The Two Faced PM

A Product Manager is responsible for building products that delivers value to customers while meeting the goals of the business. As a product manager who works in B2B, I am often called on to support sales and pre-sales team in calls with prospective customers.

Now, enterprise selling was a completely new beast that I needed some time to grok. As Steve Sinofsky writes here:

Enterprise Selling is about selling a broad concept that will both endure for years and take years to fully realize, but can start delivering ROI in the near term within a known time period and cost.

Selling to enterprise is as much about demonstrating the capabilities of your product today as it is about sketching out the vision of what it will become in the quarters to come and inspiring confidence in that vision.

A Salesperson’s Optimism

One thing I have consistently seen in salespeople is their optimism. To be able to sell a product, you need to believe in the product. Only then can you convince the customer that it is the right solution for them. The best salespeople are able to sell the broader vision for the solution within the enterprise, even while overlooking certain limitations in the short term.

A Product Manager’s Skepticism

A product manager should be relentlessly focused on improving a product. Being skeptical about the product and the value it offers is essential. Only this skepticism and self-awareness can spur improvements in the product.

Finding a Balance

As a data scientist turned product manager, I tend to be super critical of the products I work on, and I tend to see flaws and areas for improvement everywhere. This often means I am prone to saying something that may not be very constructive in a sales call. You often need to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty in these instances.

If you are coming from a background in sales, you might be susceptible to the opposite problem. You are so used to seeing the glass half full that you can overlook the gaps and potential weaknesses in your product, your strategy, or your vision. An extra dose of skepticism here is essential.

As a PM, finding the balance between the sales mindset and the product mindset; between optimism and skepticism; is critical. You might have to switch between the two within the same day. You might have to be a skeptic in your quarterly retrospective in the morning while being an optimist in a sales call in the afternoon.

The optimal mix of these two can depend very much on your role and company. If you are a PM in a B2B company with a sales led go to market, becoming comfortable with this sales mindset will be critical if you want to thrive.

Govind G Nair
Govind G Nair
Senior Product Manager