Weather Alert! Sales Tornado coming

tornadoWhen anybody requests a new feature or product, of course, the first course of action (by them) is to kick, scream and promise that it will be the next great thing. There may even be demands that it is absolutely needed in order to close the biggest deal in the history of the company. No decision needed. No research needed. No thought expected. Just do it! Now. Your future is guaranteed. What are you waiting for? I call this the Sales Tornado. And, it is never around during the planning cycle. But hold on! We know from experience that this Sales Tornado probably translates from Sales-speak into, “I just got back from an interesting sales opportunity. I know they have some budget (but I am not certain), and there is this feature that I think, maybe, possibly, they would like and could maybe seal a big fat commission for me.”

So, here is how you may want to handle a potentially explosive Sales Tornado. First, check the roadmap to see if it has been previously requested and is already in-process. If it is, you could look like a hero. Alas, it probably is not. Next, ask the requestor to clarify their need and to forecast how many units at what selling price is needed. This will help determine how legitimate the opportunity is. If they want MILLIONS – assume 1% of what they ask for and do your own investigating to see if anyone else wants this feature.

Don’t bother asking the sales guy when it is needed – the request is almost always urgent and in reality, the time frame will be dictated by the prioritization and the roadmap constraints.

Armed with forecasted units and selling price, crafty product managers can break out their mathematical wizardry and understand the impact on company revenue as well as where this new request fits into the roadmap priorities. The complete request list should be prioritized based on revenue contribution until development budget funds and development capacity have been depleted. Whatever falls below this line can be considered for the next budget cycle. A rational approach.

But what to do when this very obscure feature or product is requested because it is going to “seal a deal” or has already been promised to one customer? Hold firm. Trust the numbers. Listen to the market, not the sale.

Looking from the outside in, remember that, in product management, we work hard to avoid dealing in n=1 when there are opportunities present where n=many.


One thought on “Weather Alert! Sales Tornado coming

  1. Ah, the dreaded sales input. Totally agree with you, and in my long-ish history, every time (and I mean EVERY time) I have caved in to one of these hot, must have, feature demands, it has lead to bupkis.

    Alas, sales has learnt that they can go to senior management, and circumvent your deflection tactics. However, that is usually time to start looking for a new job, if the senior management can’t have your back.

    In my last job, I was (somewhat) successful at taking these requests to sales management, in front of our division lead, and asking for a firm commitment to increased unit sales volume if we do this. That 100% lead to hemming and hawing and backing down. It had the benefit of putting the sales manager on the hook for letting down their sales person’s ego.

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