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Is Product Management Right for Sales Professionals During COVID-19?

Are you in sales and want to make a career switch? If your next career move is Product Management, make sure you read and watch this interview with Kevin Park, a previous Product Gym member, who successfully moved into Product Management from sales!
9 min read

Make sure you watch this interview on YouTube and subscribe to our channel to find out more about our members’ unique transition stories as well as important information about Product Manager job hunt!

Richard Chen: All right people, thank you so much for joining us today. We have a very special video dedicated to all the salespeople out there looking to transition into product. We have welcomed back one of our familiar faces for some of you that follow our videos.  Kevin Park who is a Product Manager over there at FactoryFour is going to talk about is Product Management right for salespeople?

How are you doing, Kevin?

Kevin Park: Doing well. No complaints.

Richard Chen: That is good. Now, Kevin, for those viewers that don’t know you too well, you come from a sales background, but can you tell them a little bit about yourself? What you were doing before product management?

Kevin Park: Yeah, happy to. So, I come from no technical experience whatsoever. I went to UCLA and graduated with a psychology degree and it’s not the Bachelor of Science, so there’s like no math involved and I found myself in business knowing that I prefer that over giving counsel. Being someone’s therapist, which there is nothing wrong with that, but personally, I wanted to be in business.

When I graduated, I really did not know what division in a business I’d be best suited for. So, one of my mentors told me to go into sales, and I did that for about three years and then realized I needed a change.

Richard Chen: Absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey into Product Management?

Kevin Park: Yeah, and I think kind of to take a step back, I first got interested in Product Management, I want to say 10 months before I had left my sales role. I came across this article about how to make an impact in our organization, which was to build good products. And I was very interested. I started diving deeper into it, understanding what skills do I need, what knowledge I needed to get hired, and then that’s kind of where everything fizzled out initially. I did not know how I was going to meet any of the interview criteria, the years of experience they were looking for and told myself there’s a better time for this. And then fast forward, I got a chance to link with you and then find out all the skills and tricks I needed to pitch myself as a Product Manager and thankful to have gotten hired.

Richard Chen: I do appreciate that. We appreciate that. We laid out the plan. I think you did. You guys all did the heavy lifting. So, let us talk about salespeople. Do you think salespeople, especially the ones that interact with tech teams, would like Product Management?

Kevin Park: I think so. I think every salespeople that I’ve met, they’re all competitive. They all want to win. But at the same time, they care about making an impact in the workplace. Yes. And a lot of sales is individualistic in the way that your quota, your daily output is what you decide to put in. So, there’s a lot of ownership between what you do.

And that same ownership applies in Product Management when you win. All the product team and all the development team gets all the credit, but when you lose, everything is your fault. So, there’s a lot of ownership there, but I think that’s where salespeople thrive. We like having the ball in our court and going out there and communicating with everybody we need to get this product to improve you released through the finish line.

Richard Chen: Got it. And what about the salary expectations? Do you think the salary is better in product or in sales?

Kevin Park: Yeah. And I think there’s like a two-part approach to that.

It is really about what you care about. If you are purely looking for the money and you are really great at sales, maybe that’s like the best path for you. But if you like a combination of more guaranteed money, in my opinion, I think sales, there’s a lot of on target attainment that gets preached and that’s like the goal that you strive for.

And a lot of sales, a lot of reps do not hit that goal. So, a lot of times they’re seeing maybe 70 to 80% of the on-target attainment at best in Product Management. What immediately stood out to me was my on-target attainment was the minimum salary. So that to me was an immediate boost.

And another reason to dive further into this career.

Richard Chen: I think that’s one of the toughest things about being in sales. I honestly believe, having done it myself, it is the hardest job because you start every single day at zero and there’s just no way for you to have like a really good month every single month.

And I definitely think it’s really hard for you to have two quarters back to back that are really good and as soon as you start slipping up and you will kind of feel really bad about yourself because it’s so commission driven. And it’s also, like you said, it’s kind of very individualistic versus like I thought it was like kind of hard for me to have even lunch with some of my old coworkers.

Cause technically speaking we were competing against. This is for the same market share. Now, what about you? You talked a little bit about your background. How realistic do you think it is for salespeople to be able to move into a Product Manager role without the technical background, the computer science degree or an MBA degree?

Kevin Park: Yeah, and I think contrary to the popular belief, I think you don’t need a technical background at all, and oftentimes it couldn’t be the competitive advantage that you need. A lot of Product Management is getting people agreeing in one direction. And to do that, you really need to have the customer, the end user in mind.

And I think salespeople are great for that because you’re so used to placing yourself in the customer’s shoes and thinking what about me in the way that I say things will get them to want to have a business relationship with me. And when you have that in mind and you guide them, guide your team, a lot of it is interpersonal relationships and I think that’s where salespeople can really thrive.

Richard Chen: Absolutely. So, and what about doing the job? Do salespeople stand a chance at actually performing well on the Product Manager job?

Kevin Park: Yeah, and I think a lot of it comes down to the learning mindset that you kind of care for yourself to become somewhat successful in sales every day you’re expected to come up with a solution, and a lot of times the solution isn’t readily available.

You have to engage different thought leaders, hear their perspective, and then come to and agree upon ideas. Although in sales you work against each other in a way, you also collaborate to win more business as you go out. And that same approach is what’s going to help you to be successful as a Product Manager.

Richard Chen: Definitely, definitely. What about this time that we’re living through right now, during COVID-19? Now you’ve worked with us before, you done the very aggressive interviewing. If you had to do it all over again, do you think this is a good time for salespeople to transition into Product Management?

Kevin Park: Yeah. Without being too much of a Debbie Downer, this is not the best time for sales, in my opinion. There is a lot of buyer fear, and when that happens, salespeople are the first ones to be hit because essentially their role had become irrelevant during this time, and maybe they’re fortunate and maybe they’re able to move to account management and customer success. And I think the best time, there’s really never a best time to apply. You just have to do it. And if you are in the role where you’re not seeing a lot of success due to COVID, or your product isn’t in line with what you’re expected to deliver, it’s time to move on.

Or if you’re just stuck in a shitty situation, bad industry, bad location, you name it… There’s a lot of things sometimes stacked against salespeople, and going into Product Management is not a career step back. It’s a new way to grow, and I think that’s the first thing you have to think about that it’s not a step back.

It’s a way to pivot and grow in your careers.

Richard Chen: I think that’s absolutely true. Sales people, it’s, to be brutally honest, it’s the most quantifiable job out there. How many hours do you put in? How many calls do you make? You know, and what’s the end result? Are you getting more accounts?

Are you driving up more business? It’s a tough time to go out there and net new business because it’s like you said, there’s a lot of fear and there’s also a lot of uncertainty in the market. So, whether you’re going B2B or whether you’re going B2C, people are going to be looking at their wallets a little bit tighter versus just, I would say 65 days ago, when people would probably be thinking: Hmm, you know, I may not need something, but I’ll go ahead and spend it anyways. We’ll go and give it a try as an organization. But right now, it is a little bit tight. So, if you’re not performing well right now as a sales person, and let’s just say you were doing decent before, it’s not really a failure to you as a salesperson.

It’s just that there’s a market failure. If you’re going from selling one product to another product, I think, like Kevin said, just a better move to pivot to product where there’s just a whole lot more upside. You know, you definitely get the stronger base.

Yes, there is the unlimited income potential, but it’s a huge sacrifice for your health. I think your overall wellbeing and personal happiness is very importnat. In my previous career of tech recruiting, could I make a million dollars a year in recruiting? Oh, 100% you know?

Theoretically, yes, I did meet some of the outliers, but I think to be totally realistic, it’s never a good situation when a company is hiring. Like army, literally 10, 20, 30, 40 salespeople, and as the company grows, they want to go out there and bring onboard 50, 60 salespeople and they keep on moving the targets up.

It’s also one thing that I think you forgot to mention that when I was in sales, every time I hit the sales expectation or I exceeded it, the management always moved the target up. They would think that I wasn’t challenged enough but the reality was I was crushed to reach that sales target.

So, you got to go ahead and throw yourself there again. And there’s really not a whole lot of room for error. However, in product, you’re allowed to make mistakes, iterate, reiterate, gather the feedback, go out there, and make adjustments. And then the cool thing is that in product, like you said in a previous webinar, there’s no two days that are alike.

For salespeople, especially at the million dollar or the rainmakers level, it seems like to be able to make more money, you need to be more robotic. You need to be more consistent. There needs to be that structure. Like I knew those guys and those girls that are waking up at 6:15 every single day, even on Saturdays and Sundays.

I was like it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of joy in your life.

Kevin Park: I definitely don’t miss it. I definitely was one of those people that like worked around the clock and when the friends wanted to hang out, I’d be very like, I’m busy can’t. And over time it wasn’t the best environment to be in. And when I thought about doing that for 10, 20 years, I was like, I need to change.

Richard Chen: No, I totally feel you. I would spend every Sunday preparing for the week, and then every Saturday I would do a lot of that back work in the office. Thankfully not right now because we’re working from home, but it was so distracting that I remember going into the office a lot of times on Saturday mornings.

Just to kind of get some extra work in before I can enjoy myself and it’s Sunday because I would feel guilty about it. And it’s a seven-day grind. You don’t really want to do that to yourself. So, if you’re looking to make the career switch, we would highly recommend product.

Any other words of encouragement to your fellow brothers and sisters that are still in sales right now, thinking about product?

Kevin Park: Yeah, and I think that one thing I encourage is asking every product team, like why they decided to go a certain direction in product. That was the information that I craved the most, and unfortunately, I didn’t have access to that because my product team was located on the opposite side of the world in China, so I can’t really ask them.

There’s a language barrier, but for every salespeople right now, there is time to understand the logic that went into product. And if you can leverage that, help to craft the pitch as you prepare to go through the different rounds, that’s how you can gain more confidence that you can win every interview.

If you know what the company objective and customer demand is, like if you can intersect that and communicate that all the interviews that you have, they’ll be asking you for a time to go through the next step before the end of the call as opposed to the more common “We’ll let you know.” Control your destiny.

And I think that salespeople are great at that because no one gives you a carrot on the stick. You have to go get it yourself.

Richard Chen: That was very real. Well said. Very well said. I honestly knew I did not want to be in the sales grind forever myself, so I moved myself into coaching.

Kevin, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule, especially during COVID-19 to get out there and have a chat with us. Hopefully the people that are coming from a sales background to break into product really think about what’s next.  I know as a former sales person myself, I thought about “Was there anything beyond just making cold calls], spamming emails to people that I didn’t know to go out there and drive business.”

You guys can go ahead and ping the gentleman directly. Honestly speaking, I highly recommended – who the hell wants to stay in sales for the rest of their life? It’s a very brutally tough job. I’m so glad I got out of it and now that I’ve hired my own sales person. I do not miss doing those sales consultations myself either.

You know? So, hope everybody’s staying home. Stay safe. Stay positive, Kevin, we will catch you next time. Thank you so much.

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