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Keeping Product and Sales Aligned: Customer Engagement

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Michael Brown

July 15, 2019
Street Cred Randy Post

Keeping Product and Sales Aligned: Customer EngagementTwo of the core pillars of all B2B SaaS startups are their product and sales teams. Therefore, these teams must be well-aligned and cohesive. Product teams tend to be largely inward-looking while sales teams are, by nature, customer-focused. This disconnect may be exacerbated, in part, due to a lack of customer engagement. In this five-part, biweekly series, we will explore different approaches to product and sales alignment with different companies in our portfolio. Last time, we explored keeping product and sales aligned with Fero Labs. Read about it here.

Our company this week is StreetCred. We spoke with Randy Meech, the CEO. StreetCred has been developing a platform in order to incentivize the collection and maintenance of global point of interest data. The primary customers for StreetCred are large companies looking to understand the flow and density of consumers throughout the day. StreetCred is very early stage, with only five full-time team members at the time of writing. As they continue to scale, StreetCred relies on these three pillars to ensure internal alignment:

1. Design for the end-user. From the beginning of product development, StreetCred has consistently and actively focused on their end user. Particularly since their platform requires data entry by non-business users, it must have low barrier to entry. Keeping the end user in mind is critical when prioritizing feature development. StreetCred actually released several live betas in New York and LA to engage end users more effectively.

2. There is no perfect product. It can be easy to dig yourself into a hole with product development. “Just one more feature cycle, and then we can release it.” Just release the product. As long as the product is somewhat serviceable, it makes far more sense to get a beta into customers’ hands rather than bouncing it within an internal team. Of course, don’t release a product if it fundamentally does not work. This can prevent internal logjams over feature development and build customers engagement.

3. Optimal team size. When teams are too large, there is no longer an effective flow of ideas. Discussions tend to be dominated by the loudest voices in the room, which may breed resentment. When a team is too small, however, there isn’t enough idea generation and validation. Randy’s wealth of prior founding experience has taught him the ideal team size tends to hover between 4 and 7 members. This size allows everyone the ability to drive topics while still providing enough external pressure-testing opportunity.

Incorporating external feedback from customers into development cycles can throw off the ability to keep product and sales aligned. Due to StreetCred’s relatively young age, they frequently run the risk of being stretched too thin too soon. Randy suggests the following three tips to help keep product and sales aligned while improving customer engagement:

1. Leading engagement. Similar to the first two points above, don’t be afraid to iterate with your customers. Once the product is in a customer’s hands, Randy actively initiates conversations on feature development. This active engagement allows them to guardrail the narrative while incorporating customer feedback. Product teams are then less likely to receive an overwhelming amount of difficult requests.

2. Invest strategically. It is inevitable in the world of B2B SaaS sales, that a customer will ask for a difficult-to-implement feature. When Randy and his team receives these requests, his first decision point is, “how will this feature impact future customer uptake?” Product team time is one of the most valuable currencies that CEOs must balance. Investing this time strategically with features that improves future sales success demonstrates to both product and sales that the roadmap makes sense.

3. Limit customization. Everybody wants a custom feature. The difficulty with custom features is that they typically are only applicable to a small fraction of customers. Related to the previous point on investing strategically, it is important to assess how generalized a custom feature can be. Furthermore, it can be difficult to contain the increasing volume of custom requests once the dialogue moves in that direction. It is largely up to the sales team to contain the extent of custom requests they sell to customers.

The consistent theme from StreetCred is a constant stream of product reflection and customer engagement. Consistently evaluating product/market fit with live tests and active customer outreach has been a key driver of their success.

Randy’s top tip for founders this week is: find your customers early and work with them to refine your product. Understand the depth of customer asks and how they may impact your development in both the long and short term. Your ideal customer will sometimes deviate from what you expected. Finding these customers and working with them to perfect your product can prevent many a sleepless night.

If you liked “Keeping Product and Sales Aligned: Customer Engagement” 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.