Sales success requires strong product marketing

I'm reliving my sales days through my daughter's new job. She took a job this month as a sales rep for a wine distributor. In describing her first day, I was aghast at poor support her company provides its sales reps. She has no customer data base other than an Excel sheet of buyer names (without locations or phone numbers), no forms of any kind, not even an order form, and no product collateral. All that exists is screen shots and random flyers stored in one of three places on the T: drive. Their web site is a mess with broken links and descriptions of wine regions, no product information at all that I can find.

My mental delineation between sales and marketing is that sales people focus on customers one-at-a-time while marketing people focus on all the customers collectively. I already see that she's inclined to be a marketing person rather than a sales person because she is aching to get everything organized for everyone.

Meanwhile I can't help but step in as her mentor. I know you can't begin with automation until you know what you're doing on paper. So we started with a Day Runner from Staples. Here's a week-at-a-glance calendar for appointments plus one-page contact sheets with customer name, phone, address, and buying preferences as well as a journal of all transactions. We threw the rest of the forms away. I'm creating a CRM system using paper! Next, I plan to help her with her product marketing: she needs a one-page description of each product organized by winery and vintage.

It's sad that she first has to do product marketing before she can really do effective selling.

Of course, the danger for a new sales person is that they spend a month "getting ready to sell" and not actually making sales; sharpening pencils doesn't pay the bills. So she's pushing ahead with a largely empty portfolio by finding her customers' locations in Google, calling on them to ask how they want to buy. Her customers are teaching her what they need from her and then she'll create marketing materials based on buyer language and preference. I blogged about this recently in "Speaking in Buyer Language".

Imagine what it's like to be a new sales person at your company. Can your new sales rep find product information on the intranet? If so, is it written in vendor language or buyer language? Product marketers can't complain about sales people if the sales people don't have the tools they need to make a sale.

My daughter's latest lesson is that the sales rep gets blamed when the order is fulfilled wrong. She's spending as much time navigating her own company's operations as she is selling. Is the same true for your sales force?

With all of our technology and all of our incentives and all of our promotions, we need to make sure that we expedite the flow of data from development (product), product marketing (promotion), and product fulfillment (place) so that our sales teams can do what they do best: selling.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.

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