After being invited to participate in our mid-year, internal Sales team rally, I decided to deliver a rousing product presentation to get the troops pumped up.
Over the course of my career, I have spent months embedded with various Sales teams and I would recommend it for any aspiring Product Manager looking to better understand their stakeholders. Some of their customs, however, may still be a bit peculiar, at least to me. In particular, there is this practice of routinely gathering the entire Sales team for an entire day or two, typically somewhere away from the office with the intent of re-energizing everyone.
I know that the Sales team, like most other teams, have their own set of priorities and that they don't often stay as connected to the products as I would prefer. So I find it valuable to take advantage of occasions like this to better "align" myself and our products with the Sales team.
What drove this decision
We had recently hired some new folks into the Sales ranks over the past few months and the entire team had been focused on rolling out an updated sales process with our revamped Marketing team. This meant less bandwidth for absorbing the last few rounds of product updates.
Everyone in the company is invited to attend our monthly Release Previews of course but Sales attendance, in particular had been somewhat spotty for awhile.
Now, with this mostly captive audience, I had a chance to focus everyone's attention on our Products and to remind the team how much progress we have made in the last six months.
The decision: Weave together a powerful before/after story that relates the numerous product enhancements as well as our impressive rate of innovation to stir the team and inspire them to carry that message to our customers.
I can't blame our Sales reps for settling into a comfortable routine and sticking with a story that works for them. Asking them to change up their narrative every time we release new software is a little unrealistic. But I knew that the product improvements we had made over the past six months had been significant and would have a big positive impact on the way we all were engaging with our customers.
Our company had indeed devoted a great deal of time to understanding our customers' pain and I knew we could speak to that confidently. But I had sat in on enough product demos to know that there were plenty of rough spots - areas of the product that didn't show particularly well. Much of the Product effort in the first half of the year went to address these specific issues and our story needed to be refreshed to incorporate every one of those Product improvements.
Plan of attack
They gave me 60 minutes to dazzle the troops.
They gave me 60 minutes to dazzle the troops. Even the best slides would not likely keep their collective attention for that long so I supplemented a PowerPoint presentation with live product demos and tantalizing prototypes to help keep them captivated.
The goal for me was to have everyone walk away with renewed pride in our company's product and more importantly, for each of them to feel even more confident that we were truly the best option for solving our customers' problems.
Create a backdrop for the main narrative
The first step was to set up a familiar context around which I could piece together the different elements of the story. As a framework for my slides, I decided to use a 1-page diagram I had created months earlier as a sales aid to help orient our prospects and drive productive sales discussions. I began by highlighting a number of improvements I had made in this iteration of the diagram to help me grab the team's attention at the very start.
Show old screenshots highlighting the known bad spots
The next step was easy. I found old screenshots from the recent past and positioned them on top of the diagram. This had the intended effect of reminding everyone how hard it once was to brag about our solution. During the presentation, I intentionally exaggerated the struggles associated with this familiar but outdated description of our product - but concluded that this awesome team was still able to sell that version. The good news is that it wouldn't get any worse!
Replace with new screenshots
Then, one by one, I swapped in the new hotness. Gradually, I unfolded our updated story to the group showing how all our pain points had been (or would soon be) addressed. Even better, the Product team had introduced entirely new features that helped to strengthen our overall story. The resulting picture not only improved on the known problems but gave the Sales team even more talking points and would help them address customer issues that we might have dodged in the past.
Tease with early prototypes
But wait - there's more! Stacking up all the existing enhancements on a single slide was certainly effective but to really energize the crowd, I then switched gears and started demoing some of the new stuff that was just around the corner.
Using live code that was still working its way through QA along with fancy, clickable prototypes created by our UX team, I began to weave an even stronger narrative for our Sales team to use immediately with their prospects and customers.
My talk had the intended effect and I was certainly encouraged by all the positive feedback from the team. I do realize that the real payoff for the company will only come when they carry this updated story to the front lines.
I remember days in recent past where Sales Engineers would brush past certain areas of the product or skip them entirely hoping that the prospect wouldn't notice. I also remember the collective cringe when a savvy customer would ask to explore the next level of detail behind a particularly well-manicured product demonstration.
With this presentation, I made it clear that we would no longer have to avoid those areas of our product. Instead, I urged our team to intentionally stop and even linger at certain points in the demo to prompt more productive conversations. I wanted our customers to ask those tough questions and engage further with us. We had even more reasons to be proud of our company's products and what's more, could now point to an impressive rate of product improvement over the past six months.