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How to Implement a Successful, Headache-Free Sales-Product Feedback Loop

About the Author:

Dave Schultz (LinkedIn) is an experienced cross-functional leader with a strong background in solution consulting and product management. At Tipalti, he scaled the SC organization from 2 to 20+ and launched global virtual card backed AP solutions during his time at American Express. His strength lies in his ability to ‘translate’ information for different audiences, e.g. helping non-technical stakeholders/customers understand technical concepts and aligning key business objectives to technical teams.

Introduction

In an ideal state, the relationship between Sales and Product should be mutualistic and symbiotic, with both teams deriving significant benefits. Product receives detailed insights into the capabilities customers and prospects request, and Sales gets prioritized roadmap items to retain customers, expand TAM, and improve win rates.

In reality, the Sales-Product relationship is often fractured and confrontational. A majority of companies (55%) lack a formal process for this feedback loop (Source: Vivun State of PreSales). Beyond repairing relationships, there are tangible business impacts to getting this process right, as highlighted in the chart below.

Initiating the Process

To establish a solid, long lasting partnership, it is imperative to align Product and Sales leadership on a framework prior to implementing any steps. 

Due to our unique position straddling product expertise and closing business, Presales leadership should initiate and own the end- to-end process. Here is a three step framework to get the ball rolling:

Step 1: Conduct Product Leadership Discovery

Step 2: Engage SE/SC Team(s)

Step 3: Define a Communication Process

As you go through the above process, the team will have to collectively establish a standard operating cadence to ensure accountability and success.

What Information Should You Collect?

Opinions are listened to, but it’s data that rules the decision making process.

Next, acclimate your team to receiving critical feedback in a controlled setting: roleplays. This will build SC confidence and allow managers to assess potential. Show Solution Consultants exactly what good looks like and be clear in your expectations and instructions.

Conduct Discovery on Product leadership to determine the initial list of information to be captured by the Sales org.  

Since most companies prioritize each release based on development capacity and ROI of any features being developed, it is imperative the key levers driving the calculation are included. While each company will have their own way to calculate ROI, some universal data points exist to drive calculations.

Change Management Considerations

Introducing a new process is rarely easy. It’s human nature to resist change. A main purpose of Step Two in the ‘Initiating the Process’ section above is designed to ease this friction. 

To ensure the Presales team is committed to the new process, give them ownership through SME pods in collaboration with Product. Build small teams around appropriate product domains, industry verticals, geographies, or any grouping that makes sense for your organization. 

Set output expectations and hold the teams accountable. That may be a list of prioritized features. It may be aligning on language to use in the sales process or a future selling roadmap to use in sales cycles.

For SCs to comply with this process, it must be mandatory. For SCs to provide high-quality inputs, it must align with existing motivational structures. 

Incorporate this process into individuals’ goals or create a quarterly program for SPIFFs/bonus for those that deliver. I don’t recommend holding SCs to a certain number of feature gaps/requests submitted, because the quality of data capture will suffer.  

Don’t forget to highlight the impact their actions deliver–publicly, in front of the Sales organization and ideally to the C-Suite. Make it easy by proactively providing reports highlighting success. Create these in collaboration with Product.

A Suggested Relationship Cadence

Each SME team will define their own cadence based on needs and maturity of their domain. For example, more mature product functions may have smaller, more frequent releases, and the team may meet more frequently to discuss prioritization. Newer domains or capabilities may have changing cadences as the team initially aligns frequently on defining prioritization, and requires fewer interactions as development occurs.

What Does Success Look Like?

Creating a well-defined process is great, but how do you know if it’s impactful and adds value? It’s important to define your success criteria before the process is implemented. You’ll end up making changes along the way, but pursuing common goals keeps everyone aligned. Work with Product and Sales leadership to determine what you want to track, as it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Some potential measures are listed in the graphic below.

I’ve seen the following outcomes from a successful Preales-Product feedback loop:

  • Led to acquiring a company to expand the footprint of our product offering
  • Determined the prioritization of the next ERP integration to develop
  • Helped decide expansion into a new vertical
  • Key input into geographic expansion decision

Key Takeaways

Implementing a successful Sales-Product Feedback Loop isn’t easy, but it also doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It’s all about alignment and communication. Keep those two concepts as the foundation throughout the process and you’ll achieve results. 

Here are my learnings from  building out a highly collaborative and impactful feedback process:

  1. The SC Leader needs to drive the conversation and solution early on to gain Product buy-in
  2. Involve the SC team early in defining the right process and level of information needed
  3. Celebrate and communicate across the broader GTM organization and executive leadership. Provide visibility to what is being done to increase the cross-functional  communication flow.
  4. Develop a process for AEs to provide information to SCs when they hear of gaps on their own calls.
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