Inside Olivine #14
🤝 Building a good relationship with Sales with Clayton Pritchard
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I’m Clayton, the guest author of this month’s Inside Olivine newsletter. I’m a marketing leader with 12 years of experience in product marketing and growth marketing, and currently, I’m using that experience as a consultant with Olivine Marketplace. When I’m not creating product positioning or go-to-market plans, I’m nomading around the US and sharing my food adventures on Instagram (@thebobanerd).
Most PMMs focus on building a good relationship with Product but neglect their relationship with Sales
Product marketing is one of an organization's most collaborative roles. To effectively do their job, product marketers must work with and influence Product, Design, Marketing, and Sales, to name a few. But while most PMMs spend time building a great relationship with Product, they completely neglect Sales. It’s understandable that influencing the product roadmap is more fun than making a sales deck. But ignoring the revenue-generating side of the business is a huge mistake.
The sales team relationship is particularly important as one of the main channels to gather insights from the market. A sales org is a scaled, always-on market research team giving you insights on the customer, how messaging is landing, and what the competitors are up to. Plus, without Sales, most of your work won't see the light of day. The sales team is a primary channel for rolling out messaging, positioning, pricing, and product launches to customers and prospects. So, ensuring you build a good relationship with your sales counterparts is key to being a successful product marketer.
First Step: Understand your audience
One of the keys to success when developing messaging, positioning, pricing, etc., is to fully understand your audience first, including their goals, challenges, incentives, and influencers. You need to do similar research when it comes to Sales so that you can collaborate to drive revenue.
Through formal 1:1s and casual lunch or coffee chats, get to know the leaders and individual contributors on the team. Ask them about their goals. Their overarching goal will always be a revenue target, but are they focused on increasing the top of the funnel, expanding current accounts, improving the close rates, growing the average order value, or something else? These goals will also differ depending on their role, even between account executives and sales development reps (SDRs). For instance, SDRs usually have a quote for the number of meetings they set, while an account executive is purely tracked on their closed revenue. Some sales folks might be focused on long-term strategic accounts while others might be on high-velocity sales.
Understand the root problems
Then, ask them what they believe is keeping them from reaching that goal or what would make it easier. They'll often default to how they think product marketing can help by requesting assets, but digging deeper and finding what they feel is the root of the problem is more impactful. They may say they need a new one-pager to explain a feature, but you might find out it's because prospects don't understand it from the pitch. A new one-pager could be helpful, but creating new messaging for Sales would likely be more beneficial.
Over time, you'll learn the tendencies of different sales reps, but generally, take everything with a grain of salt. I've found a lot of account executives who believe they could win every deal if certain things were updated in the product or if they only had the right sales enablement. That's rarely the case. Also, you'll find some reps will over-report the size of their deals, so when reviewing why the team lost or won deals, make sure you look more for trends across the sales team and multiple deals.
Shadow their meetings
One of the best ways to understand the sales team's day-to-day is to shadow them in their prospect meetings. Don’t ask them to invite you to their upcoming “good calls”, they’ll forget. Just go sit next to them or snoop on their calendar and ask to be invited to specific meetings. You'll get to experience the sales calls, the objections from prospects, and how they handle them. Plus, you'll get to ask them questions after the call to improve your understanding. If you cannot shadow them, the next best thing is to review recordings of their calls and then follow up with your questions later.
Please note: getting value from sales calls is like dating. You won’t meet the love of your life on the first date. Many times PMMs say they went to two meetings and didn’t get value from it so they stopped. The value is in the volume!
Stay out of the way
Another key to collaborating with sales is understanding their busy times. Most sales teams work on a quarterly quota, but some are monthly or even a combination of the two. Make sure you know how your team is set up because they'll be much more giving of their time at the beginning of their cycle than at the end. You also won't want to implement new pricing or messaging in the last couple of weeks of their cycle. That is a surefire recipe for pissing off sales and botching your rollout.
Second Step: Explain your role & add value
Product marketing is a relatively new role that many of your partners are likely still trying to understand, especially since it can differ across companies and stages. So, as part of those discussions with the sales team, make sure you take the time to explain your role at your company and how you foresee working together. This is your time to set initial expectations, let them know your current projects, and share how you prioritize. Salespeople are extrinsically motivated and focused on surpassing their quota, so as you'd expect, they will be most interested in how you're going to help them make more money.
Be specific about the value you add
Make sure you share specifically how you'll bring value to their day-to-day. Share what projects you're currently working on or have planned that will answer some of their concerns. Then, make sure you deliver on those. An essential part of building any relationship is showing that you're dependable, and that's just as true with Sales. Also, look for a few quick wins right out of the gate. Bigger projects are obviously more meaningful, but smaller, faster projects let you speed up the process of showing value and building trust.
But be a partner, not a servant
However, ensure Sales also realizes you’re not a servant organization to them. At the end of the day, we’re all working together and helping each other to reach common business goals. Product Marketing doesn’t exist purely to create sales collateral or run sales trainings. There are many other things you need to do in terms of market research, go-to-market plans, messaging development, and pricing strategy. Sales enablement is just one piece of your overall purview.
Third Step: Get alignment at the leadership level
Building relationships with the individual contributors on the sales team is essential. Still, it's most important to build that relationship at the leadership level, especially if you're on a small product marketing team without a dedicated product marketing leader or, of course, if you are the PMM leader. Ensure you have alignment initially and work with them when making significant changes. Introducing changes to the rest of the sales team will be much easier if you're aligned at the leadership level first because it ensures they'll back you up, and they'll be able to assist in answering questions from the individual sales reps.
Be the bridge between sales and product
Meeting with sales leadership also gives you the ability to be a bridge between Sales and your other partners, especially Product. You can gather sales insights to share with Product, as well as, share product priorities with Sales. Another great way to build your relationship with both partners is to spearhead setting up quarterly strategy sessions. It also helps to keep you from always being the go-between.
Fourth Step: Nurture the relationship
As with every relationship, nurturing your relationship with Sales will be an ongoing process. The initial conversations are essential, but they are just the beginning. Have regular, at least informal check-ins with the individual contributors on the sales team, and schedule more formal 1:1s with the sales leadership so that everyone understands what's going on in the other's world.
Gather feedback from sales after launches
A critical piece is getting insights from the sales team when creating new messaging, pricing, and sales enablement and then getting feedback from them once it launches. Sales teams are your eyes and ears on the "front lines," so gathering their feedback is critical to judging the success of your launch. Of course, take each individual's input with a grain of salt, but use it to look for trends across the organization or to inform your 1:1 interviews with customers and prospects.
Beta test with your sales team
Treat the sales team similarly to how you might treat a group of trusted customers and nurture the relationship over time. One other pro tip: "soft launch" your trainings, messaging updates, pricing tweaks, and other changes to a subset of the sales team just like you would beta test an important feature before launching it to your whole customer base. That way, you can get initial feedback you can incorporate before the rest of the team sees it. Look for those sales reps who are more experimental and more excited about what's going on with Marketing and Product. There's always at least one, and if you're lucky, you might have a couple.
Put in the work
I know some marketers have contentious relationships with their sales counterparts, but it doesn't have to be. It just takes effort, like any other professional or personal relationship. Put in the work, and you'll reap the benefits with better insights from the "front lines" and smoother product, pricing, and messaging launches.
You have more work to do if they're "going rogue" and updating one-pagers or sales decks without you. Neither of you wants that to be happening, so if it is, then it means there is a lack of trust, so that's your sign to dig in and figure out where you need to improve the relationship.
There’s a lot of anxiety about the future of the economy, especially in tech, where we’re seeing significant drops in stock value and an increase in layoffs. But, Garnter’s forecast of 2023 enterprise software spending is a reminder that there are still deals to be had. The focus needs to be solving acute problems your customers have and making messaging that makes it clear. Businesses are no longer buying software they see as a “nice-to-have” like they might have been a year ago, but they’re still spending money on software that drives business value.
Tool I love
The Eye Dropper Chrome extension lets you grab the Hex, RGB, or HSL of the color on any website. It comes in handy when trying to match a deck or one-pager with the color pallet of your logo or website without bothering your client or designer.
A new category of marketing software has recently emerged: interactive demos. Interactive demos give prospective customers the feeling of trying your product without needing to talk to Sales. Multiple players exist in the space, including Navattic, Reprise, Walnut, Storylane, and Tourial. Navattic recently ran an A/B test with one of their customers and saw that an interactive demo converted website visitors to free trials at 450% vs. a demo video.
Social media marketing is a space that’s constantly changing as new platforms come onto the scene and others adapt. Hootsuite put together a list of 160+ social media stats to consider as you put together your strategy for 2023.
Thanks for having me this month! Message me on LinkedIn if you have any questions or just to let me know what you liked from this month’s Inside Olivine!
— Clayton Pritchard 🍦
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Wheelhouse is hiring a remote Product Marketing Lead.
Muck Rack is hiring a remote Director of Product Marketing.
StyleSeat is hiring a remote Director of Product Marketing based in the US.
Softheon is hiring a remote or onsite Director of Product Marketing in Stony Brook, NY.
See more open roles on Olivine’s job board.
P.S. We’ve got an invite-only Slack community for PMMs. Feel free to apply here.