Aligning the Product & client-facing teams

Startup for sTartup

05/03/2021

Darya: Hi everyone, before we start the episode I just wanted to let you know that we have a brand new global website with podcast episodes, videos from events and interviews all in English. So if you are interested in finding more relevant content for you visit startupforstartup.com and select the ‘worldwide’ option. Enjoy.  Hi everyone, I am Darya Wertheim and you’ve reached Startup for Startup, the podcast in which we at Monday.com openly share knowledge, experience and actionable insights from one startup to another. 

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Darya: Products and Sales are two departments that are traditionally at odds with each other. While sales reps request certain features in a product to close a deal the Product Managers work according to a predefined roadmap. Even though both of the departments aim for the company’s success they usually see different ways to get there and this miscommunication can eventually cause the company a lot. So how do you align the sales and product departments? How do you built processes that improve workflows between departments and why having a shared KPI isn’t enough for both parties’ success. Today we will talk to Leah Bauman, our Product Alignment Manager and Nir Goldstein, VP of EMEA and APAC Sales who will share the process of creating and defining the new role of a Product Alignment Manager, the challenges in creating a bridge between potential customers’ needs and the product roadmap and how having a dedicated owner for a process already enabled more than two million dollars of ARR in 2020 and made many customers happier. Hi Leah. 

Leah: Hi Darya.  

Darya: Hi Nir.

Nir: Hi Darya. 

Darya: Let’s start by giving some background and context about what you do at Monday? So you were an Account Manager and Account Executive. You were actually a sales person and one of the best salespersons Monday had and we’ll talk about that later. Why did you make that transition? Why, what does your role mean right now? 

Leah: I made the transition, because there was a bit gap in the way that Sales and Product were working together and we were seeing problems on both sides where two teams that share the exact same goals are not seeing eye to eye and there was a lot of misalignment. So it felt like if those two teams could get more in sync and work better together the impact that we would have as a team would be much, much bigger than any one person could do on sales themselves.

Darya: Okay, but I don’t understand what does misalignment between product and sales is. I mean when I am thinking about those two departments they seem to me pretty separate, like I don’t even know why they have to be aligned.

Leah: The reason that it’s important for Product and Sales to be aligned is because Product is building something that Sales is selling and the people that the sales people are selling to are the people that are using the, whatever it is that you are selling, and all of the different feedback that comes through from the clients that are actually using whatever you’re building, the platform, Monday, and the sales people who hear things during a sales cycle and know what is pushing people towards your platform and what’s making them give you a hard no and Product doesn’t have access to this information without a clear communication channel with sales, and without that information the product gets developed in a way that doesn’t meet the needs of the clients that you’re aiming to have.  

Darya: Right, so it’s also, I think it’s also about the company strategy, right, because maybe if the product team develops features according to what they see and maybe they think about certain features that are more important, maybe if the company strategy is too focused on more on enterprise clients then we need to focus on completely different features.

Nir: Yes, so first of all there is, there is a constant friction in any company between Product and Sales. Obviously the ultimate goal of both departments is the same, we want to grow the company, we want to generate more revenue, but the way to achieve it, the perspective of each department is slightly different. Sales would naturally come with more specific requirements for specific open deals and Product they are looking to generalize the product in order to address the market and, you know, build the right product for the company’s future. These things not always align and you must balance between them. If you’re too much oriented on the vision and the long term goal of the products you would miss out many deals and you would miss out your existing customers. If you’re too specific on, you know, just tailoring your product towards specific items you’ll, you’re eventually no longer a product company, but you’re R&D development team of several customers. So there’s always a thin balance between those two. In Monday it is even slightly more complicated just because we have two different types of business lines. Monday is a product that can be sold self-service, what we call in Monday ‘no touch’ where practically customers would go, sign up for a trial and eventually can purchase online on their own and we have the ‘touch’ customers that are being sold through the sales people and partners. This is why the alignment is tricky, but this is why it is super important and not always the two line of businesses, the ‘no touch’ and ‘touch’ would aim for the same segment of customers. We in the sales group we’re trying to aim for larger companies, what we call sometimes enterprizes, which is not always accurate, because we work with a lot of companies that has hundreds of employees and we do have a lot of customers that have dozens of thousands of employees, but our market segments and where we’re aiming is towards the larger customers than the product and the ‘no touch’ would usually aim for.  

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Darya: Okay, so let’s dive into actually the challenges that arise from that situation. So Leah, you mentioned that there was a misalignment. How did it actually look in practice?

Leah: When the company first started it was only a ‘no touch’ company. We were only focused on really the ‘no touch’ funnel and building a product that could be sold without a sales team and I came into the company at a time when the sales team was very, very new and the whole attitude and mindset of everybody in the company except the sales team was completely focused on the ‘no touch’ funnel and so there, they weren’t really building any processes to manage the requests that were coming from the sales team and the sales team kind of lived in their own little bubble, silo if you will, of trying to go after a demographic of client that no other team in the company was really focused on going after. So we felt like we were always not understanding why the roadmap was looking the way it was, why they weren’t taking our feedback and requests into consideration and they really saw the sales team as sort of like an experiment. 

Darya: So how did it actually look like? You were having a conversation with a client and they will tell you listen, we really want to use Monday, but we’re missing a few features. Then what would you do? 

Leah: We would try and ask people from Product, it was a much smaller company; there was, you know, only a hundred and fifty (150) people, two hundred (200) people at the time and you could go and you could ask Product and try and make your case and every sales person is a lawyer, you know, and obviously Monday was looking to hire the best sales people, so you have a lot of sales people all coming from different directions and like trying to push their own agenda with Product on a personal level and it was not scaleable, obviously. We had the cheese process which was originally, a cheese process is not something that most companies have so …

Darya: Yeah, so in a sentence explain what it is.

Leah: It’s a process that we have in place for putting down small and well defined updates to existing features that take between let’s say one and three story points and it’s usually something that feels broken in the platform. So UI fixes and little updates that need to be done. 

Darya: Yeah, kind of small upgrades to the platform that will make my life easier if there was just one button and a, at a certain point for example. 

Leah: Exactly. So Sales took this process and they just started putting feature requests all over it and obviously they would constantly get disqualified for being too big and then they wouldn’t understand why no-one’s answering their feature requests and Product doesn’t understand why they’re putting feature requests on the cheeseboard and nobody could push deals through, you know, it was very, very difficult for everybody and it started to be, as Sales started to close more and more deals and the sales team grew it started to become a frustration and a pain point for Product that they were being, you know, attacked from every angle every time a sales person needed to close a deal. 

Darya: Right, so one thing that I know we did back then was having shared KPIs where the product in sales team decided to have shared KPIs which made the process a bit easier.

Nir: Yeah, that’s right, coz as the company grew and matured, all sides, we understood that we must collaborate better. There was a big willingness from all sides to collaborate better and we thought that the first step would be, you know, aligning the KPIs. We were thinking and I think it was a wise move, it was a, the first move that we had to take was aligning the KPIs of product and sales, a lot about, you know, revenue and (00:11:47) which is the ultimate company’s goal eventually and these are the natural goals of the sales team. We aligned the product KPIs with that, but not only on the immediate revenue, we also aligned on things like customer retention, customer growth, customer satisfaction and in order to make sure we’re not only being able to close the deals, but get our customers satisfied in the long run. This was the first step, but as we tapped more and more into it and in parallel the company obviously grew and the revenue that the ‘touch’, the ‘touch’ group is generating grew significantly, we understood that having mutual KPIs is not enough. We need to tailor …

Darya: Why?

Nir: Because we need to tailor processes around that. If you have, if two or more departments would share the same KPI, the same goal doesn’t mean necessarily that they are synched enough in order to take the, to be aligned on the path and each sides knows exactly what need to happen in order to reach those KPIs. The first step was making sure that we both aim for the same target, the same goal. Now we needed to figure out how exactly to get there. 

Darya: So, so Leah, that’s where you came in.

Leah: That’s right.

Darya: And how, so how does this role grow? You just came to Nir one day, who was your manager. Nir, are you still Leah’s manager? I don’t even know.  

Nir: At the moment I’m Leah’s manager’s manager and soon enough I’ll be her manager, yeah. 

Darya: Okay, so you were also her manager back then and, Leah, you just came to Nir and you said listen, I’m going to have a new role, this is what I’m going to do, product sales alignment.

Leah: I mean that’s not exactly how it happened. I would say that I started doing the role a long, long time before I ever asked for the job and I started taking on side projects. Once I had mastered the account management and I felt like I was really on solid footing I started to branch out a little bit and the natural way for me to go, because I was an account manager, is okay, how can I work with Product in a better way to meet my targets and help everybody else meet their targets, what do we need the most as a team. So I started joining different task forces. We used to have a lot of different task forces, now we call them domains, but I started …

Darya: Wait. So, so what is a task force? It is not just products people, right?

Leah: It’s, a task force is made up of product, R&D, designer, developers and depending on the size of the project that they’re taking on that’s how many people will be assigned to that particular task force. So I would join the ones that were super important to Sales, for example the first one I joined was the Permissions Task Force with Ben Rosenfeld who did the last podcast with Nir, he’s a Product Manager …

Darya: So what did they work on?

Leah: They worked on the board permissions, revamping the board permissions and adding in column permissions which was a very big deal for sales and it was a really exciting feature and we had a lot of input about how we wanted it to look, so I joined the task force. Ben was amazing about including me in everything even though he was kind of like:  “Oh, a salesperson, interesting.”

Darya: Yeah, coz I was also thinking like maybe if I was a Product Manager maybe I would think like okay, so now there’s another person joining the meeting, wanting to interrupt and I don’t know, add your input, maybe it’s not what I want us to go for, like it’s another complication to the process. 

Leah: I would say that I spent the first six (6) months largely silent mostly because my tech Hebrew wasn’t very good yet, but nobody, nobody knows that, but I really listened for the first few months and I learned a lot, I spent a lot of time absorbing and my style has always been with Product to really connect them to clients rather than give my own input and I think that they really appreciated that. Like I would work on connecting them to five (5) big clients and making sure that they got to the meeting and then, you know, driving the conversation the way that we wanted it to go once we got on the call, but I think that they really valued that, because Monday is a company that relies heavily on client feedback. 

Darya: Definitely, and so, so it’s not just you joining the process of the task force and the product people, you were actually bringing product people to sales meetings.

Leah: That’s right, to sales meetings, but also to meetings that were specifically scheduled with big clients to discuss features that the product was already working on. So the difference was that instead of only speaking to ‘no touch’ clients, which is what they had been doing when they were developing features, I was introducing the component that they were also being connected to our strategic and larger clients.  

Darya: Right, and for them it’s an amazing opportunity to talk directly to potential customers or even existing customers, I don’t know, and get feedback.

Leah: From accounts that we know are the kind of accounts that we want to keep working with, and those kind of accounts need different features than smaller accounts or the accounts that come through the ‘no touch’ funnels.

Darya: And so, okay, so you did that, you said, for about six (6) months before it was actually official, officially your role, right?

Leah: It was more, I did it for probably about a year before it was officially the role and once I had some proven success I mean it grew from there, it grew into working with Product on how we prioritize features and building processes for client feedback that we didn’t have in place before and once that was all built and I was legitimately like working, doing the two fulltime jobs that was when I guess the truth is that six (6) months before, yeah, I did go and I asked if I could, if I could do the job and they said if you’re too busy you can drop your side projects.

Darya: Yeah.

[laughs]

Leah: That’s what happened. Now I remember. 

Darya: [laughs]

Leah: I blocked it out. 

Darya: [laughs]

Leah: And so I do …

Darya: No, may, but maybe, Nir, do you want to, do you want to comment on that, because like it seems like the reasonable answer to someone who wants to do that transition, like okay, just stop your side projects and continue doing sales. So why didn’t you go for that?

Nir: Yes, so the impact of this process, this is such an important and core process and has such a big impact on the company’s revenue that we cannot leave it without an owner. We understood it early on, only my surprise, I think, along the way was when I told Leah, she told me I cannot do both, so my answer at that point was pretty easy, okay, so focus on your deals, focus on, you know, selling, coz what Leah didn’t say up until now is she is a constant top performer at Monday, we are talking about like definitely a person who is significantly overachieving.

Darya: Yeah, Leah was the, I heard, correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard that Leah was the number one salesperson in Monday. So it’s not just giving up a salesperson, it’s giving up the best salesperson of the company for (00:20:54).

Leah: That was in 2019.

Darya: Oh, that was such a long time …

Leah: That was 2019, guys. I did win that prize, but 2020 somebody else will take it, somebody fabulous. 

Nir: So Leah is constantly like a very strong performer in the, in the sales group, so when she came to me with, you know, I will, Nir, I cannot do these two roles for much longer, my answer as a sales leader was pretty obvious, like I told her okay, we’ll find someone else to lead that product alignment role, so you you’ll be able to keep on growing accounts and, but we had more and more conversation, conversations and when, I think first of all we’ve, we both realized that (a) this is something Leah really likes to do and (b) that the potential impact of having this position being performed well is far greater than any sales individual can produce to the company. I have to admit, by the way, that again as a leader in, of a sales group, I didn’t realize it on the first minute. It took me a while to release the sales muscles and order, in order to understand that we need to have a bigger perspective here and to look on what can bring significant impact across the sales group and across the company, practically.

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Darya: So let’s talk about the impact you mentioned, because this is like a question I’ve been asking myself throughout this episode. How can you measure what you do, Leah? I mean you’re talking about impact. I’m guessing that you’re talking about more revenue, more ARR to the company. How can you measure numbers of alignment between departments? 

Leah: Defining the KPIs was one of the hardest things that I had to do when I moved into this role. When you’re in sales you measure yourself always by the number that you’re bringing in and it’s a very easy definition to understand am I doing well, am I not doing well, right, what is my value to this company; you’re, there’s a number, there are other people on the board, you can always see where you are and that having a dollar value as a KPI is a very easy KPI to understand and when you move into an alignment role understanding what’s going to be the KPIs for how departments are communicating is almost impossible, however it is a lot easier, because one of my major jobs is to help the product team prioritize between feature requests that lead to closing deals. So a big part of my KPI is still a dollar value in deals that are enabled through the deal commitment process to understand, you know, what big clients are asking for and what’s bottlenecking huge deals; it could be something that’s already in our roadmap and if we just have a conversation about it they’re not going to be bottlenecked anymore.

Darya: Yeah, so I understand from that, that it’s not just only the prioritization part, but also really understanding, as you said, the bottlenecks of each deal. So how do you identify that? How do you do that?  

Leah: We have a process in place for it. It lives on a board. Anybody can come in; there’s a threshold for deal size or how much ARR it’s blocking, and we review what the Account Manager or Account Executive has written and we also jump on a call with a client, dig in, like we have a qualification process and if it meets all of the qualifications then we get on a call with the client. Once we’ve spoken to the client and verified the request and talk about, you know, a long lead time, we take it back to the domain and then you have to sell it. The domain is the product team that works on different areas of the platform. So you have to take the feature to the right domain that works on that area of the platform and then you’re back in a sales cycle; you’re just in a sales cycle with the domain now. So you asked …

Darya: Do you have an example that we can talk about to show the entire cycle?

Leah: Yeah, absolutely. I can talk about an account that needed to remove our audit log, for example. They wanted to remove our audit log, because it didn’t mean their requirements and so we got on a call with the client, we verified the request. It was easy in the backend to just remove it completely and we gave them a long lead time. They were able to sign right away and three months later we took half, by, we took half a day and removed the audit log for them. 

Darya: Okay, but you make it sound super easy and I don’t believe you. 

Leah: Ah, no, it wasn’t that easy at all.

Darya: [laughs]

Leah: It wasn’t that easy at all. First you have to try and talk them out of it, you know, you have to try and find a workaround. You have to, you know, get past the first person you were speaking to and maybe speak to their manager, you know, and then you have to go back to Product and Product is like: “Why would we do that?”

Darya: Exactly! So I’m thinking I’m the product guy right now, okay, or a woman, I don’t want to work on an audit log, like I have a clear roadmap, it doesn’t seem important to me at, like I want to work on other things, so why should I?

Leah: They really didn’t want to do it. So that’s where the selling comes in, I guess, you know, you have to be able to make a case for it, you have to be able to make a valued-based case, you know. They’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense and I agree with that. So I have to build a data-driven case to show why we need this, what we’re going to lose by not, by not doing it, what we have to gain by doing it and then I take it from there. 

Darya: Right, so actually, you can actually calculate the deal size and show them like this is the amount we’re losing if we’re not working on this feature, right?

Nir: I was about to say first of all yes, like this is the way we’re calculating the revenue impact, but I think there is a bigger gain than, from that process, than just, you know, enabling deals. I’m saying just this is very important, but we get the product to speak with our customers, with significant customers and when, when they do that often enough first they hear features request or more accurately problems or pains that the customers are experiencing and the longer term impact is that they get to understand more and more the mindset of the customers, what’s painful for them, why would a certain customer wouldn’t want the audit log. In this case it was the local law that didn’t allow them to keep the audit log, so we had a far greater gain than, from our product realizing what are the regulations in that country, what bothers the customers, and that allows the product in the longer term to better fit the product to the different segments of customers that we are aiming for. The end results of it would be enabling features, but we get, this is why it’s important for us to get the product, to speak with the customers to really understand what’s the root cause, what’s standing behind of the, each request, what’s the mindset and that allows us to eventually have a better product.

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Darya: What is still challenging about this role?

Leah: I would say that defining the KPIs outside of a dollar value is still something that I struggle with. I struggle to get active participation from the sales team.

Darya: What does it mean, ‘active participation’?

Leah: In order for communication processes to work tagging needs to be done and there have to be people who are communicating, right, and if, a lot of the information that Product needs from sales is located on the calls that they have with the client, so leads and existing clients, the strategic accounts are not really inputting feedback into the forms, they’re talking to their Account Manager or their Customer Success Manager and then we need to extract the information that we need about what they liked and what they don’t liked [sic] some of it is, you know, voluntary and some of it is enforced. We have some amazing participation from a really good number of people, but I would say that it’s always a challenge to try and get people to tag things and report things, especially when they don’t see immediate value to them.

Darya: Right, you’re kind of dependent on their goodwill to help you do this, this job correctly, right; they have to be really detailed on every conversation they have with clients. 

Leah: Not, I don’t, I agree with you that they have to be detailed and they have to make a point of reporting after it, but I am not relying on goodwill. I spend a lot of time and I invest a lot into the education of the client facing teams into why we have the processes and celebrating success together with them and showing where the process has had an impact so that even though the reporting and feedback process doesn’t impact them today or tomorrow or this month they always know that it’s having a long term impact on them, and I think that that has helped. One of my KPIs this quarter was an increase in reporting and we’ve seen already the twenty percent (20%) increase that we needed.  

Darya: So that’s also an example for a KPI that is not about dollar value, it’s also about, it’s more of a qualitative KPI, right?

Leah: Yeah.

Nir: I think that another challenge that Leah is facing in public, continue to face in the future and even after is being a translator between Sales and Product in terms of, you know, the sales person would think hey, why is my feature, the features I’m requesting aren’t like prioritized, I really need to close that deal, where Product would say hey, why these guys from sales are constantly, you know, messing up with their priorities and their roadmap, and, as we said earlier on, both things are important, and Leah needs to show both sides, the Sales and the Product, the tradeoff that each decision has and find a, she’s like the negotiator, finding the best route to make everyone satisfied as much as possible that it’s like always balancing between those two teams and helping those two teams to take the same path to the joint goal. This is a big challenge that we’ll constantly face, I guess.

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Darya: One last question is, if someone is working at a different company and is experiencing similar challenges to what we talked about and once, you know, start doing this tomorrow morning, work on this alignment, what should they, what should they begin with? 

Nir: I would say start with a process of trying to build the communication between Product and Sales. It really depends on what, how does it look like in the current state at that company, but try to improve the communication. That’s where Leah started. It’s, it didn’t start with Leah, you know, changing her role. She really (00:34:26) into a, a pain into an existing challenge within the company and she just went deeper and deeper into it to try and figure out how we solve it as a company. So it was a journey for Leah, it was a journey for the sales group, it was a journey for the task forces that she joined at the beginning and they didn’t realize what a sales person has to do with a development task force and I think that initiated that process of creating ownership around different processes that eventually formed into a new role and that’s what I would suggest a person that sees a certain challenge mainly in communication between two departments, by the way it doesn’t have to be Product and Sales, but try and, you know, first initiate processes to communicate better so both sides will be able to understand the other, both departments will be able to understand the other side, communicate better, share KPIs and who knows where it takes you.

Leah: A lot of what Nir said, for sure, it’s about starting to work on the communication, but it all starts from understanding that you share goals. You need to get in a room with the Sales and the Product, maybe not the whole team, just like representatives, and decide do we have the same goals, and once you know that you have the same goals you can start building processes in place to work together to achieve those goals, and it starts with the smaller things; you’re not going to change your whole company in one day, but it starts with getting to know the challenges of the other team. Try and understand, put your, like you want the other team to put yourself, theirselves in your shoes, like we wanted Product to feel Sales pains and Product needed Sales to understand and feel their pains and once we really were on the same page there we could start to work together in a productive way, understanding that we share goals even if we don’t share the same pain points and that we need things from each other and we have to be able to work together in a way, you know, that works for both sides, so, and I, a lot of people have asked me also about how to take on extra responsibility and how to start side projects, so I would say, just my advice for everybody who is looking to, you know, grow past what their role is, firstly make sure that you’re on the top of your game in your current role, so that’s like the number one thing. I think if I would have let that slip they would have stopped me much earlier, and in fact they said it to me over and, Yoni and Nir had said it to me over and over again, your side projects are fine, just make sure nothing slips in any area. So that would be the first thing I would say and then the second thing is take on whatever you want to take on after that, try and like solve a pain, not just for yourself, but for a wider group and once you solve pains that’s where you provide value. So if you’re the painkiller they must keep taking you, I guess. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy, but …

Darya: I love that. I love the nickname. Maybe we can start (00:38:05) …

Leah: Please don’t call me painkiller. My nick …

Darya: Leah the painkiller. [laughs]

Leah: My nickname is Leah, I’m sorry, I’m Leah Bauman. 

Darya: [laughs] Okay, so we’ll find someone else to take that nickname. What I took from this conversation is also the importance of ownership, I mean I think a lot of the challenges you mentioned at the beginning were because there was no owner for this process, there was no owner to create an alignment between the departments which created a lot of pains. So once you have that owner or once you decide to become the owner of a process I think right away the, you start seeing the impact. I think you can take it to a lot of different roles, but for this one I think it is very clear, specifically. Thank you, Leah, for being with us.

Leah: Thank you for having me.

Darya: And thank you, Nir.

Nir: Thank you, Darya, and thank you, Leah.

Darya: I had a great time and I want to remind all the listeners that we have a Facebook group called Startup for Startup the Group and you can join us, Nir and Leah will also be there to answer questions about the episode if you have any follow-up questions, so feel free to join us there, and thanks for listening. Bye. 

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