This article was originally published as a presentation at the Product Marketing MisUnderstood event, 2022. The talk was by Zach Roberts, Product Marketing Manager at Dropbox. Catch up on all presentations with our OnDemand feature.

Salespeople and product marketers are two sides of the same coin. While sales reps carry deals across the finish line, product marketers employ similar skills in product launches. Our biggest skill is influencing strategic outcomes; that’s the commonality that unites the two disciplines.

Just as salespeople don't make the buying decisions, we as product marketers don't build the physical product. Our job is to make selling easier, which can make it feel like we’re the drivers while our sellers are just along for the ride.

In this article, we’ll take a look at:

  • Always being closing curious,
  • The partnership between product marketing and sales,
  • Using the voice of the customer within positioning and messaging,
  • Product launches: Keep your sellers in the loop, and
  • Sales collateral.

Always be closing curious

White text on a black background that says ABC - Always Be Closing Curious - with the word 'closing' crossed out

But let's take a moment to ask ourselves, what can we learn from sales? The best sales reps I've seen are the ones who practice ABC. Not always closing, which is great to see, but always curious.

That means our sellers don't settle for face-value answers from prospects and customers. Problem solvers are looking for the bigger picture, just like we do in product marketing.

They’re keeping an eye out for the fine details: the buyers' mood, the sentiment, and the emotion behind the words from the other end of the phone. Put together, these details define the bigger picture.

The partnership between product marketing and sales

So how can we apply a bit of sales to our work as product marketers? Before I entered the world of product marketing, I spent five years in sales straight out of college. What I learned as a rep shaped a lot of what I do today in product marketing.

As a sales rep, product marketing made my job easier. Faster deal cycles and greater lead quality were two of the few things that allowed me to hit my quarterly quotas. This is why the product marketing–sales partnership is so critical.

It’s also a two-way street. As a rep, I had to become my own product marketer to be an effective seller, and what I learned then has helped me be an effective product marketer today. There’s a lot we can learn from our colleagues in sales.

I want to highlight the top three responsibilities of a product marketer, which were cited in the State of Product Marketing Report 2021: product positioning and messaging, managing product launches, and sales collateral. I can tell you from my own experience that the ability to execute these responsibilities skillfully also contributes to sellers’ success.

The State of Product Marketing Report 2022 has launched! Check out this year’s fresh stats and insights on the product marketing landscape.

Throughout this article, I’ll delve into how these skills can help our sellers, and what we can learn from them to hone these crafts.

Product positioning and messaging: the voice of the customer, not the voice of the product.

When I took on my first full-cycle sales role, I was learning from one of my colleagues, and he shared these words with me: “We have the best product, and teachers love it.” When I asked him why we should be passionate about the product and why teachers should buy it, his answer was simply a list of features.

As people, we don't buy features. We don't buy products. We buy solutions. We buy stories. The work we do in product marketing speaks to that. Product features alone don't drive sales. If they did, both marketers and sellers would be out of work.

Tune in to Storyselling, a podcast where Elliott Rayner, storytelling expert, and Chief Marketing Officer at ARION, explores effective storytelling in the field of product marketing.

That begs the question – if we're not here to drone on about a list of features that anyone can find on our website, how do we approach positioning? The best way to do it is by thinking about the question that always came to my mind when I was talking to customers: what problem is the feature solving for?

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

I think of this quote a lot. I know Ms. Angelou was not thinking of the psychology of selling when she penned these words; nonetheless, they apply to our profession. According to The Science of Selling by David Hoffeld, nearly half of a sale depends on how your prospect or customer feels.

This is why messaging matters in sales. It falls on sellers to identify what the buyer cares about, share the benefits of the proposed solutions, and then show how the features support the solution. The benefit should always come before the features.

Let me tell you what I loved about selling. When I talked to customers and shared the benefits of our product with them, I could see, I could hear, and could feel how that resonated. This gave me the space to test and refine messaging, and when I could do that, I could identify areas where I’d be able to better position our solution and tailor it to their world.

At the end of the day, who cares what I think about the product if it's not the best fit for the customer I'm talking to? With that in mind, salespeople can help product marketers by battle-testing messaging. They can tell us what's working and what's not. It's not enough to build your messaging during launch and leave it be once the product is out the door.

Let's make it a goal each month to shadow at least five sales calls from our most junior to our OG tenured reps. Let’s talk to them and examine won and lost deals. Get the play-by-play. What pain points motivated the purchase? What benefit resonated most?

Questions like this help to validate what's working. They also aid us in identifying opportunities to further tailor our messaging and position it to segments or personas across the sales cycle.

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Product launches: Keep your sellers in the loop

Back when I was a seller, I would often be sitting at my desk early in the morning, trying to gear up for the day ahead. Then I’d get that call from a customer. Before I could even say hello, I’d hear, “What happened to the website?” Usually, I was in the same boat as the customer. That was the first I’d heard about any kind of issue.

If you’ve ever been on the front lines of a customer-facing role, you may have experienced this too. There’s been some change in the user experience, and nobody, from sales to customer support, seems to be aware of it.

This is what I dreaded most about product launches as a rep: being the last to know and then feeling that whiplash effect of having to play support. Don't be the organization where sales are the last to know about a launch.

Don't get me wrong, playing support lent me extra credibility with my customers, but while I was guiding customers through these issues, I wasn’t out there selling. And, at the end of the day, sales teams operate on quotas. They evaluate their success on whether they hit their numbers or not. They’re happy to help, but with a sales goal in mind. That’s something that both we as product marketers and sellers can share: helping with a goal in mind.

Sales collateral

As with product marketing, sales’ success is built on relationships, and, as I mentioned earlier, our job as product marketers is to help make selling easier. What’srelevant for sellers to know that'll help them build rapport and credibility with our customers? If we can answer that question with tools, training, and assets, we're making our job easier by helping sellers do theirs.

Sales assets - choose your weapon
If the initial point of contact with a prospective customer is a battle, sales assets are the weapons you equip your reps with, and better equipped sales reps close more deals, it’s a fact.

Let’s think about these three avenues. A helpful tool could be a spreadsheet of accounts where your new product may be relevant, based on segment, persona, and industry.

Training involves sharing with your sellers how best to talk about the new product. How do they share this news with our customers? What's relevant for sellers to know? How will this position them to be the expert in those conversations?

Finally, we have collateral. How do we use collateral to facilitate these conversations? When I think of sales collateral, one-pagers are the first thing that comes to mind. As a rep, I gravitated toward any collateral that saved me time explaining a feature or helped me socialize a new idea, product, or solution among decision-makers.

The challenge at times is that collateral has too much noise in it. It seems like we want to throw all these features and ideas into a one-pager that sometimes extends to two or three. Then we hand it off to sales and say, “Use it,” without a clear picture of how it's going to be used or why.

When I was in sales, when I got any sales collateral, whether that be a one-pager, a demo, or a customer story, I had just one question: how is this going to help me move the deal forward?

Let’s think about this from the customer's perspective. What does the customer want? They want to identify the problem they care about most. Can they see themselves in the narrative we’re pushing out? Does the one-page, the demo, or the customer story resonate with them? Can the reps then use that story to paint a picture?

As we said before, it is not about what we say so much as it is how we make that person feel. We want our customers to feel heard. We want them to feel seen. That makes it easier to position our solution because if it's helped someone facing a similar challenge, we can guarantee it’s going to help that customer.

Your customers are talking, but are you listening?
The most effective PMMs know their customers inside out. Becoming the ‘voice of the customer’ means uncovering customer pain, digging deep into buyer personas and creating messaging and positioning that resonates.

What's valuable to our prospects and customers is how our solution will help them save time, reduce costs, or make more money. You'd be surprised at how helpful these principles are in bringing whatever collateral we bring to life.

Product marketers talk a lot about selling solutions. The question is, how do we position our reps and make that easier? Customers don't buy features. They buy the solutions that are most likely to help them win.

No one recognizes air until they don’t have it. When we do our jobs right, salespeople don't notice. That is how it's supposed to be. Our work as product marketers is to help provide that air for reps to continue to deliver their best work. To do that, all we have to do is be a bit more curious about what their work entails.