More than a decade of grousing about product management

Sales Lies Part I – Sales is Closest to the Customer

real estate agent calculating an amount to a client
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Sales may be closer to the customer, but alas their bias is telling, and that makes their priority not my priority

Having been in the game A LONG time, the Dude has heard it all, from everybody. However, the award for the biggest group of lies has always been from Sales.

The Dude can hardly fault them, they are out there hustling, working the leads, chasing the opportunities, and – most importantly – closing deals that pay our salaries.

But that is no excuse for some of their behaviors.

The Dude will make this a series, with no predictable end point, but instead several classes of falsehoods, and how to look out for them.

So, let’s get into this…

If you build this, I will sell it

The lie: “Sales is closest to the customer, so they know what is needed in the product”

This is the number one lie the Dude has dealt with. Sales has an opportunity that they are working on, and it is essential for the business because of the criticality of the customer (key|important|huge) and what having them in our court will do for the business. When the sales person is telling you this, you can hear them planning to spend their commission on a boat, or a Mountain Cabin, or a trip to President’s Club in their minds.

But the reality is different. Often the opportunity is weak, our product isn’t a great fit, and sales is trying to smash a square peg in a round hole.

As the Product Manager, responsible for your product from cradle to grave, you deflect. Perhaps you placate and say you will put it on the roadmap, or that you will investigate. But you really don’t need to investigate. You know it is a lousy fit. That the customer isn’t that important. That these changes, while they will make a single customer happy, will make the product unattractive to your original market domain, and you will likely lose business in the long term.

Of course, the sales person will figure out that you aren’t taking action on their “hot need, and will do the reporting chain escalation (you know, they will raise it to their management who raises it to sales leadership, then to the sales executives, who will then send it to your leadership, and the shitstorm will rain down on your head.

Then you get to prepare briefings, justifications, build out scenarios, validate assumptions, and present as to why this is a very bad idea and then you get labeled a non-team player.

The lie here is that Sales knows what is best because they are closest to the customer. Everybody assumes that extrapolates to “All” customers, and the entire “market”. The reality is like a draft horse, sales people have blinders on to prevent them from becoming distracted. Naturally they see themselves as being the best source of market insight.

But that is utter bullshit. Yes, listen to them, take their data and observations, but don’t treat it as gospel.

Written by

A crusty veteran from the product management trenches. Plenty of salty language, references to cannabis, and a connoisseur of White Russian cocktails

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Written by pmdude