Aim For Balance: Stop Saying Sales vs. Product Driven Company

Anna Cockell

Companies often tout themselves as “product” or “sales” driven, meaning these teams are the ones behind the big decisions and strategy. Cutting through the noise, these are the teams that are perceived as the most valuable and influential.

On the surface, you may think calling yourself “product-driven” shows how innovative you are or saying you’re “sales-driven” shows that you value your customers but this is a huge mistake. You aren’t unifying your company, you’re dividing it.

Instead of weighing one more heavily than the other, aim to have a balanced company where every team works together, understanding and respecting the role of other teams in the company’s success.

The problem with labels

Maybe you think labeling yourself as “product-first” or “sales-driven” is a great way you galvanize your teams and customers. But look under the hood at any company with this mindset, and you’ll see the cracks. You’re actually excluding people from feeling like their contribution is valued.

If I’m on the sales team at a “product-first” company, I may feel like my insights hold less weight than the product managers, even though I’m the person talking to customers every day. On the flip side–if I’m a product manager at a “sales-driven” company, I may feel like my vision is hijacked by the sales team and their most demanding customers.

This causes tension and an unproductive cross-functional dynamic where each team resents the other. When in fact, there would be no revenue without a great product; without great salespeople, nobody would use the product; and without great marketing, nobody would know the product existed. Everybody contributes to the overall success of the company.

It’s a balancing act

If every team contributes to success, what’s holding companies back from having a more balanced approach? If there is not a focus at the leadership level to consider each team’s influence appropriately and recognize contributions across the company, you can’t achieve a healthy culture of balance. It takes strong leadership and vision to guide the teams in this direction–especially with the many personalities and opinions that assert themselves along the way.

For example, a company may default to a product-first mindset because the leaders have strong opinions about the market and their place in it, which is fantastic. But that doesn’t mean that input from customer-facing teams should take a backseat.

Idolizing one team over another won’t create more revenue, or a better product, or lead your company to be wildly successful. Only recognizing how each role plays a key part in the success of the whole will. Sales and success teams provide valuable insight into the real, tangible needs of customers. Product teams and engineering push the company to innovate and be forward-thinking. Marketing delivers the message about the company’s vision to the world.

Inclusive, not exclusive

How do you become a balanced company? The first step is to make space for cross-team recognition and partnership. A few ways you can do that include:

  • Create a segment in the company all-hands meeting or newsletter to give shout-outs from other teams. I.e. the sales team thanks the product team for jumping on a call to talk about the roadmap; an engineer thanks a salesperson for closing the first deal including a feature they built; etc.
  • Adopt tools that help increase collaboration across teams (Momentum!)
  • Educate people about the role and value of teams outside their direct org by holding lunch and learns or a rotating team spotlight in the company newsletter.

THowever you do it, the goal should be to create balance across the company by creating inclusive processes where each team is valued and their contributions to the company’s success are recognized. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a stellar product vision or listen to your customer’s requests. It does mean that you don’t do one thing exclusively over the other.

Momentum is is a sales coordination platform for driving your sales process and deal desk in Slack.

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Anna Cockell

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