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How to Drive Product Strategy in a B2B Sales-Driven Company

Product
Sharing The Vision

20 January, 2021

Paul Sicsic
Paul Sicsic

Life & Health Product Manager at Shift Technology

Paul Sicsic, Life & Health Product Manager at Shift Technology, explains how to drive product strategy in a company that only starts building a product after a customer is secured.

Problem

As our company was scaling, we were trying to rationalize our product development. We were gradually moving from taking on any project to taking only projects that would fit our product strategy. As a sales-driven company, we would start building a product only once it would be sold. We had a long sales and building cycle, and the sales cycle was entirely driving what we as Product were doing -- not the other way around.

We were taking on a great number of new projects that were adding functionalities and those projects were impacting our speed of execution. We were going in all directions and going in all directions didn’t allow us to go in the direction we wanted to go. There were too many opportunities and we were trying to seize them all.

Actions taken

The first thing I did was to ensure the alignment of long-term product priorities with internal stakeholders, including the pre-sales and sales teams. We never did anything like that before and it took significant effort but it was worth it. I developed a detailed roadmap to demonstrate the impact of taking on new initiatives and projects and compared those with the existing commitments. If a new customer would want something to be built we would diligently consider it; we would compare it to our roadmap and elaborate on what the impact on the roadmap would be. We would start to assess the impact in advance, whereas before we would do it three or six months into a project.

We, as the product team, had been very proactive trying to identify as early as possible all those projects that would have an impact on the roadmap. Other teams had little or no incentives to join us since their primary objective was to sell or execute.

Every two weeks I would inquire about the status of these potential projects that could have an impact on the roadmap. I would collect information on how a particular project would be developing, what the customer would be looking for, etc.

My plan was to slowly steer those deals toward the roadmap. We would try to adjust new projects either in scope or time to what was planned. We would be keen to include minor adjustments but quite reluctant to build something entirely different.

We had to further iterate the process and by iteration, I mean doing it earlier and earlier. I introduced the qualified stage, an early-stage assessment that would be less demanding to change the proposed actions. As we improved the process, I was able to update our roadmap and get close to a customer at the earliest phase. By doing so, I had to include only minor changes, not the substantive ones and people wouldn’t perceive it as steering toward the roadmap.

Lessons learned

  • Past experience is difficult to leverage in a fast-paced environment. Things would be moving rapidly and you would believe that you had learned from your past mistakes, but in effect, you hadn’t. In addition, oftentimes you will simply have no time to learn from your past mistakes because there won’t be any time off to reflect on things.
  • The earlier in a cycle you do anything, the easier it is to influence the change. Once the deal is on the table, it is too late to change most of the things and you will have to build it as it is.
  • I was initially disheartened how this self-driven cycle was impacting my ability to drive the roadmap but once I got acquainted with the process, I realized I could use it to my own benefit and create the possibility to adjust things before they would reach the execution phase.

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