The Product Manager vs. the Sales Manager
August 27, 2018

The Product Manager vs. the Sales Manager

by Brian de Haaff

“If we add this feature, we can close the biggest deal of the quarter,” says the sales manager. “But that feature is not important to the majority of our customers. And it does not align with our strategy,” says the product manager. And right here is the source of so much friction. Sound familiar?

As a product manager, you likely work closely with your sales colleagues. Just as likely, there is some tension in that relationship.

Both the product manager and the sales manager are knowledgeable about the market and the customer. And I will bet that you both feel like you are acting on what is best for the company. Yet the visions of what that success looks like might not always be completely in sync.

Product managers want to build value for customers and the company as a whole. And I am sure you appreciate and respect the job sales managers do. But in scenarios like the one I described earlier, features very rarely “close the deal” — the core value of the product does.

What do you do when you find yourself in situations where a sales manager is pushing hard for a new feature that does not align with the product strategy? Take a step back and think about the problem that the sales manager really wants to solve. (You know, like a product manager.)

To reduce friction between the product manager and the sales manager, it helps to consider the mindsets and approaches of each role.

Yes, it also helps to have an engaged executive sponsor when things get sticky and to have clarity about who ultimately makes tough product investment decisions. But your own strength and the strength of your relationships is key. No one wants a product-versus-sales standoff.

As a product manager, you are responsible for the long-term health and success of the product. You are also responsible for working closely, transparently, and respectfully with cross-functional colleagues.

So before you reject your sales colleagues’ requests as quickly as they arrive, consider the following:

Product managers are deeply passionate about the overall health and success of the product — today, tomorrow, and every day into the future. Your goals are therefore broad in scope and take many groups and areas of the business into account: marketing, sales, support, development, and even legal and finance teams. The sales manager is making product requests through the lens of their quota and achieving that quarter’s targets. Their goals are real and immediate to them, even if the request itself is not in line with the longer-term product strategy.

Both the product manager and the sales manager want to solve customer problems. The product manager’s mindset is to deliver a Complete Product Experience, informed by thinking about what is best for the most customers. The sales manager thinks more of the individual customer or prospect and how to best serve them. The sales manager’s interactions are more about demonstrating value to the specific buyer or decision-maker with purchasing power in order to close the deal.

The product manager and the sales manager both have a collaborative mindset and overlap in many of the teams they work with, but the contexts are different. Marketing, sales, and engineering are the product manager’s main partners in informing strategy and building value for customers. The sales manager works cross-functionally across all kinds of teams as needed to target potential customers and close deals.

The product manager takes a broad view of the market with a special eye towards the future. The sales manager focuses more on the present: “Who are our prospects? And who is likely to buy this quarter?” The product manager is expected to generate meaningful returns over the long-term, while the sales manager must deliver every quarter and does not have the luxury of thinking about where the market will be in three to five years.

Product managers and sales managers want the same thing — to make customers happy and to grow the business.

By working together, you can deliver a product that does that. That is not to say it will always be easy. At times, there will definitely be friction between the two groups. The key is to understand why. There is no doubt that this relationship can be healthy and productive — as long as there is transparency and clarity as to who decides what.

By supporting each other, learning from one another, and working together creatively to showcase the product’s overall value, you can really achieve something great.

What is the best way for product managers to work with sales?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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