Two of the core pillars of all B2B SaaS startups are their product and sales teams. Intuitively, this makes sense. You build a great service, and then you sell it. What is less intuitive but equally critical, however, is team messaging and bridging the gap between product and sales, particularly in the early stages. Product teams tend to be largely inward-looking while sales teams are, by nature, customer-focused. This disconnect has led to many founders wondering, “how do I keep my product and sales teams on target and aligned?” In this five-part, biweekly series, we will explore this question with different companies in our portfolio.
Our company this week is Fero Labs. We spoke with Berk Birand (CEO) and Pamir Ozbay (Head of Sales and Business Development). Fero Labs is focused on developing a machine learning application to optimize industrial manufacturing. Their core customers are large enterprises that have huge manufacturing plants and complex processes. At Fero, they have a two-pronged approach to internal alignment:
1. Dual-function executives. As CEO, Berk wears both hats as salesman and engineer. He is able to strike a balance of viewing future features through the lens of a chief executive while simultaneously evaluating their feasibility and implementation timeline through the lens of an engineer. Pamir, head of sales, is also an engineer by training. He frequently delves into the weeds to better understand the capabilities of what he is selling. Both of these executives have backgrounds to understand both sides, but actively choose to bridge the gap to make sure they act as a bridge between them.
2. Stakeholder engagement. Throughout the week, everyone on in the company is able to write new ideas down on a communal board. Everyone is also allotted 5 points to vote on ideas to be prioritized during weekly product meetings, and if an idea has 5 or more points it is bumped to the top of the discussion. This helps keep meetings on target and allows active cross-team engagement throughout feature development.
Customer feedback, of course, can be massively disruptive to internal team alignment. Particularly when product feels that a customer request is out of scope for their development roadmap. Fero has the following three tips for founders who may be struggling to balance customer requests and product team satisfaction:
1. Soft requests. When a sales team member receives a difficult request, they typically approach individual product team members in offline conversations first. Through discussions with the engineers, sales members are able to more accurately assess the feasibility of a request and gauge early reactions to potential features. This “softer” approach to feature requests pays dividends down the road in bridging the gap between product and sales.
2. Demonstrate customer impact. For difficult-to-implement features, sales will try to gather as many data points as possible to demonstrate its need. It is much easier to convince a product team that a feature is critical when a sizeable proportion of your customer base is clamoring for it, and not just one particular client.
3. Underpromise, overdeliver. This is almost akin to beating a dead horse, but the axiom remains one of the core tenets of sales. Especially for early stage B2B SaaS companies, getting pulled in too many directions can mean death. For example, even when a highly requested, high-impact feature was 2-3 weeks from deployment, Pamir did not use it as leverage during sales pitches. It is critical that engineers have enough time to prepare for a confident launch, rather than one constrained by artificial timelines.
Ultimately, the consistent theme from Fero on balancing product and sales is having regular check-ins between your teams. Sales at Fero will frequently reach out to product to update sales pitches together, and product will reach out to sales on new feature roadmaps.
Berk and Pamir’s top tip for founders this week is: train a product team member on how sales functions and have them act as a bridge between product and sales or vice versa. Cross-team unity derives strongly from understanding each others’ processes so that they can mesh together effectively.
If you liked “Keeping Product and Sales Aligned: Bridging the Gap” and want to read more content from the Bowery Capital Team, check out other relevant posts from the Bowery Capital Blog. Also keep an eye out for the next part in our series on keeping your product and sales teams aligned.