PMM Careers: Humility and the Wall of Sales

Product marketers have an awesome job: position the company and the category it sits in, tell the story of how the world has changed, and articulate what’s different and valuable about your product.

Your work shows up in every story your company tells the market, on the website, to industry analysts, and in every marketing channel and asset. Pretty cool. 

But your work must also land with your sales team. We ask our sales teams to go face-to-face with their customers and tell our stories, every day.

The Wall of Sales

I’ve watched hundreds of product marketers start out doing great work in the marketing channel, on the website, at events, and then suddenly struggle because they commit unforced errors when they work with the sales team. A bright, creative, high-integrity product marketer with wins under his belt, suddenly gets feedback that no one is using his work, he’s slowing down deals, and he’s making leadership question the product marketing team’s ability and his own. He has hit the Wall of Sales. Ouch!

So you’re flat on your back, bruises on your face, and staring up at the Wall of Sales. What gives?

Root Cause: a Lack of Humility with Sales

Sales people have a harder job than you do, and if you don’t understand the truth of that, the Wall of Sales will be there to hold you back in your career. Most sales people are experts at human relationships, so they’re not going to beat you over the head with their challenges and their qualifications. Some product marketers hit the Wall of Sales because they think that sales people are not as smart and not as valuable as we are. Wrong.

The simplest, most effective, but most time-consuming solution to this is to take a few years in your career to be a sales person. I did this mid-career. Can’t recommend it enough. Go carry a bag and a sales quota. Live with the uncertainty and anxiety of meeting a black-and-white goal in a dynamic environment. You’ll learn quickly that things that sound great in the ivory tower can fall flat, or even set sales people back, in reality.

Getting Past the Wall of Sales

Here’s the good news, product marketers can drive more revenue by being better partners to sales, even without spending years carrying a bag, by doing the work to develop humility with sales.

1) Do the research. 
If you haven’t ‘ridden along’ with sales people while they’re cold-calling, and on web/in-person sales calls, you don’t have the right to guide them on what to say. So ask them if you can listen in or help. Sales people would love to include you if you let them quarterback your behavior, possibly including keeping your mouth shut, especially if you’re younger. The show isn’t about you.

2) Be a team player, and let sales be your quarterback. 
Most sales people have a plan. If you show up with humility and say “lead me, tell me how I can help you, what role you want me to play” you’ll build trust. Sometimes this might be to help them find a customer success story they can use with a prospect — or an introduction to a happy customer who can be a reference. Sometimes it will be to share plans for an upcoming product release. And sometimes it will be to chase down a data sheet. Sometimes it will be to make sure the projector is working.

3) Use your product marketing superpowers
Great sales people position themselves as senior advisors to their customers. They need to demonstrate that they understand the customer’s business and challenges, spend time with the customer’s senior executives, and they can’t ‘break role’ by spending their personal time sharing detailed product capabilities or with junior people. 

As the product person in the room you can play naive: “Your account team briefed me on your business but I don’t quite understand the pressures you’re most worried about in the long run.” Answering this question makes customers feel better about your company.

You can ask questions that help qualify a deal and build a business case: “Your current approach seems to be working, and your business seems to be doing great. So what’s driving you to think about making a change?”

You can  connect with folks lower down in the customer’s hierarchy and understand their concerns. Set up time with operational, more junior folks, you’ll get inside scoop you can share with the account team, and make the people you talk to feel like you’re a good partner.

You can demonstrate your company’s customer-centricity. “The product team is constantly making improvements based on customer feedback. What are the pieces of the product that are the best fit for you, and which things should we improve to work better for your business?” 

Product marketing can be a powerful enabler of sales. And by working with sales, with humility, you’ll hear things every day that give you a new idea for talking about your product, a new feature idea, a marketing campaign. And you’ll also help the sales person close her deal. 

You can climb the wall of sales, and you will have more success.

Moss Beach

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s