20/30: Understanding Sales as a PM

Did you know the theory of the product lifecycle dates back to 1966? Developed by the American economist Raymond Vernon, his theory focused on U.S. exports, and to this day still explains the stages of a product’s development.

Vernon divided products into three categories:

  • New

  • Maturing

  • Standardized

And the five stages of the lifecycle:

  • Introduction

  • Growth

  • Maturity

  • Saturation

  • Abandonment

You’ll recognize a similar split in modern software product development. We talk about zero-to-one products, growth stage products, and established products. In terms of lifecycle stages, today we break out “Introduction” to “Product Development” and “Market Introduction” (or Product Launch).

Now why is this 56-year-old theory still relevant for product people?

Because it’s a tried-and-tested blueprint for not only how to launch, market, distribute, and sell a product, but also how to sunset it after the market becomes saturated and customers start abandoning the solution.

Product development is a continuous activity and it permeates all product lifecycle stages. We never stop developing product.

But all stages are equally important in the life of a product. And that includes sales.

Product development is meaningless unless it captures value for the business by delivering value to customers. Selling is an integral part of that process.

It can sometimes feel like you're frenemies with your sales colleagues, because in misaligned orgs, the friction between the two sides can be hard to overcome.

But when you and your sales friends find a common language and work together for the benefit of your customers and company, beautiful things happen.

We are, all of us together, marketing our product. The role of product management has only increased in this process over time, from product-led growth (PLG) to product-led sales (PLS).

Regardless of what the method may be, sales and selling remains an integral element of the product lifecycle.

And therefore important for you as a product manager.


How should product work with sales?

How should you go about finding a common language? Why are we so often at odds with each other? How can you organize sales and product to ensure we are moving in the same direction? Let’s put our product hat on…

What is the context and the problem?

  • Tech companies often work in silos. The separation between departmental processes, practices, and modes of communication can make it difficult to align and understand what’s going on in other parts of your org, especially at scale.

  • Incentives are sometimes misaligned. While your sales peers are incentivized to sell as much as possible with the incentive of earning commission on each closed deal, regardless of the lifetime value of the customer they bring in, you and your product team are penalized if the same customer fails to adopt and use the product.

  • Sales is a dynamic field that can move faster than product. While B2B sales cycles can sometimes be longer than product development cycles, often sales is able to close deals fairly quickly. Sometimes that means additional work for product teams. Maybe it’s a third-party integration, customization, new feature request as a contractual commitment, or just a particularly active and vocal customer with many requests.

So what can you do about it?

  • Build relationships. Get to know your audience and talk to your sales peers. Understand what drives them, how they are incentivized, and where your misalignment lives. Work with them intentionally to bridge these gaps.

  • Advocate for alignment within your organization. Lead the way by making your work transparent and accessible, and regularly communicate what you are doing to your sales org. Create channels for two-way communication to keep everyone in the loop. You’ll be amazed how much positive feedback this will generate.

  • Remember you are both business functions. Rally around the core of both your and the function of your sales peers — marketing the product. Talk pricing, positioning, GTM, market and industry trends & chatter. Understand the world of prospects, and bring your world closer to Sales.

  • Shadow sales calls. Learn from what prospects are saying to create feedback loops back into product. Surface interesting insights and ask your sales peers to validate frequency.

  • Create more feedback loops. Funnel insights from your discovery back to Sales in a structured, digested format. Ask them to help you validate discovery insights from a market perspective. Your insights will help sales perform their job better.

And remember, we’re all on the same team. The next time your sales peers bring you a feature request, listen to it, ask questions about it, understand where it came from. Don’t assume bad intent and respond with a knee-jerk “no.”


21/30: Understanding Marketing & GTM Strategy