How Sales Leaders Can Influence The Product Roadmap — in a Way That’s Helpful

“I can't think of a more important relationship than the one between sales and product,” said one relationship manager. Here’s how to realize effective, beneficial alignment.

Written by Stephen Ostrowski
Published on Nov. 07, 2022
How Sales Leaders Can Influence The Product Roadmap — in a Way That’s Helpful
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When Lauren Kiefer, senior manager of relationship management at Intercom — which makes customer engagement and support technology — heard from customers about the desire for “interoperability,” she didn’t let that feedback idle. 

Rather, she parlayed it to the product team; through successive efforts, Kiefer said, the team rolled out additional integrations that have been a boon for their client-facing efforts.

But the relationship between sales and product teams might not always yield a success story, given the delicacy of negotiating the needs of these core functions: For the former, keeping customers smiling is front-of-mind; for the latter, building something relevant and meaningful is the driver.

In theory, those aims overlap, but they don’t necessarily always align. The last thing product teams would want to do is expend effort on something that will simply collect dust.  

“A lot of product teams can be guarded about letting sales into roadmap conversations because a lot of product managers think sales folks are like the boy who cried wolf,” Kiefer said. “Sales begs for something to be built, product builds it and adoption of that new offering is low.”

As Kiefer explained, if sales teams — whose fingers are on the pulse of the customer — are to provide their input on the product roadmap, said input needs context, structure and clarity. Providing forums for sales to elevate the voice of the customer is crucial to creating a bridge between the product and the customer to inform the former’s efforts.  

“Most importantly, protect and respect your product team — everyone is trying to do the right thing and it’s critically important that there is mutual respect and trust,” Kiefer said. 

Read on for how sales can inform — and not hamper — product roadmaps.

 

Lauren Kiefer
Senior Manager, Relationship Management • Intercom

What’s one example of how you impacted the product roadmap? What was your goal, and what was the result?

I currently manage our enterprise relationship management team. We are passionate about our customers and about our product. We have always believed that incorporating and acting on customer feedback quickly is a fundamental way we operate differently from our competition and is a big part of our secret sauce. 

We have always believed that incorporating and acting on customer feedback quickly is a fundamental way we operate.”

 

One thing we kept hearing in the upmarket space was the importance of interoperability (and the lack of current functionality in this space). I worked closely with our product team and gave them tons of input, which then led to building out much more robust, sophisticated and powerful integrations with products like Marketo and Salesforce. We want our product to be easy to use and to immediately add value; our product team really understood that it was challenging to not be able to use Intercom in combination with their current tech stack. 

Our customers are having more conversations with us now than ever (and we have brought back a few that left mid-sales cycle) with these new and improved offerings.

 

What are some tips you’d offer to sales leaders looking to build constructive relationships with their company’s product team?

I can’t think of a more important relationship than the one between sales and product. If you can strike a balance of open communication filled with consistent, constructive feedback on both sides, you will innovate quickly and thoughtfully, which will lead to more deals. Schedule regular syncs with the folks at the forefront of each standalone product. Ensure they understand what our customers are looking for from the standpoints of growth, churn and retention. When we win big deals, share with product what sold that customer. When we lose deals, help them understand where there were critical gaps, especially if the gaps seem consistent. 

Create an opportunity for reps to submit their product requests. Encourage your product team to get on calls with large key accounts so they have opportunities to speak to a customer directly. 

 

In your opinion, why is it important for sales teams to have an influence over the product roadmap?

No one knows our product better than the folks who build it, but no one knows our customers like salespeople. That is why it is critical to have systems in place to vet the requests coming from salespeople. 

 

No one knows our product better than the folks who build it, but no one knows our customers like salespeople.”

 

Without sales input, products get made in a vacuum and assumptions get made about what our customers want — assumptions which are typically incorrect. Salespeople hear all day on phones what our customers are trying to do and use our product for; sometimes it’s for ways our product team never envisioned. 

We will move forward more quickly if we move forward together. The companies I’ve worked for that have been the slowest to innovate are the ones where there is little sales and product alignment. You will go further, faster together.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photo by SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock.

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