How To Cultivate Collaboration Between Product and Sales Teams

By Dave Hurt, CEO and Co-Founder of Verb Data

The sales paradigm has been shifting for quite some time. Teams across industries are moving from a solo approach to more collaborative efforts, with managers leveraging different tools and talent within the organization to make the sales process more efficient. Salespeople no longer work as an isolated unit, and this change has brought on better results overall.    

One of the biggest trends is data-based sales tactics that provide a much more personalized and detailed approach when reaching out to customers. According to a LinkedIn report, 56% of professionals stated that they use data to target accounts, and the use of sales intelligence tools increased 54% between 2018 and 2020. 

In the spirit of maintaining this collaborative environment, business managers need to employ strategies that foster communication between sales teams and other areas. Particularly in SaaS companies, product teams can significantly support the work of these professionals and vice versa. Let’s take a look at how.

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Both teams have different incentives

In my experience as CEO and co-founder of Verb, I have worked with many SaaS businesses. Way too often, I have noticed that the relationship between sales and product professionals tends to be contentious. As one sales leader told Harvard Business Review, “I haven’t talked to the product team in years.”  

The picture is familiar: Sales representatives usually ask for features based on what they think the customers want because they try to anticipate any possible objections. Their goal is to close the deal as their commissions depend on this, so, logically, they want to have a solution ready for any possible scenario. This mentality has led them to have global growth that could be worth $140.63 billion this year.

On the other hand, the product team acts as the gatekeeper of what gets built into the software. And usually, they are inclined to refuse these kinds of requests because developing even the simplest feature takes a significant number of resources and time. Their perspective isn’t one of a marketer or a salesperson, meaning that they might not see the suggestions actually improving the product in the long run.

Dashboards are a great example of this. Representatives find them very useful in their pitches because they enhance the demo of the software, which helps them get the prospect’s approval. However, dashboards can require approximately six months to get built, with engineers’ putting immense effort into them. 

This situation shows how divergent the incentives for both areas are, which is also the most significant challenge when creating a collaborative environment. The commission system in which most sales professionals operate imposes short-term goals, whereas product departments have annual key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead them to more long-term thinking. So, how can you align both stimuli? 

Learning to work together 

Although it might be fruitless to argue over who “wins” in this power dynamic – as both departments are crucial to every organizations’ operations – sales take a slight advantage, in my perspective. Businesses can only exist and prosper if they have customers that buy what they’re selling. Without anyone reaching customers with your value proposition, there simply wouldn’t be any company.

In this regard, it is essential to make the product team understand the value of feedback from sales professionals. It’s salespeople who are in the front lines and know better than most the needs and requirements of final users. And although developers might disregard salespeoples’ input because it doesn’t adjust to the product methodology, they should be inspired to see the suggestions as free user research. Down the line, it will help improve the software if team members can figure out how to make the most of these comments. 

Successful managers are the ones that find a balance between both groups’ interests: They can work to marry sales professionals’ demands and product developers’ long-term approach to building the best software. There are two strategies that businesses can implement to help reach that equilibrium.

The first one centers around the input stage. When working on new ideas or coming up with novel features, salespeople should be involved. Whether through a form or a frequent meeting, the goal is to get prospects’ comments or suggestions to reach the people in charge of providing solutions for their needs. 

The second one can be deployed at the output stage. Frequently, developers will release a feature without properly training their co-workers or with the implementation details going unmentioned. This affects sales pitches and reduces their effectiveness. To remedy the situation, managers should establish a communication protocol that involves set actions such as training sessions.

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To Recap: Three Steps Towards Change

  • Mindset Shift: Starting from top management, there needs to be a disposition adjustment to collaboration throughout the company. This way, sales professionals will be able to get the support they need from multiple departments. The contributions of data and product teams are vital.
  • Input Stage: Implement a straightforward strategy to incorporate ideas into the product development process. These can come from anywhere in the organization, and, granted, some might not be as useful, but they can become the stepping stone for future ideas or functionalities. My recommendation would be a weekly meeting or an online form that anyone can access.
  • Output Stage: Improve the communication during the output stage when rolling new features or a new product. This will keep sales representatives in the loop about what will happen, and it’ll also strengthen the knowledge they have of the software, which is their primary resource when selling.

This way, both teams will be putting a by-product of their day-to-day to the benefit of the other. In the end, this dynamic will help create a more supportive environment for those involved with customers’ needs, which is the ultimate goal for SaaS companies.

Business ReviewCEOcollaborationcollaborative environmentDave HurtGuestincentivesleveraging toolsOperationsproductSaaS businessesSales TeamsSalespeopleVERBVerb Data