Nobody likes being criticized, even when they know it might be good for them.
If you build things for a living, that discomfort can make honest feedback difficult to find — it’s hard to ask for, hard to offer, and hard to receive.
But if you sell things for a living, you know a surefire way to short-circuit those social filters: ask someone for money, and they tend to get really honest.
Bringing product people into those brass-tacks discussions doesn’t come naturally for a lot of companies. But Henry Schuck, ZoomInfo’s founder and CEO, says a company really can’t deliver its best products unless the people building them hear directly from skeptical prospects.
“What happens on a sales call is pretty magical,” Schuck says. “The most honest feedback comes at that moment. For people who built that product to not be front and center when that’s happening is a huge loss.”
Bringing your product team to the sales floor doesn’t just benefit the product roadmap. It can also enhance the customer and prospect experience, elevate the conversation, and ultimately help close more deals.
Pulling product leads into sales calls isn’t an easy shift to manage. But if you agree that the upside is more than worth it, here are some ways to make the change work for both teams.
The Value of Immediate Feedback
Because product teams run on tight timelines, product managers may push back against requests that distract from their next sprint.
Schuck’s advice? Make it happen anyway — the upside for product teams vastly outweighs the time crunch it may cause.
“At ZoomInfo, we use conversation intelligence and call recordings through Chorus to review all our sales calls, but ultimately that’s a shortcut,” Schuck says. “It’s not a replacement for being in the seat with salespeople when you get punched in the teeth by the prospect.”
During a live call, product managers get real feedback in real time — smiles, blank stares, indifference — and can address it directly by reinforcing a talking point, mentioning a related feature, or referring to an upcoming enhancement. For the product team, these unfiltered reactions also help orient, inform, or reframe elements of the product roadmap, leading to better products.
Collaboration Between Product and Sales Builds Empathy
Having product and sales work together can also build morale and strengthen relationships by helping both teams understand each others’ struggles and priorities.
Product managers and engineers can see the roadblocks sales teams face and experience firsthand the challenges of product-specific objections. Not only can they address these objections and add context to the call, they will get a front-row seat to how hard selling can be.
Being on a sales call can also close another empathy gap — the one between the product team and your customers.
“Product people don’t talk to customers all the time,” says Jo Zichterman, a ZoomInfo data analyst who frequently joins sales calls as a product expert. “It’s hard to know what is and isn’t connecting with people until you say it out loud and hear how it’s received. That experience can help identify disconnection between product and end users.”
Bridging this divide can help developers see customers as real people rather than abstracts. While they may remain focused on the details — that’s essentially their job — regular contact with buyers can help them prioritize and focus on the details that matter most to your customers.
Close Bigger Deals, Build Visionary Products
Just as salespeople like to swap cold-calling tactics or best practices for a demo, product developers and engineers like to be challenged and inspired by how things are built at other companies.
“When you’re on a sales call, you can get new ideas from customers as they talk about their world and add new things to your roadmap. Understanding how other companies approach their own product challenges can be really exciting when you’re used to just viewing things from your own perspective,” Zichterman says.
A 2021 survey from the Pragmatic Institute found that among product professionals, uncovering new market opportunities isn’t happening nearly enough. In the survey, 39% reported zero hours interviewing current customers, and 69% spent zero hours interviewing prospects.
At ZoomInfo, using sales calls for inspiration is more than a best practice — it’s a must-have. Product managers are expected to regularly listen to sales calls and write up a summary. As Schuck likes to say: “What on the product roadmap started on a call? Show me.”
From a sales perspective, having a product manager on a call is especially valuable when speaking with enterprise-level prospects and customers. They can express a long-term vision that goes beyond the immediate sales cycle and can get customers fired up about a potential partnership.
“Major customers want to see ambition. They want to see behind the curtain and that you’re going to grow,” says Kolby Martineau, a ZoomInfo senior sales manager who frequently partners with product teams on sales calls.
It’s important to build alignment between where a prospect wants to go and where your product is headed, especially when you’re trying to win long-term commitments from large customers.
“Customers want to know the long-term plan. Nobody wants to partner with a company that doesn’t have a direction, even if it’s not necessarily one that you agree on,” Martineau says. “An enterprise business leader is not spending money on a company that doesn’t have a vision, and that’s something that a product team can absolutely speak to.”
How to Bring Sales and Product Management Together
Before you start sending around calendar invites, consider these best practices from Zichterman and Martineau about when to include product and engineering on sales calls, and how to make collaboration effective.
- Protect your experts. Your product team is a limited resource with a high opportunity cost. Use it strategically, especially as your company scales. “It’s a good tool that you can use, but there are multiple tools available to close a deal,” Martineau says.
- Use your product and engineering team as a carrot to bring decision-makers to the table, but guide the conversation so the product team isn’t stuck in an endless loop of feature requests.
- As the salesperson, you’re still in charge of the conversation and closing the deal. Do not expect your product or engineering teams to go through the call or run the demo unless it’s been discussed — and practiced — beforehand.
- Don’t pull in the product team unless you’re certain they’re ready to speak to their area of expertise. The best-case scenario is that they bring helpful knowledge. The worst case is overwhelming your prospect with too many details too early in the sale.
- Find the areas where your product or engineering colleagues can learn and grow. Find call opportunities with different types of customers, regardless of deal size, with fresh or unusual business use cases.
- Have a conversation before your product team meets the customer. Review what’s already been discussed, let them know what their role is and what the call’s objective is, and generally put fences around the conversation.