I recently attended a meetup where the topic of collaboration between different competencies in a company (i.e., product, engineering, and design) was discussed. One of the main concerns raised during the networking session was the interaction between sales and other teams. It is a topic that comes up often between engineers and designers. As if the sales team is the common enemy that everyone can rally against. It became apparent that there is a significant disconnect between the sales team and the product teams, resulting in poor collaboration.

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In most cases, this disconnect is due to differing incentives. Sales teams are the team that is most visibly responsible for bringing in revenue. Their goal is to sell as much as possible, often because their compensation is tied to it, which means they often promise everything to clients. Regardless of whether it is feasible or not. While some may argue that this is not the purpose of sales, in informal discussions, it seems that this is what many people live day to day. That salespeople feel “pressured” to sell at any cost.

The push for sales to make money is understandable. In small startups, profitability is crucial, while in larger companies, it always helps to boost the bottom line. However, this approach is not sustainable. It leads to frustration among non-sales team members who feel that they have no ownership over their work and constantly face unrealistic expectations and deadlines. Even for those in sales, the dissatisfaction arises from the inability to understand why the product and engineering teams do not deliver what they want. As if they got used to the status quo and don’t see the inherent problems with that way of operating.

The frustration stems from a flawed process. Sales teams primarily gather requirements from clients, often procurement departments, and attempt to translate them to the product teams. It turns the product development in a telephone game, where the User gets represented by the “procurement” team, and the requirements get interpreted by the Sales team and passed to the Product team. This indirect communication method is inefficient and results in misunderstandings and lost information. It hinders product teams' ability to take charge of their destiny, properly address user problems, and work with autonomy, creativity, and enjoyment.

Moreover, this broken process also negatively affects sales. Oftentimes, product teams fail to meet deadlines and deliver what is expected. Although sales may bring in the money to keep the company afloat, it impacts their reputation and slows down their progress. It becomes a cycle of escalating frustration and deteriorating collaboration.

So, what can be done differently to improve this collaboration? The first step is to sell what is already available. Rather than overselling and promising beyond the capabilities of the product, salespeople should be transparent about what the product can do and understand the customer's problem. This approach can influence future product iterations and foster collaboration between teams, acting as sparring partners who work together to frame the product as a solution.

Another crucial aspect is involving the product team early on when customers request specific features. This discussion should focus on the collective benefit, not just a single contract.

The collaboration between sales and product teams often faces conflict and poses challenges in many companies. To move towards a better Sales and Product collaboration, it is essential to involve the product team from the start of the sales process, have a joint discovery process, and sell what is truly there. By addressing these issues, we can foster a more effective and productive collaboration that benefits both teams and ultimately delivers a better quality of service to our customers.