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Dealing with constant one-off feature requests

Have you ever had someone come to you and say, “we need to develop a doohickey feature right away, or the customer will leave!” or “I need this feature by the end of the quarter to close the biggest deal we’ve ever had.” If you’ve been a product manager for any time, I’m guessing you have. This dynamic is commonplace in software companies or at least in B2B software companies and often leads to a tense relationship with Sales. Product managers will complain that “surprise customer features” are disruptive and that salespeople are awful. Instead of getting angry and complaining, product managers need to step back and recognize that the sales team drives revenue. Without sales, it’s difficult for the rest of the organization to get paid, so it’s extremely beneficial to find constructive ways to navigate these situations.

Although it won’t be an overnight change, you can take steps to mitigate the challenges while also building a healthier and more collaborative relationship with your sales team.

Communicate your product vision and strategy

If you haven’t articulated product vision, strategy, and roadmap, then the cross-functional teams don’t have anything to grasp onto and will try to fill the void.  If you arm them with proper sales collateral, training, and a clear view of the future, it makes it easier to have a conversation about tradeoffs.

Provide visibility into the impact of unplanned features

As a product manager, we know that ad hoc work may not seem like a lot on the surface, but the costs of ad hoc features can add up and suck up resources and morale from the team that’s trying to deliver market-driven features. That’s because we live and breathe it, but the sales team doesn’t.

By socializing that features require more than just development; it requires engagement from other groups to write business requirements, create and validate UX designs, QA the functionality, and execute cross-functional activities; the sales team can gain more empathy.

Solicit input from your sales team continuously

If you’re not engaging with sales during your planning and prioritization process, you’re missing out on many excellent opportunities to learn about market problems. Additionally, if you include sales in the process, they’ll be able to get a better appreciation for what it takes to prioritize, and you’ll find that getting buy-in for your plans will have less friction.

The reality is that you’ll have to do one-off features from time to time, so it’s essential to accept it, but you can reduce the occurrences using these tactics.