To accelerate the largest sales opportunity in our pipeline, I agreed to lead a spirited, product-oriented discussion with the prospect free from any heavy sales pressure.
It is not uncommon for Sales to pull the Product team into large deals, especially late in the sales cycle where there is a need for even greater assurance that we are a vendor on which they can rely. I have developed and shared sanitized, customer-facing roadmaps on many occasions and have even delivered custom product demos to help our Reps close their transactions.
I do have to be careful about sharing too much information prematurely. Even hinting that the product may be headed down a particular path can send an overeager Account Executive spiraling off in a wrong direction. But I do appreciate the positive impact for a potential customer to "be invited to a private meeting with the head of our Product group." I also think it is valuable to assist in efforts like these and to maintain a healthy relationship with our revenue-producing Sales team.
What drove this decision
I am firmly against letting any one customer hold sway over the roadmap and my product priorities
I was familiar with this particular prospect - indeed we had all been watching the opportunity progress over the past few months. The use case was squarely in our wheelhouse but the prospect had identified a few specific feature requests that we might not otherwise have delivered in a suitable time frame. And while I am firmly against letting any one customer hold sway over the roadmap and my product priorities, I do believe there is room for a large, active user base to weigh in on decisions about product direction.
The decision: Demonstrate an impressive pace of innovation through a series of past accomplishments and future intentions and encourage the customer to weigh in on the ongoing roadmap priorities.
Customer seem to love talking about roadmaps. Even when you lay out all the disclaimers about lack of certainty and best guess estimates, there is still enough curiosity remaining to drive a lively conversation.
I don't mind sharing our vision for the products and where I'd like to take them in the months and years ahead. There are certain paths that are quite clear to me at the moment and others that are more directional in nature.
I am also very comfortable weaving a strong product story that incorporates past achievements with current work and that extends into the not-to-distant future.
Plan of attack
As I mentioned, the meeting was not intended to be overly sales-y but the parties on both sides knew this would be another part of our pitch for their business. I built a product-focused agenda that put our offerings in the best possible light. I accentuated the products and features that were high on their list of needs, starting with items for which we had just completed development and moving to the ones that were still several months away.
Demonstrate A working version of an early prototype
Previously in the same sales process, I shared some clickable prototypes with this prospect to give them an idea of where we were headed. One prototype in particular was more relevant to their primary use case and the prospect had showed great interest at the time.
The Product and Engineering teams had since made good progress with the development of this feature so I used this opportunity to walk the prospect through a fully implemented version. The feature was intended to be the highlight of the upcoming product release so the demonstration was positioned as an early and somewhat exclusive sneak peak.
Preview unreleased features
Another keen area of interest for the prospect happened to overlap with one of my high priority product initiatives. I had been pushing our internal teams to complete the first iteration of a major component whose full delivery schedule would stretch out for many more months.
It turned out that while this initial cut was not quite ready for widespread use, it was certainly viable for use in pilot exercises like the one the prospect had scheduled. Again, we emphasized the exclusive access being offered and made sure to highlight our company's rapid pace of development.
Share detailed roadmap of prospect's most requested feature
After completing the feature demonstrations (which were well-received), I switched gears and walked through a customized product roadmap. The prospect had expressed a need for functionality that was not yet part of our product but that would represent a natural extension to the platform.
While I was careful not to make promises about specific dates, I was able to talk through a plausible plan that illustrated the incremental delivery of their requested functionality.
Unveil results of relevant internal research efforts
In a separate internal research & development initiative, I had recruited a data scientist to help us look for useful and insightful ways to share the data we were collecting around our customers' workflows. She had produced some impressive dashboard-style reports and charts that were scoring huge points with our internal stakeholders.
So, as the big finale to the conversation with our prospect, I rolled out these artifacts and tied them back to the workflows they would ultimately use in their own solutions. The resulting discussion was quite fruitful for both parties as we collectively described a future partnership filled with great potential.
The short version is that it worked! The conversation was very productive and we impressed the prospect enough to have them throw more weight behind the initiative. Nothing specific was promised but they did acknowledge our commitment to advancing the products and their unique opportunity to work with us to guide its long-term development.