GM chronicles : A product guy learns about sales and marketing

So I’m a GM now :). Learning by writing is my thang so the next few posts will be about all things GM. Hopefully, fellow GMs and my core constituency of product folks will find this interesting and useful! The GM role in tech companies is a broad role that is accountable for a commercial (revenue and or profit) number. A GM has three levers of Product, Sales, and Marketing to achieve this outcome. Coming from a product and engineering background it was instructive to me to understand how sales and marketing differ from the product and engineering function. These are my observations/learnings from the few months on the job!

Credit: Scott Adams

Outcomes are binary and feedback is immediate

Sales and marketing are all about getting customers to activate and continue spending (time or money or both). EVERY DAY this is flashed in front of you. The results are right there – if what you did doesn’t result in an activation event, it did not work. You live and die by the numbers. This feedback is immediate. This takes a bit getting used coming from the product world where timelines are a bit longer. When you are a PM, you have to use various layers of indirection to get to your desired outcome. You focus on some direct revenue activities and some table stakes customer experience metrics and some tech debt – you get the drift. Sales and Marketing are all about getting that revenue! You have to be ultra commercial.

Goals are the same but the incentives are different

At a high level every functional group (marketing, sales, product, and engineering) is aligned on the same goal – serve the customer need and grow a business. However, the incentive of each functional group and how they work towards this goal is different. Product teams always approach the goal with an empathetic customer lens. Their incentive is to provide a customer with a superior solution and amazing experience, customer satisfaction and scale is what they ultimately get rewarded for. Marketing teams approach the problem with a lens of effective customer acquisition and retention. For sales teams is all about how to get to the actual revenue event (making a sale) and continuing to get revenue (retention). Dollars in the bank is what incentivizes them. Most sales teams have performance incentives and quotas – hitting numbers affects their livelihood directly.

It’s about will and motivation

Since the outcomes are binary and the outcomes literally affect your livelihood there is a lot to be said about will and motivation. The clock resets every quota period (typically monthly or quarterly). It gives new meaning to the phrase “its a marathon and not a sprint”. Every month restarts from scratch and you have to build momentum again and again to hit your number. This is very different from product teams – it is very rare that you have a complete reset every month – you don’t start building a new product every month!

However, all hope is not lost! There are a ton of areas where coming from a product background really sets you up for success in this role. That’s up next.

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