Are Your Software Sales & Marketing Reps Eating Their Own Dog Food?

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As a member of the software industry, you’ve likely heard the term “we eat our own dog food.” But do you know where it comes from? I just heard the origin of the phrase at a meeting last week.

software sales mktg reps eating own dog food

According to Wikipedia, it’s a term that took hold with software engineers beginning in 1988, after Microsoft manager Paul Maritz sent an email with “Eating Our Own Dogfood” as the subject line to his test manager, Brian Valentine, to ask that he increase internal usage of the company’s product. In more recent years, the idiom has been shortened to just a verb— “dogfooding”— and it’s now common language that Silicon Valley CEOs use to refer to quality assurance testing and de-bugging while their software is in Beta.

While there’s obviously inherent value for your developers to “dogfood” your software and make sure all the kinks are worked out before a public release, is the rest of the team eagerly chomping at the bit to do the same? And more specifically, what about your team—sales & marketing?

You might be wondering, but why should sales & marketing be internally testing our own software? Sure, you might benefit from being able to say, “we all use the software, and we love it!” as part of your pitch, but let’s be honest, nobody believes what you have to say about your own software experience. The true value of dogfooding for marketers and sales professionals is that there’s no better way to relate to your prospects than to actually put yourselves in their shoes.

Dogfooding isn’t just a valuable practice while you’re in Beta either, because if the plan is for your software to remain competitive in the industry, it should constantly be in development. As such, your product is always changing, rolling out new features, addressing new pain points for your clients, and innovating to keep pace with the market. Therefore, eating your own dogfood should be an ongoing mantra across the organization—especially in sales & marketing.

But if you’re not in the department (or industry) that your software specifically serves, it can be tricky to come up with ways for sales & marketing reps to use the software without it being a total waste of their time. Which is why we’ve come up with these six ways you can make “dogfooding” a common occurrence in your department.

6 Tips for Serving up Your Own Purina

1. Onboard all new employees with product training… and test them on their knowledge.

Before your sales person makes his first cold call or your marketing rep creates their first tweet, they should know your product inside and out. And that knowledge can only come from quality employee onboarding…after all, who knows your product better than you? (Hint: Hopefully nobody).

Give your employees the same (if not more) product training than your best clients, and then take it one step further and actually test them on their product knowledge to make sure they’re always more informed than your prospects. If they don’t quite understand how it works, it’s not time for them to pick up the phone yet. There’s nothing worse than having a prospect ask a product question and for your rep to say, “hmm… I’ve never heard of that before.”

2. Have sales reps go live into the actual product interface during online and in-person demos. Don’t rely on PowerPoints or old recordings.

I’ve been on plenty-a-software demo where the sales rep whips out a PowerPoint to show me all about their product, only to later get into the actual system and not recognize a thing. The problem? PowerPoints aren’t living, breathing documents like your software. Sure, your marketing department can take new screenshots and update collateral all the time, but why not show prospects what they’re actually getting?

The hesitation many software companies have with the live demo approach is that the interface might not look as pretty as their PowerPoint, or the sales rep might take a mis-step and reveal all of their competitive secrets. But with a controlled demo-environment for your software, there’s so much more to gain from showing your software in real-time than there is to lose. Plus, it forces your sales and marketing reps to know the system you’re selling today– not the system they have stored in that PowerPoint from July 2010.

3. Have your Tech team call an all-hands meeting (not just send a mass email) when you have a new release rollout.

Tech is busy doing important things to make your software better and doesn’t have time to meet to talk about new releases, we know. But there’s a reason why they’re in technology and not in marketing. When the tech team sends an email chock full of technical jargon with all the new release functionality and none of your sales, marketing, or customer service reps understand what the heck they’re talking about, you leave a lot up for interpretation—and mis-translation to your prospects.

Every time there’s an update to your product functionality, call a meeting with marketing, sales, customer service and the most eloquent communicator on your tech team, and have Tech demonstrate the new features in person, take questions, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

4. Relay product roadmaps to sales & marketing so that they’re informed when communicating with prospects on what’s coming down the pike.

Your head of product development doesn’t need to know every time your marketing associate gets a Facebook post or a tweet asking about when multivariate testing is going to be released. Save time on one-off email exchanges and prevent an even worse scenario where your marketing reps give vague, unhelpful prospect answers by clearly articulating what changes are in progress to your software and when you expect them to go live.

Sure, plans change and you may have to change deadlines and reprioritize… your prospects understand that too. You’ll win more business by being transparent about what’s to come rather than keeping quiet for fear of over-promising. What if your competitors find out what you’re working on though? Express that you need some functionality to be kept on a “need-to-know” basis, but include sales and marketing on that “need-to-know” list, and trust them to make smart decisions about how to hint at what’s to come without letting the cat out of the bag. But if it’s to the point that people are hitting you up on Twitter for updates, it’s probably no secret to your competitors that prospects want that functionality.

5. Encourage your marketing and customer service reps to communicate on the regular.

Traditionally, sales and customer service reps communicate pretty well because they pass prospects off to become customers and have to work together in that transition. But guess who’s left out of that equation? Marketing.

Your sales reps might know that XYZ Corporation was upset because they thought they were going to have five free logins and only got three, but marketing has no idea that the number of logins promised on your website is no longer correct. Likewise, your customer service rep might know an awesome example of how a client is using your software in new, innovative ways, but they might not think to share that example with marketing as a potential case study or testimonial.

Once a month or even just once a quarter, get your marketing and customer service teams together to see if your clients are teaching CS some valuable lessons of how they use your software, and whether you can translate those use-cases into new marketing campaigns and new leads for your sales team.

6. Check out the competition to encourage internal interest in your own product functionality.

Want to know the fastest way to motivate sales and marketing reps to use your own software? Show them all the great aspects of your competitors’ software.

Sales & marketing professionals are competitive by nature – it comes with the job description.  So if they see that your closest competitor has a cool new feature, they’ll likely want to login to your system and see if you have the same. And if you don’t, well… prepare Tech for some persuasive individuals to come knocking at their office doors.

Implement these six dogfooding techniques, and you should have your team drooling by the doggie bowl for more in no time. I’m curious, what other “dogfooding” exercises do you recommend to get sales & marketing using your software?

Looking for software? Check out Capterra's list of the best software solutions.

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About the Author

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Katie Hollar

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Katie is the Director of Marketing at Capterra - a free resource that helps businesses find the right software. Her work has been published in VentureBeat, MarketingProfs, CustomerThink, and the Demand Gen Report, and she has been featured in CIO, AdAge, and Website Magazine. Katie has a love of all things marketing, but she is particularly fond of social media and marketing automation. She is a UVA grad (Wahoowa!) and in her free time enjoys reading, running, and cooking. Follow her on Twitter @khollar.

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