“Remove the fear, and people will be more willing to pay you. People don’t like uncertainty—especially when they have to pay for it.”Jason Fried, Basecamp Co-Founder & CEO

A lot can be learned by speaking with the people in the trenches, those that work with customers day in and day out.

In a sales-driven organization—or any organization with a sales function—salespeople are learning from every sales interactions. They learn about needs, expectations, and objections.

For this reason, many business stakeholders view the insights that sales staff gather as the voice of the customer. Unfortunately, it’s often not so simple. Sales teams have their own agenda.

As Lean Enterprise co-authors Trevor Owens and Obie Fernandez say: “Salespeople are masters of confirmation bias; their work often depends on finding encouragement in signals that others would deem negative”.

It’s not uncommon for product leaders working in sales-driven organizations to feel like they’re taking orders, building feature after feature to close deals.

Salespeople are incentivized through commissions. When large deals are about to close, they stand to profit. Their mind isn’t always on the product experience. Often, sales staff will overcommit, and will request features that don’t fully solve the customer problems.

Over time, the product can end up becoming bloated, with more features than necessary.

Learning from sales interactions is critical. To make sure you’re learning the right things, you can:

  • join in on demo or sales calls;
  • record and analyze sales calls using tools like Gong or Chorus.ai;
  • train sales staff teaching them to ask the right questions; and
  • collect information after the fact through interviews.

The fewer ears there are between what the customer says and you, the more reliable the information will be.

How to Know Which Sales Interactions to Prioritize

Before agreeing to jump on a call, it’s a good idea to review call participants. This will help make sure that you’re learning the right things from the right people.

Sales staff can help you uncover and map:

  • customer pain points;
  • buying triggers;
  • motivators;
  • benefits that connect with prospects;
  • initiating stakeholders;
  • emotional drivers (e.g. I’m going to lose my job);
  • desired outcomes;
  • budgets and budget owners;
  • objections;
  • fears and anxieties;
  • internal decision-making processes;
  • the organizational context;
  • roles of the decision-makers; and
  • the mandatory requirements.

That’s a lot of valuable information that can be used to improve your positioning and sales process.

Questions to Learn From Sales Teams

You can use the following questions to get the ball rolling:

  • Who generally initiates the purchase? What are their roles?
  • What are the typical buying triggers? Why now?
  • What are the main [ Problems / Jobs ] that they’re trying to address?
  • What factors tend to positively or negatively influence the sales process?
  • What [ Benefits / Arguments ] work best?
  • What are the most common objections?
  • Who also gets involved in decision-making?
  • Who are the four or six people who make the decision?
  • Do prospects need to ask for approval before purchasing new tools or technology?
  • All things considered, what is the “typical” length of the approval process?
  • Before buying, how much are they spending to do what the product does?
  • How much value does the product add for them?
  • When do you know that the sale is guaranteed to close?

You can learn more systematically (and effectively) if you can get the sales team to help out. Cindy Alvarez, principal group product manager at Microsoft, recommends training sales staff to help them better define customer needs.

This can be as simple as following up any feature requests with two questions:

  • How would it make your life better?
  • What would it allow you to do?

The right process can make this a win-win, making customers feel more involved in decision-making. Customers tend to view sales interactions that end with “we’ll let the product team know” as being a bit dismissive.

How to Dig Deeper

The best way to go beyond surface-level answers is to use Toyota’s Five Whys interrogative questioning, asking “why” after each answer until you get to the root cause. This technique can be used whenever a prospect or customer expresses new needs or asks for new functionalities.

Here’s an example of Five Why questioning:

“We need a system that will manage and deliver information on time.”

  1. Why? Because information is incomplete and disorganized.
  2. Why? Because there are different ways to manage information in the organization.
  3. Why? Because the rules for organizing content aren’t always enforced.
  4. Why? Because there’s no clear way to communicate the guidelines.
  5. Why? Because there’s no central place to share this information.

By systematically capturing core Jobs to be Done, prospect reasoning, and the language used by prospects and customers, the insights gained are useful in helping to guide product development. There’s a good chance that your team will be able to solve customer issues one way or another. Getting to the root cause will help you get clarity, and will reduce the risk of building the wrong functionalities.

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This post in an excerpt from Solving Product. If you enjoyed the content, you'll love the new book. You can download the first 3 chapters here →.

Categories: Customer Research Technique