In a B2B Company, Sales is King. Deal With It.

In a B2B Company, Sales is King. Deal With It.
Daniel Elizalde
In B2B Sales is King

As Product Managers, we like to think that our product will succeed if we listen to our users and build features to address the pain of a large market.

That is correct in principle, but unfortunately, it’s a very B2C view of the PM profession.

In B2C, you have a large number of customers who contribute a tiny portion of your revenue. Your goal is to get lots of people using your product, so the revenue contribution of each one adds up to a significant number. You are going for volume; therefore, losing a few customers here and there is not a big deal.

However, the reality of B2B Product Management is very different.

In B2B, your customers are “companies.” You might have a lot of users within those companies, but the number of companies will be significantly less than in B2C.

Having fewer customers means that every customer (i.e., company) represents a large portion of your yearly revenue.

In B2B, each deal is significant and takes time to close. That’s why B2B companies have very specialized Sales teams responsible for hunting and nurturing their accounts to close sizable deals. Sales professionals make the big buck because they are the ones who are closing these deals, and in a B2B organization, Sales is King.

I know that we’ve all read “Inspired” and all the other books on how to “say no to custom features,” “defend the product strategy,” and “think long term.”

But let’s be honest.

Every time a PM goes head-to-head with a Sales leader, chances are, the Sales leader will get their features prioritized. They are incentivized to close these deals and can’t afford to say no to a large corporation that might represent a significant percentage of the quarter’s revenue.

So, what should you do as a B2B PM?

Here are a few suggestions:

Realize the reality of your environment

Indeed, your company cannot survive as a Product company by building custom solutions. But know that, more often than not, you’ll need to work with Sales to provide features to help close a deal. Yes, your role is to reduce the risk of building the wrong product in the long term, but you won’t have a company without short-term profits.

Create a system to evaluate requests

Work with your leadership team to agree on a system to evaluate custom requests and decide how much capacity to allocate for specific customer requests. Rich Mironov has a great article on how to approach this situation.

Enable others to enhance the product

Work with Engineering to define the right interfaces to augment your product. Plan for the ability to maintain a common core and provide extensibility points for service teams to deliver custom functionality. This is a widespread model in B2B where customers expect custom functionality.

As a company, it is essential to service those customers, but that doesn’t mean you must add every custom request to the core product. Make a plan to separate the core functionality from everything else, and work with engineering to provide APIs that enable other teams to create those customizations.

This can allow new sources of revenue by empowering an internal services team or new partnerships with consulting companies that can develop and maintain custom functionality.

Recommended reading: How to Reach Scale by Avoiding One-Off Products

Build a strong relationship with Sales

Spend time understanding their objectives, how they work, and what they need to do to achieve quota. With time, you’ll build trust and create a solid collaboration and growth relationship.

Recommended keynote: How to build a discovery network to better collaborate with Sales

The Bottom Line

In a B2B business, the Sales team will have disproportionate influence. Trying to overpower them and bore them to death with speeches about being “empowered” will only hurt your chances of gaining your own influence and getting things done. A better approach is spending time with Sales, understanding how they work, how they are incentivized, and building friendships.

In my career, I’ve made many friends with Sales professionals. It can be very rewarding not only because they are often great people and are a lot of fun to be around (they are paid to do that) but also because they hold all the keys to the organization.

A Sales leader can help you navigate the red tape and be the ultimate ally when you need them most. So, while you have this post fresh in your mind, why not reach out to a Salesperson in your organization and ask them to grab lunch? You’ll have a great time, and you’ll learn a lot.


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