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It’s September and the NFL has already completed its first week of play.  I always say the September games don’t matter.  They might as well be pre-season, because you could lose all four weekends in September, but then catch a winning streak that leads into the playoffs.  In the NFL it is not who wins an individual game that matters.  It is who wins the Super Bowl.   As I was watching the games this past Sunday, I was thinking about the similarities between product strategies and football.  I think there are similarities between the choices NFL coaches have to make and the challenges product managers confront in the corporate environment.

One of the biggest challenges that all product management leaders face is how to manage their relationship with the sales organization.  The two teams, product and sales, have an irreconcilable difference in focus, priorities and strategy.  By its nature, the sales organization is goaled on short term performance.  Sales leaders focus on new bookings for the next 30, 60 or 90 days.  By contrast, the marketing organization must think longer term.  Product managers and marketing leaders must focus on the next 6, 12 or 36 months.

Of course, this is a gross oversimplification.  The sales team does need to focus on building new pipeline for successive quarters.  And the product management team does need to be mindful of short-term revenue goals.  However, pipeline is often a distant fourth priority beyond the sales team’s first, second and third priorities of closing business.  And product management often views revenue generation and bookings as primarily the sales team’s responsibility.

Image Source: NY Daily News

You don’t have to win every game

To put the situation in NFL terms, the sales organization is focused on winning this Sunday’s game.  But the marketing team is thinking longer term about how to win the Super Bowl.  One concept that many companies lose sight of is that you don’t have to win every game.  In the NFL, you can lose up to 7 games and still get a wild card berth in the playoffs.  Remember the 2008 Super Bowl in which the undefeated New England Patriots, with 18 consecutive wins coming into the game, were upset by New York Giants, a wild card seed which lost 6 regular season matches.  To win the Super Bowl you don’t necessarily have to win every game, but instead just enough to be competitively ranked.  And most importantly you must be able to consistently win games when it counts (i.e. near the end of the season).

Steve Keifer

Steve Keifer has led marketing and product management teams at seven different SaaS and cloud providers ranging from venture-backed, early-stage startups to multi-billion, publicly traded companies - including several that experienced hypergrowth, filed IPOs, and reached unicorn status. In Bantrr, Steve shares many of the best practices and lessons learned from building and scaling marketing organizations. Topics include new category creation, brand development, and demand generation.

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