoy the customer interactions, regardless of the circumstances. But bringing me in when a deal is all but lost wastes my time. The pretext you used to sell it to my boss was deceitful, and you have lost a lot of trust. Worse yet is when they clamor for you to come out, dangling all these choice visits and venues, and in the week before it all falls apart. If you don’t have a solid schedule, with visits that are meaningful, you are wasting my time, and that really grinds my gears. Down days, on the other side of the planet in an expensive hotel, doing email and requirement writing is a waste of resources.

  • Sandbagging – Most sales people have developed a survival skill of sandbagging their forecast. That is the process of predicting doom and gloom early in the period, and riding in like a white knight at the end, blowing away their forecast. Plenty of reasons to do this. Negotiate the quota down. Look like a hero. Be able to claim that their sales prowess is what made the difference. Whatever. Fortunately, my background in physics, with a healthy dose of mathematical modeling, a deep data set of historical results by region, and by quarter, access to the CRM and the sales funnel, and the ability to heuristically derive a likely forecast allows me to read the tea leaves. Yes, I often am within 5% of the actual bookings in the first week of the quarter, embarrassing the sales management who use the early part of the quarter to fill the sand bags. And I am sure it pisses them off when I call their bluff every damn time. It still pisses me off that sales is able to negotiate their way to super-sizing their commission and performance bonuses. And yes, forecast accuracy matters. We build hardware, and if we are un-prepared for a late quarter windfall, we can’t ship, and we miss revenue targets. Unlike sales, I am incentivized on shipments. So I will call their bluff.

Summary

Yes, sales people often piss me off. Really get under my skin, and get my blood pressure shooting into the stratosphere. But, I also know that I need their contacts, and their knowledge of their territory, and frankly, their assistance to get an audience with customers. Thus, I swallow my pride, and head out on junkets that I know are not remotely valuable. I forge bonds with sales, even the laggards, because it is my job to do it, and it does pave the way to my continued success.

I have seen product managers who couldn’t internalize this rage. They tend to alienate the people who hold the keys, and ultimately fail, sliding into another career path.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t bitch and moan about the abject incompetence I see day in and day out in sales.


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Pissing Off Product Management - Sales
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