Bringing Sales Feedback into Product Development

I just read a great post by Jeff Stewart of the UrgentGroup on Sales as R&D in a startup.  The article talks about how in a start-up, your sales team is your R&D.

The wrap up to his post echos a lot of what I say to my teams:

Many engineers I talk to have the misguided “if we build it, they will come,” approach to sales.  To this I say: Bull.  In 1999, I had the chance pleasure of meeting most of the Google sales team in a hotel bar.  Let me tell you, they weren’t talking about algorithms.  While the PHDs at Google deserve a lot of credit for building a great product, we can’t forget that the innovations of the sales team developed for the company.  They are very responsible for getting Google to where it is today.

“Discovering” how to sell your product is as important as coding your software. No one likes to hear “no i won’t buy from your company” any more than they like to that their code won’t compile, but both are important vital parts of the development process.

In start-ups in particular, the sales team needs to be continually finding out what the market needs and bring that information back to the company.  And, the company needs to be able to take that information in and, diseminate which of it is real, and put that information back into building a great product.

When I founded my first firm, I had the advantage of being both the salesperson and the product designer.  While I spent most of my time funding customers, I held the CTO title.  (Gave the title up at one point to my head engineer, but ultimately took it back).  I ran a very sales driven company, and as a result, I had quite a few suitors for the company AND its products.

Of course, you need to be careful that you keep you eye on your ultimate prize in building your product, but your customers will tell you quite a bit about what the real need is in the market. If you focus on value sales, then you will be actually building something that people need, that they want, and most importantly – WHAT THEY WILL PAY FOR!