The What’s Working/What’s Not/What Needs Improvement Product Feedback Process with Sales

A few of my client have recently asked "How do I get Sales more involved with our Product Roadmap process"? I've always taken the view it's imperative to involve your Sales team, they are your eyes and ears and have the pulse of customers, prospects and the market. I then give them an outline that's Simple and Common Sense. I like when you can turn complex situations and processes into simple, straightforward direction that people immediately say "I get it" and can then execute it. Here's the outline I share:

 

Purpose:

-Get direct feedback from your Sales team on their view of our Products in the Market. They have the most contact and should be your “eyes and ears”

-Involving Sales creates increased alignment between them and the rest of the company

-Creates additional sales accountability for the product and their bookings goals if they are part of improving it and by extension improving the Company results

 

Process:

 

1.     Create a quick question guide the Product/Marketing can give to the sales team.

 

a.     What are the things that are working with your Product for customers and Prospects today? Please bullet these things

 

b.     What are the things that are not working with your Product for customers and Prospects today? Please bullet these things

 

c.     If you had 1 strategic thing the Product team could improve your Product with what would that be?

 

d.     If we created that Product Improvement how much additional bookings do you think this would produce?

 

e.     Give the team 2-3 weeks to get responses back. Involve sales management to insure their answers are timely and well thought through

 

2.     Combine all the feedback into a Score sheet to evaluate the responses, consistency of their product improvement asks and get direct clarification from the sales reps if there are questions on their feedback. You should see some pattern of consistency in their asks.

 

3.     Validate the feedback with the Sales Management team to insure they are aligned with their teams feedback and then get them to force rank the top 3 Product Improvements from their perspective and how much additional bookings will result from this

 

4.     Discuss this feedback with Client Management, Product and Technology to have them weigh in on the feedback.

 

a.     Is there agreement in what needs to be built

 

b.     How difficult and timely are the Product Improvements the Sales team has asked so we can fit into the Product Roadmap timeline

 

c.     Sales Bookings Input will be helpful as well to the prioritization process. Ie What is the “bang for the buck” in each new Product add

 

5.     Marketing gets independent feedback on What’s Working/Not/Improvement from some Select Existing Client Interviews, as well as, Select Prospect Interviews

 

6.     Keep Sales Management in the loop on what improvements have been chosen, when they will be delivered and how you’d like that communicated to the individual Sales team members

 

7.     Repeat this process once per quarter

 

a.     Keeps alignment with Sales

 

b.     Keeps a process for continuous feedback into the company from the Sales “eyes and ears”

 

c.     Gives comfort to rest of the management team that we are all Product aligned

Listening to your Sales Team on Product Market feedback

I’ve always been a big believer that your sales team feedback is a critical learning tool for your company. Whether it’s startup, turnaround or established organization gathering, filtering and acting upon feedback you receive from sales is critical. Sometimes they’re your best source for the voice-of-the market and the voice-of-the client. Here are some steps I encourage my clients to do capture sales feedback.

Gather their feedback through open-ended questions. These are fairly straightforward but can reveal powerful understanding. Here are some examples:

            -What do our customers like the most about our Product?

            -What do they like the least?

            -If they could improve the Product in a meaningful way what would that be?

            -What do they like about our competitor’s products?

            -What, if anything, do they hate about the competitor’s products?

Next Filter the feedback by bringing some of the necessary business accountability into their answers. Here are some examples:

-If you were the CEO or Head of Product and could only do one thing what would it be?

-If we were to build that how much additional business could you get?

-How would this distance our product/company v. the competition?

-How would you market this improvement to the product?

Finally, it’s time to Act on the feedback. You’ve asked for their input, you’ve filtered their responses now you must act on this. Stating the obvious this is critical to your sales force believing you are listening, believe you value their feedback and usually is a rallying cry for the sales team to become even more supportive of both the CEO, Head of Product and the company.

This isn’t rocket science but it does amaze me how few companies do this at all or do this well. They feel they have all the answers or sales aren’t sophisticated to provide the necessary feedback as reasons for not taking the Gather, Filter, and Act steps. The key is asking the right questions, filtering for detailed clarity and then acting on the feedback. It’s powerful in its simplicity and the insights you will compile. 

What makes a Startup Sales Person different?

I love when I talk to recruiters who ask the basic sales questions for recruiting sales people:

 

-What % of quota were you?

 

-How big is your rolodex?

 

-How many people did you manage (if you’re a sales manager or wannabe)?

 

They seem to focus just on these types of questions and not the stage of company they are hiring for. I believe there’s a huge difference in the sales skills of a start-up Sales executive or manager and an established large company looking to hire that sales talent. The basics can be simplified I believe into a military analogy. Start-up sales peoples are the Navy Seals, Large Company sales talent is the Army Infantry. By in large I’ve found this to be true across all of the companies I’ve worked for, advised or consulted with. Let’s dig a little deeper.

 

Who are the Navy Seals and why are they such a special and rare breed? This Inc article explains some of their character beliefs, http://www.inc.com/brent-gleeson/7-motivational-navy-seal-sayings-will-kick-your-butt-into-gear.html

 

The one I liked the best to get my point across. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”. This is so very true in startups. Quality sales people and leaders are hybrid skill sets always improvising and looking for the best innovative avenue to build a relationship, sell their value and close a sale. They employ high IQ and EQ, they have sales, marketing and business development skills and they can adapt to whatever is thrown at them without necessarily a plan. The most successful startup sales people I worked with asked lots of questions got lots of information from the market, prospects and other execs and then improvised the unique plan that would land them an account.

 

The Navy Seal is a different person from the Army Infantry. The Army Infantry is an execution machine and an excellent sales person for the right stage. They understand a plan, how to execute that plan with attention to detail and relentlessly follow through until complete. When a company is established, has case studies, existing accounts and a credible name the Army Infantry sales person is an excellent fit. In fact in a lot of cases they are better than the Navy seal for this assignment.

 

So when you’re thinking of your next sales hires, recognize the stage you’re really at and hire the right fit, the Navy Seal for startup, the Army Infantry for established companies.

Your Follow-through leads to Trust and Respect

One simple thing leaders can do that builds trust and respect amongst peers, higher-ups, clients and prospects. It’s Follow-thru. When you say you’re going to do something do it. Whether it’s provide an introduction, send a document, attend a meeting, whatever the item you said you’d do as nike says just do it.

 

This is one item I try to do with all my clients, my friends and people I meet, follow-through. The more I do it the more people Trust what I say. The more they trust me the more they believe in me, my strategies for success and gain the mutual respect that allows us to gain short-term results with impressive team bonds. It’s kind of simple really but sooo many people I met don’t follow-through. I don’t know the answer really, maybe they’re too busy, the person they promised suddenly isn’t that important to them or sometimes they simply forget.



Remember your commitments, however small they are, follow through and your team, clients and prospects will help you deliver the success you want.


Parallels of Team Sports and Business

Superbowl madness is upon us. As a longtime New Englander, I am so excited. I’m looking forward to a great game filled with hard-hits, excellent execution and some strategic surprises on both sides of the ball.  

Football hype on the mind is not such a bad thing: there are parallels between sports’ teams and business teams.

1.    Everyone really understands their role and passionately focus on their role.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick points out, “Just do your job”.  In order to do this each player needs to understand not only the specific gameplay and endgame of their position, but also how their role fits into the whole team’s strategy. Excellent leaders in sports and business get this across.

I encourage Startups to focus on building the right team – smart, informed and absolutely invested in playing the game.

2.    Team members need to trust and respect one another.

I remember coaching my kids’ sports teams. I thought it would be straightforward, but then along came the ‘prima donnas.’ The player who knew he/she was the fastest and simply wouldn’t pass.  And, no matter how talented this player was, their self-centered attitude ultimately hurt the team.  Their “I’m in for myself” attitude scored a goal about 10% of the time.  The passing game has better odds.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same thing in business.  A star salesman doesn’t like to do certain product pitches to the detriment of the team.  Even worse, this player blames or denounces others for team results. The end result the company’s vision is diminished.

The ultimate team has players who trust and respect  each other; willing to take on responsibilities that might not be in their job description and share ideas freely. Business players include the Board and Investors, the Executive Management and all executives and individual contributors. 

I’ve seen trust create winning teams.

3.    The Team takes on the character of the leader if successful

The Patriots have taken on a lot of Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft’s personality: no-nonsense, focused, intense; not a lot of hype. The coach rarely singles out an individual and so the team players choose to run onto the field as a team.

Pete Carroll, coach of the Seahawks gets excited, is a little brash.  The players likewise play into the hype; they have enthusiasm and more of an individual identity.

Note: both personalities work because team members acknowledge and work with the leader’s personality to create the team personality. Richard Sherman (brash, cocky, outspoken) playing for Belichick I don’t think would work. Vince Wilfork (focused, quiet, deflecting his accolades to the team) playing for Carroll, I don’t think that would work either. 

Having a team personality does not take away from differences of personality --- Tom Brady/Gronk.  In business, yes there are personality differences – this is good. But there should be a buy-in to the businesses culture, an understanding of common business values and motivations. The cultural story is created by the company’s leader(s).

4.    Alignment

Not sure this is a sports term.  Everyone needs to be on the same game plan. The coach works with the leading players to formulate the game plan, makes sure the leading players are “on the same page”. Then, collectively, they communicate and gain more “buy-in” from the remainder of the team. 

In business the CEO has to formulate the strategy (the game plan) with the functional leaders of the company. This is a give and take process where debate is encouraged. But when the strategy is agreed upon, it needs to be relentlessly adhered to for the rest of the team to buy-in. When a team does, a beautiful alignment and a zealous adherence to the mission heighten the teams’ chance for success.

So whether your invested in the outcome of Sunday’s game or not, look for the business takeaways.

GO PATS!!

Why Coaching? Reflection on Eric Schmidt’s comments in How Google Works

This past holiday I travelled overseas with my family.  I needed a couple of books for the dreaded flight. I fired up my Kindle and downloaded a few business books, despite my wife’s protests to leave business behind (it’s in my DNA). The book that really held my attention was How Google Works authored by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google.

As I’m in the process of growing my business in this new freelance economy, one part of the book caught my eye: Schmidt’s comments on executive advisors and coaches. I’m paraphrasing, Schmidt. He stated that one of the investors at Google offered to introduce him to a CEO coach. He didn’t feel this was a real need. Why would he use such a coach? However, after six months Schmidt reflected on this decision: professional athletes need help, guidance and coaching to get top performance, why shouldn’t startup executives do the same thing? As I read this I too reflected on my own CEO experiences. I have benefitted from coaches; people who were looking out for my best interests as well as the company’s best interests. They didn’t have agendas like some investors and team members. They did have years of experience ‘in the trenches,’ making really good and not-so-good decisions. Why wouldn’t I want this input and advice? I took as much of it as I could. I’m not sure I followed every word of advice, but I always felt that I learned from these advisors’ stories. 

Trusted Advisors are worth every penny or piece of equity you provide. 

Advisors look and evaluate your team objectively answering questions such as: Are they working effectively together? Are they executing on plan? What do they need to improve their skills and performance?  

Advisors evaluate your product/market fit. Are clients really buying? Can this be grown quickly? What’s the competitive environment? Based upon experience what is going to jump out at you around the bend as you move forward? 

Advisors help you scale your go-to market strategy. Is the product ready to scale? Do you have the proof points? How do we get our product pushed or pulled into the market and what’s the best financial manner to do this? 

As an advisor, I can attest to being excited to be designated coach. It’s a blast to help entrepreneurs, listen to their worries and provide the strategic guidance and hand-on execution that helps them build their dream. In my entrepreneurial past the most excitement and enthusiasm came from helping the founders learn, addressing concerns and assisting in growing a business. 

I’ve never met Eric Schmidt but he’s a smart man to employ trusted advisors to help him build his business.