While I was at Ford, a well respected technology leader suggested I see three parts of the company: Product Development, Manufacturing and Marketing. This was good advice at the time, since I was in the Ford College Graduate program and would rotate into four different business units over the next two years.
From a tech perspective, early exposure to these three worlds at a company the size of Ford was interesting because I quickly learned how difficult it is to get all of these disciplines to speak the same language. For instance, a common complaint in the auto industry is around the divide between manufacturing and design. A perfect example of this break in communication was the Pontiac Aztek. Pontiac’s designers, lead by Tom Peters, designed something like this:
Unfortunately, the world got this:
In building early stage software companies, I have noticed an interesting parallel occurs between sales and product. While having a sophisticated product marketing team can provide a great amount of customer perspective, it is rarely as unrefined and expansive as raw sales feedback from the customer to the product manager and dev team’s ears. Through the product marketing funnel, miscommunications happen, things get rationalized, prioritized, de-prioritized and lost. That’s what the process is designed to do.
Of course, raw data directly from the sales team can be messy and difficult to organize. For example, an AE says he lost a deal because a product feed during testing is slower than expected for a large prospective client. That’s just one data point. However, what if 10 different prospective clients expressed the same concern but in different ways? How do you consistently capture that? What if those ten instances happened in a month, a week or even a day? Would the frequency of occurrence effect the urgency of a change?
Frankly, I have not yet figured out the best way to capture and prioritize this raw data, so I would love for my readers to share their ideas on the subject. At the companies where I have worked we’ve tried a number of different tactics, including Jira, Google sheets, Excel, frequent meetings between sales and product and more, but we were never able to find the be all end all tool to help capture this valuable data.
Bridging the gap between these two channels is a difficult yet worthwhile pursuit, as their cohesion is an essential part of growing ARPU in your developing SaaS company. As such, here are some basic questions to ask yourself during your most noble endeavor:
- Does your sales team understand your product?
- Does your product team listen to sales calls?
- Is your sales team speaking to the right customers (it’s ok if you don’t know who is exactly the target customer yet)
- Are they leveraging a strong discovery based sales process (chances are, they are probably not)
- Are you capturing the product feedback from customers communicated to sales in some way?
Whether the team is pre-seed or a series D company seeking to grow ARPU with a new division, these are basic thought starters for emerging SaaS companies. Your company DNA can be centered around product or sales, but to sustainably grow ARPU there needs to be a synaptic level of efficiency in the communication between these two organizations.