Tech sales issues for Product Management

Sales and Marketing often battle about responsibility, and territoriality. Sadly, Product Management is often caught in the crossfire

The Dude is in general a peacekeeper, and he tries to influence his peers to be equally mellow, and yet move in the correct direction. He also can’t help but notice that often you talk about two distinct groups in congruence. I am referring to Sales and Marketing. They are often tied in the same budget item, as well as the same expense line on the financial reports. How come these two groups are often at each others’ throats?

Sales universally has disdain for the marketing group. They complain about the “Leads”. There are too few leads. The leads are of poor quality. The leads from XYZ source are useless. This is captured in the quintessential movie, “Glengarry Glen Ross”. Ostensibly a movie about the high pressure real estates sales field, there are nuggets of truth that apply to all sales situations.

Taking a look at high tech product sales. Hell, lets be specific, and say it is enterprise software sales. This is a field that I have personal knowledge of (but the observations here also apply to measurement and test equipment as well). Sales in this space are often split between direct sales teams (meaning that they work for you, and get comped on their actual closed deals) and channel partners. Channel partners can be a mixed bag from VARs to SI’s, and even MMRs (Value Added Resellers, System Integrators, and mass market resellers). All of these channel partners have different needs, and abilities. Typically, they are comped with a margin contribution from the MSLP.

Now that is out of the way, time for the meat.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Sales often fail to meet their quota or sales targets. That means that each quarter, they are on a hunt for an excuse to lay the blame for their failure. Often (I would say almost always) they blame marketing, and since often product management is associated with marketing, we get tarred by the transitive property. Phrases come out of their mouths like “We had too few leads”, “The leads sucked”, “Too many of the leads were far too early in the sales cycle to close” among many others. They often use this as a hammer to beat the marketing team with.

Sometimes they bring product management into the fray. Not enough product demo’s. Or we need XYZ feature because competitor K has it. You get the idea.

The problem with their blaming Marketing is that the marketing team usually has excellent metrics on the creation of the leads, numbers, source, maturity, likelihood to go from suspect, to prospect, to opportunity and finally to a closed order. Marketing tools like Eloqua, and others are outstanding. Furthermore, even though the viability of tradeshows to generate product, and sales interest have trailed off, the options for directed, targeted and personalized marketing have greatly expanded. Today webinars, direct internet marketing, and surveys are fantastic methods to generate interest, and leads.

On the flip side, the prevalence of better CRM tools (, Saleslogix, and others) are making it harder to hide behind incompetence. In the bad old days, sales managers often were hamstrung by having to pull status information directly from the sales team. Fabrication, sandbagging, stacking the forecast were common. That is changing, since now, they can insist on the sales team tracking their opportunities, and indeed, the entire sales funnel with these tools. Forecasts should be better, and there should be fewer surprises. Still some work to go here, too many surprises.

Still, sales people game the system. They hide information, they fail to update the CRM timely and accurately (I am still stunned by a 1.5M order that “just appeared – i.e. it opened and closed on the same day.) But the days of such shenanigans is coming closer to the end. Sales will continue to blame marketing, but, that charge is becoming more difficult to make stick.

As a product manager, I hate being caught in the middle of this. Often brought in on important accounts, but also collaborating with marketing to ensure the best strategy to maximize exposure, and lead generation. Please don’t use me as a mediator. I can be a trusted advisor, and I am an avid consumer of your data and reports, but don’t be surprised when I question your accuracy.

In the future, we will talk about how Sales needs to collaborate with marketing to develop effective programs for their territories. They can no longer just push that off to marketing, and assume no responsibility for what happens in territory.

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