Sheshank Sridharan

@Sheshanks

How to bridge the chasm between Product & Sales/Marketing ?

I was having a heated debate with a friend, I argued that a feature should be built a particular way because it would be a better experience for the user. My friend lost his cool and said, “Nobody gives a sh@#. Users don’t have budgets, CIO’s and CEO’s make deals. I need to focus on making them happy.” I let it pass and a few minutes later we settled on an alternative that satisfied both worlds(partially at least). I thought a lot about that conversation and what it represents to people who build products.Why there is a lot of disconnect between sales, marketing, and product teams?

The answer is obvious and very simple. Most teams are unable to distinguish between User Personas and Buyer Personas.

Here lies the biggest problem. This is something I would have never realized a few years ago. As a product manager, I always spoke to end users and always thought about what solves their problems. Today, I work in a start-up where I have to wear multiple hats — I manage the marketing and business development in addition to product management. While product management is something I have been doing over the last few years, Marketing is something I have been learning and studying to get better at. One of the main things I have learned during this process is understanding buyer personas.Your buyer persona is basically who is going to pay for your product and why. Some quick examples:

  • In an e-commerce product, the user persona and the buyer persona are the same. The person shopping for the product is also the one paying for it.
  • In an education app that produces learning content for Students, the user persona is the student but the buyer persona is most likely to be a parent.
  • In an enterprise software, say — a transport management system, the user may be a logistics manager but the buyer would be the CIO of the organisation or the Head of IT. In this case, the user represents the business and the buyer represents IT.

HubSpot has quite a few resources in this area, buyer personas are core to their inbound marketing product suite. You can read a primer about buyer personas here.

Both personas are equally important from a product company’s standpoint. The problem is, different teams within the company interact with only one of the two personas and therefore fail to understand the other. Marketing / Sales often interact with buyer persona and product teams interact with the end users.

In my last post, I brought up the topic of user unhappiness and how sometimes there are conflicting goals within the customer’s camp i.e. the daily user of the product and the management who is implementing the product. This is a result of the user & the buyer not being in sync. Whether it’s the customer or the company that makes the product, the objectives of buying/using the product for both personas need to be absolutely clear. Typically, in enterprise implementations, a ROI plan is drawn up and objectives are charted out. This happens way too early and is never re-visited until the point where budgets go out of control. The point is the buyer and user of the product veer off-course.

I have met many product managers and analysts discussing the problem of how sales guys often sell something in the product that is unimportant or about how the website shows off features in the product that aren’t even in the near term roadmap. Dig a level deeper and you realize that the sales team is targeting the CIO and the product team is targeting the Logistics manager in my example above. What the analyst considers unimportant could be a screen which he knows will never be used but the sales guy needs that screen to make an impression with the management.

The product team has been busting it building transport management features that capture the details of a movement that will be used by the logistics manager on a daily basis. The CIO & Head of operations, however, are interested in understanding why the estimates and the actual expenses for the truck movement are off. So, the buyer is basically interested in reporting and the user is interested in capturing data fast in order to get his job done.

If the product team focuses solely on the primary user’s requirements as the priority , the sales team will fail in selling the product because the CIO shows up in the vendor selection process and fails to see what he/she wants.

Sales and Marketing teams, therefore, fill up the gaps by bloating product features on the website, answering RFPs vaguely and undermining gaps.

On the flip side, if the product team focuses on the buyer’s requirements (say like reporting for CXO) they will make the user enter many fields whose purpose is reporting.

Ultimately, the system becomes bulky and unusable on a daily basis.What took the user 8 hours to do previously, will take 10 hours with a new system. Obviously, users are unhappy and refuse to use the system, the CXO now cannot see the reports because of lack of adoption of the system. Up-selling to existing customers and user retention now become a challenge.

How to bridge the gap?

  • For starters, the product, sales & marketing teams need to sit together and flesh out their user personas & buyer personas.
  • Chart out the objectives of what is important for each persona.
  • The roadmap should be aligned to satisfy both personas.

It’s easier said than done. This is one of the toughest meetings you can get into and come out happy. Here are a few things you will really need to assimilate as a team before you start:

  • Do you really understand each team’s challenges well?
  • Why are deals in the pipeline not converting?
  • Why are customers unable to go-live fast ? (For a B2B implementation heavy products)
  • Why do we have such large customer churn? (For B2C products)
  • Why is our competition doing better than us?

Believe me, you are not going to come out of this meeting with a conclusion in one round. Don’t give up, get back in the room a second /third time till both of you agree on a strategy. The problem is that everyone expects that there is clarity and decisions can be made. In reality, often there is no clarity for a multitude of reasons, there is no clear view on many of the questions that I have posed above. People tend to mix opinions with facts and then arguments arise out of differing opinions. Take for example “Why aren’t deals in the pipeline converting ?”, there could be many possibilities:

  • The sales staff is inefficient
  • The product features are inadequate
  • The product doesn’t appeal to the buyer persona
  • There are no customer references that the sales team is able to use
  • Initial fit-gap analysis is poor
  • The competition has better business partners etc.

Most of these reasons personally affect either the product team or the sales team. When this happens people clam up and start throwing the blame around. Before you start this meeting:

  • Expectations have to be set that it’s an organization issue which we need to fix and no matter who ends up being the cause, the objective is to fix the system.
  • Prepare data before you go to the meeting so that you rely less on feelings and more on data.
  • The meeting needs to be moderated by someone powerful and who shouldn’t take sides like the CEO or COO.

A successful meeting is not the end. Every business is constantly adapting to changes in the industry, lack of revenues and other factors in the economy. This means that your buyers and users could be changing. Review your personas and strategies every few months and see which of your problems have been fixed and why.

My firm belief is that the more disconnected your Sales/Marketing and Product teams are, the tougher it will be to arrive at an agreement. If the CEO/COO is moderating and sees this situation, it is a sign that there deep disconnect within the company that needs to be fixed. Many times, the disconnect itself is because the leader of the company is also unclear about this. This is why it’s not uncommon to hear people say things like, “ Don’t mix sales and requirements. Let us get our foot in the door and figure out the next steps.” Well, the door will get slammed on your foot someday. The difference in attitude while running the company determines if it will be a company that survives with a revenue vs. a company that thrives and produces high revenue per employee.

About the Author:
Sheshank is the head of products at Hebbale Labs Pvt. Ltd., a start-up based out of Bangalore. He has 10 years of experience building and managing products.
He is currently building a product called TalFinder that aims at transforming employability in the Software development industry.

www.linkedin.com/in/sheshanks

www.medium.com/@sheshanks

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