Why Should Product Managers Invest in Sales Enablement?
Typical Go-to-Market Stresses for Product Managers
Product management can be an exciting, wild and fun adventure, or it can induce stressful, scary, sleepless nights. Outside of the daily effort working with the engineering teams, there are three key areas that add to the pressure cooker environment that is product management. These include supporting the volume of information request, getting visibility and support from marketing, and managing the financials. With an eye to keeping the process sane, product managers should embrace leveraging sales enablement tactics to empower a virtual team and ease the pressure.
Volume of Information Requests
Typical product manager challenges will include an inbox of unanswered questions from the field, demands from sales for support in customer presentations and the constant repetition of the same information to different individuals. They might start feeling like their time is no longer their own.
Getting Visibility and Support from Marketing
Product managers are often competing for the marketing budget, wondering why there is no company emphasis on their product, or simply not getting help in creating useful messages from the marketing team. Their products are getting lost in the marketing shuffle.
Managing the Financials
Product managers need to create a profitable business or solve a critical business need. They are challenged with identifying just how well their product meets the needs or unmet needs of their clients. The minute they’ve created the answer to yesterday’s problem, it seems like the sales teams are selling next year’s product. With a need to manage the profit and loss for a product plan, product managers are often in the dark when it comes to revenue potential.
There are common challenges that product managers face throughout the product development cycle. Exploring the common breakdowns can help with identifying opportunities to switch it up.
Lack of Clear, Concise Information
Faced with a lack of information, teammates in sales, marketing and systems engineering will do their very best to fill in the blanks with their own interpretation. Messages get muddied and the communications to the customer will become diverse from one customer to another. No single person can explain the value proposition or benefit to the customer, and the technical details are often misrepresented.
Further, as a product manager, the challenge of creating a viable business plan depends on the overall engagement with the virtual teams. Without clear concise data relating to the value and potential funnel for a product, the go-to-market plan and revenue models will be completely fictional.
Product Managers Become the Roadblock
As one single source of truth, a product manager can become overwhelmed with information requests. Every salesperson, systems engineer, and product marketer will be demanding answers. The product managers email inbox will be inundated with questions, the demands on their time will end with sleepless nights.
Create Product Momentum by Investing in Sales Enablement
Sales enablement is a relatively new practice, created to establish responsibilities around enabling the field to engage with customers. An effective sales enablement strategy covers four key areas including marketing effectiveness, customer engagement, sales effectiveness, and sales efficiency.
The practice surrounding sales enablement is described by various industry expert organizations as follows:
Sales enablement is a strategic, ongoing process that equips all client-facing employees with the ability to consistently and systematically have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s problem-solving life cycle to optimize the return on investment of the selling system. – Forrester
The activities, systems, processes, and information that support and promote knowledge-based sales interactions with clients and prospects. – Gartner
Sales enablement’s goal is to ensure that every seller has the required knowledge, skills, processes, and behaviors to optimize every interaction with buyers. – Sirius Decisions
While many product managers will dismiss the importance of working with marketing on sales enablement programs, in each of these areas, investing product management time to create subject matter experts will pay off with more time to manage everything else.
Enhance Marketing Effectiveness
Marketing effectiveness involves planning time to support the independence of the marketing and support organizations so that the product manager is not required to be involved in every interaction. Key areas to invest time with include the following:
|Pre-launch||Customer Qualification Identification Processes – Support the sales process by creating clarity for the value propositions. Identify the buyer, influencer, and decision makers to support the sales process and reduce unnecessary meetings.|
|Pre-launch||Sales Scripts and Vertical Playbooks – Invest in creating key messages, tactics, and strategies for the sales process. Be concise and direct in identifying the value propositions and differentiable value for the product. Reinforce the urgency of decision making for customers to drive immediate results for their business against return on investment (ROI) modeling.|
|Pre-launch||Deal Desk Support – Anticipate the demand for bid responses, exceptions and detailed request for proposals (RFP) and requests for information (RFI). Plan to manage the creation of boilerplate responses to common questions, prepare frequently asked questions (FAQ) documents and have an understanding of the pricing thresholds that will support the business plan.|
|Launch||Resource Management – Identify subject matter experts that can support the preparation and validation of documentation. Identify the professionals that can perform quality demos, handle executive briefing center presentations and support VIP customer presentations; create a virtual team that can step in at any time.|
|Launch||Channel Programs – If the revenue models support indirect routes to market, product managers should support the creation of marketing programs to drive the channel.|
Optimize Customer Engagement Programs
Product managers are hard-pressed to say “no” to a customer meeting but should be selective with investing time in the right meetings for the business. They should be prepared to work with the sales and systems engineering teams to support key customer engagements with concise, clear and compelling messages. With time, additional subject matter experts will learn the key messages to support these engagements and important communications as outlined below.
|Pre-launch||Customer Communications – Monitor or approve any technical documentation (release documentation, bulletins, notices, support notices). Product managers are responsible for the quality and clarity of information. Further, in the preparation of sales support materials, the product manager should carefully evaluate the ROI modeling tools for accuracy and sanity.|
|On-going||Lighthouse Account Support (MVPs & VIPs) – Consider a regular cadence, such as weekly, to review those "must win" accounts with the sales and systems engineering teams to optimize time to revenue and avoiding last-minute escalations.|
|On-going||Online Buying Experience & Online Customer Management – Monitor all online representations of the product for accuracy and clarity (blogs, support, etc.). Clear online communications will attract qualified prospects or close customers.|
|Launch||Demo Systems & Executive Briefing Center Management – Work with marketing to support the logistics and customer experience. Drive accuracy in the visual representation that promotes product values with videos, posters, catering, décor, etc.|
|Launch||Segments and Vertical Markets Specialization – Consider if the value propositions for different verticals will impact the content and visual representations for the products (i.e. finance, healthcare, transportation, etc.).|
Improve Sales Effectiveness
Possibly the most important investment is in creating champions within the organization that will be the subject matter experts (SMEs) for the product. Many early-stage meetings can be better represented with subject matter experts that are well trained in the product, which will reduce the demand for the product manager’s time. Turn sales and systems engineering into trusted advisors working with marketing on key sales effectiveness tactics:
|Pre-launch||Sales Onboarding – Support marketing in teaching the tools, processes, contacts, references and online resources relating to their product. The sooner new sales teams are trained, the sooner the demand for hand-holding reduces. Create and manage KPIs to monitor progress.|
|Pre-launch||Sales Training & Workshops – Support professional sales training for inside and outside sales; training incentives, certifications, customer communications training (customer success); the center of excellence training specialization|
|Pre-launch||Training Library – Consider creating quick online video training. These videos would be short informative demos or descriptions of features with benefits that the sales and systems engineering teams can leverage in describing the value and use of a product.|
|Launch||Coaching & Recognition – Consider "buddy" programs for new sales and systems engineering professionals to get them up to speed quickly. A product manager may also consider using inside recognition campaigns (posters, contests, quarterly reviews, sales meetings) as a way to recognize great support from the subject matter experts (and encourage peers to also excel).|
|Launch||Spiffs and Contests – Consider programs to incent the virtual teams in taking training courses, or to drive deal acceleration through customer incentive programs.|
Drive Sales Efficiency
Successful product managers are going to be monitoring the sales funnel with a keen eye to helping sales convert prospects into revenues. Objectives for this investment will include reducing the time to close and reducing time to revenues.
|Pre-launch||Process Streamlining – Explore any "order closure" roadblocks, especially those that are internal policy driven, to simplify the process of taking an order and provisioning a client with their product.|
|Pre-launch||Order Finalization – Work with marketing on product specifications, pricing and proposal templates and frequently asked questions (FAQ's). The exercise of formalizing RFP/RFI response boilerplates will drive clarity in the marketing documentation. They should also consider working with the deal desk on how to handle exceptions. This might come in the form of a demand for higher discounts than expected, legal terms and conditions beyond standard terms, product customization, language or branding requirements.|
|Launch||Sales Journey Roadmap – Work with project management to understand the customer journey, from early engagement plans to account plan support. Identify when the product management team needs to get involved if at all, to accelerate deal closure.|
|Launch||Sales Repeatability – Drive the strategy with sales and marketing on the win-loss analysis to find perfect deals. Consider the critical decisions and steps that made them the perfect deal and then package it in a detailed case study. By training sales to find "look-alike" customers, the opportunity to close more deals faster becomes inevitable.|
Engage the Power of the Virtual Team
As the center of truth for their product, the product manager is often overwhelmed with demands for information from the field. Early and constant communications, empowering the sales, systems engineering, and marketing teams will pay back in having a stronger virtual team and offloading the risk of being a bottleneck. Product managers should consider investing time in sales enablement programs to accelerate knowledge and opportunity for their product.
- Marketing effectiveness programs describe working with product marketing to create the right materials and programs that will accelerate communications, creating the right expectations with the customer. A strong marketing effectiveness program will create go-to documentation to answer the majority of duplicative emails.
- Customer engagement programs will keep the focus on the right communications, brand, image, and clarity of value, and improve win-rates for high priority accounts. With a solid customer engagement program in place, product managers can be confident that the time they invest in sales calls will be with the right account opportunities.
- Sales effectiveness programs focus on the right customers, matching the right messages to the various personas to reduce the sales cycle. A comprehensive sales effectiveness program will ensure that the sales and systems engineering teams are communicating the right messages to the right people.
- Sales efficiency programs improve order processing and onboarding processes, eliminate escalations and accelerate revenue recognition. With a focus on continuous improvement, sales efficiency programs will improve the customer experience in buying the product and will shorten time-to-revenue.
With time at a premium, early planning, training, and clear communications will provide a return on investment in having a strong, motivated, engaged and supportive team driving product success.
Further Reading on the Toptal Product Blog:
Understanding the basics
What is "sales enablement?"
Sales enablement is a catch-all term that describes the processes around marketing effectiveness, customer engagement, sales effectiveness, and sales efficiency programs, intended to improve the quality of marketing and sales communications with potential customers.
Why is sales enablement important?
Sales enablement is an important corporate function, usually driven by Marketing, to train marketing, sales, and systems engineering teams to communicate accurate information to the right potential customers, in order to close opportunities more efficiently.
Why is sales enablement important for a product manager?
Product managers invest in sales enablement to gain more time to focus on getting the product to market, reducing escalations or answering the same questions over and over. Sales enablement empowers product managers to delegate more effectively and feel secure in knowing the information being relayed is accurate.
What is the difference between “sales efficiency” and “sales effectiveness” programs in sales enablement?
Comprehensive sales effectiveness programs help the sales and systems engineering teams to communicate the right messages to the right people. With a focus on continuous improvement, sales efficiency programs will improve the customer experience process in purchasing the product and will shorten time-to-revenue.
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Member since October 26, 2018
About the author
Laurie turns ideas into results. She creates multi-million-dollar businesses in secure network and cloud service delivery.