Ask the Expert

Product Request? 5 Ways Sales Reps Can Spur Development.

Product Request? 5 Ways Sales Reps Can Spur Development.
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Q: What is the most effective way to push for product development as a salesperson?
-- Evan Buhler
Nashville, Tenn.

A: Unfortunately, at many companies, the scenario is all too familiar: desperate to close a deal, a sales representative promises a new feature or function that a prospect requests. Meanwhile, that element isn’t on the roadmap or even in alignment with where the vendor wants to go. Back at headquarters, product management’s response: “You said we’d do what?!”

*Face palm* It’s an example of what not to do. Rather than add value to the prospect conversation, the rogue promise often causes undue stress within the rep’s organization, and, when not carried out, can have a damaging effect on renewals and a company’s overall reputation.

So should sales stay out of product development altogether? Absolutely not. Sales reps are often closest to the market and closest to customers, so their input is quite valuable. Still, there are good tactics and bad ones for reps to use when effecting product change. Here are five ways to be most influential:

Related: Why You Have a Lot Fewer Sales Leads to Follow Than You Think

1. Demonstrate customer need

Companies are always seeking more wallet share from their customers. So if customers are interested in new products or features -- or if they’re buying items from competitors that the rep’s company doesn’t have -- new development can make sense. Also, if a rep brings a deal to the table with lots of revenue attached to it, along with a feature ask -- that can be impactful.

Caveat: The request typically shouldn’t be an isolated one. Because you can’t be jumping all over the place as a business to add every new product or feature, reps need to present trends and show alignment with -- and understanding of -- their company’s vision and future direction.

2. Drive customer conversations

It helps for others to speak directly to the customer as well. At Brainshark, we often pull product management and development, and even myself and our CTO, into sales discussions to better understand customers’ requests and requirements. Then the case goes from the rep talking about a customer, to the customer talking directly to the business -- which carries more weight.

Related: Selling for a Startup? Make Yourself Essential. Become a 'Pipeline' for Consumer Feedback.

3. Get strength in numbers

Sometimes it seems like every salesperson has a customer that wants "just this one little thing." So when reps can socialize an idea and demonstrate support from others within their organization -- peers, as well as sales management, sales enablement, product management, etc., as high as they can go -- the ask becomes more of a trending issue, and less of a one-off request. By having other voices from the company participate, salespeople can also demonstrate they’re being strategic, not simply opportunistic, with their request.

4. Put on a businessperson hat

Reps also gain credibility by speaking in business terms and making a business case. It’s important they take off the salesperson blinders – where they’re focused on what a request can do for them or their customer – and instead show pervasive business impact.

That means doing some research ahead of time. They could say things like: “Here’s what the market is showing.” “Here’s how big this market opportunity could be.” “By doing X, we could sell more of Y.” “Here’s how this could increase our margins.” “Here’s what we’re seeing from competitors.” “Here’s where we’re at risk and competitors are gaining ground,” etc.

5. Form a council

As a best practice, organizations can assemble a sales advisory council – consisting of reps that reflect the overall sales population, as well as sales leadership and enablement. Goals are varied. In addition to influencing process change and corporate initiatives, the council can also serve as a feedback funnel to product management – collecting rep input, and providing proactive and market-driven suggestions to spark dialog on a recurring basis, so requests don’t come in piecemeal. The council should also communicate updates back to reps at large, so they can see the results of their input.

Every company has finite resources and constantly makes decisions about how to deploy them most effectively and advantageously – with bigger implications than reps might realize. Of course, there are often instances when product requests can’t be met, and it’s important reps don’t default to sour grapes.

Salespeople can set themselves up for increased success in the future by continuing to act as a conduit -- communicating needs from customers and the market -- and getting experts involved quickly, while speaking the language of the business.

Related: The 3 Main Reasons You're Not Closing the Deal