Product roadmaps are a powerful tool for sales

There’s an old adage that says people buy products that either make money or save money. I’ve seen firsthand that a product roadmap does both.

At Roadmunk, we’ve been using a client-facing version of our roadmap in the sales cycle for over two years, and it’s been a hugely important tool for getting—and keeping—longterm business. I can’t tell you the number of deals we have closed (and kept) as a direct result of sharing our roadmap with potential and existing customers. I’ve come to strongly believe that every sales team should be using their roadmap to sell their product.

Which isn’t to say every salesperson should get free reign on the roadmap. There can be shitty consequences if a roadmap is misused or misunderstood by someone in sales—especially if that person has a tendency to bend reality. (Wouldn’t be the first time.)

With this in mind, I want to make my case for why your sales team should be using your product roadmap, then offer some tactical suggestions for rolling out that process.

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Why sales needs the roadmap

It shortens the sales cycle
Hands down, the biggest benefit of a client-facing roadmap is that it gets you to “yes” faster. By seeing a visual of your product’s next steps, the customer quickly understands if there’s a fit. Very succinctly, you will know if current or future iterations of your product will meet the client’s needs. Which means, in some cases, you also get to “no” faster. That can be disappointing. But it also saves you months of time- and money-wasting back-and-forth.

It builds CONCRETE confidence
As a sales guy, I can easily yak about the future and tell people we’re building what they want. Will they actually believe me? Who knows. Show them a roadmap, however, and they get to see hard plans that were vetted by every department. They know that what I’m telling them isn’t just something I pulled out of my ass to make them close the deal. You build customer confidence on a concrete foundation: your product roadmap.

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It secures bigger, more longterm business
Especially if you’re selling to enterprise, a roadmap can be the clincher. Big companies, particularly those considering multi-year deals, want to know what they’re going to get. A lot of bigger clients are thinking, “If I’m going to make an investment in your product, it’s not just dollar-wise. I’m going to commit significant resources and man-hours, I’m going to get buy-in across various departments. I’m going to want to know what’s happening longterm to make sure I’m not making a buying decision that’s predicated on momentary impulse.” A roadmap offers clear proof that you can satisfy the demands of big clients.

It contains churn
In addition to our sales team, our entire customer success team also uses our product roadmap. I think there are two key benefits to showing your roadmap to existing customers. 1) The roadmap reinvigorates interest in your product—it makes sure current customers get excited about your vision. 2) It demonstrates progress, and helps restore engagement and commitment among wavering clients. Both of these factors can be incredibly valuable for reducing churn.

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It puts power in the hands of the buyer
Everyone talks about buyer power. To succeed in sales, you have to let the buyer direct the conversation. By showing a customer your roadmap, you’re not only giving them information—you’re giving them control over the conversation. A product roadmap is an amazing leverage point because you don’t have to start assuming what’s important or talking about everything. A customer will generally look at your roadmap, and start inquiring about the items that are relevant to them.

It streamlines internal communication (and confusion)
Before our sales team started using the roadmap, we often had a fuzzy idea of what was actually happening in product. When is that feature coming, again? And, uh, what is it, exactly? Without a roadmap, we were basically having ad hoc conversations with product all the time. It was frustrating, and became a huge time suck. Whereas now, product can point to one place. Everyone knows what’s happening, all the information is contained in one single interface. And if something changes, we all get notified. Basically, it gives us a LOT more time to talk to customers.

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How we share our roadmap

Some companies make their roadmap fully public. At Roadmunk, that’s not our current approach. (Although we do think it’s a cool trend.)

We show a client-facing version of our roadmap that’s a little more conservative than our internal roadmap. There’s about 20% additional contingency time, and we focus on high-level upcoming features, rather than granular detail about our internal processes.

This screenshot, created from data in our Feature Roadmap Template, exemplifies the style of roadmap we show our clients.

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We colour code items on our roadmap according to what’s Committed, Planned or Delayed. Generally, we commit items up to 6 months in advance—this offers the appropriate mix of flexibility and commitment for our particular product. If you prefer not to use dates at all when speaking to customers, you could create a date-free roadmap showing the same data in Swimlane View

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Colour coding also reinforces the idea that a product roadmap is a statement of intent. One of the biggest anxieties around giving salespeople the roadmap is that they will misrepresent the timeline or make unreasonable promises. By clearly visualizing the fact that not all items are set in stone, we are able to transparently manage expectations.

One of the other benefits to using Roadmunk for our roadmap is that we can drill down to show customers more detail about each upcoming feature. All Committed features are fully spec’d. This means that when we open an Item Card, clients can view additional detail about that feature, including mocks and screenshots. This gives a vivid sense of what’s coming up with our product. It definitely helps build excitement and commitment.

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Regardless of how you create your roadmap, it can be an incredibly powerful tool to instill faith in your product. Yes, sales needs to understand the upcoming features and understand the consequences of over-promising or misrepresenting. In our experience, that happens a lot less when they are working off a tactile roadmap.

By using a product roadmap in the sales cycle, you can save time, boost enthusiasm and streamline internal communication. In these ways, it’s both a money-saver and a money-maker.

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