The executive team approved the investment for the new product over 24 months ago. The product created intends to provide customers additional value and differentiation not matched by any competitor. The annual budgeting process has assumed top and bottom line performance expectations. Marketing has created the product brochures and new customer leave-behinds to commemorate the launch of this new transformative product. Now all that is left is to sell it.
Sound familiar? New product launches involve many functions from across an organization in the identification, development and preparation for its launch. One function that is often conspicuously absent, however, is sales. The one function that will ultimately determine the success of the new product is often the one that has had the least input into its development and is the least prepared to tout its wares. How did we get to this place and how do we ensure it doesn’t happen again? In AGI’s experience, taking the time to design and follow the right process, using the right resources and leveraging the right sales tools can significantly increase the likelihood of successful product launches and decrease the time to revenue from launch date.
Involving Sales in the Product Development Process
The ideation of product development needs to incorporate the voice of the customer. Most companies do a nice job of gaining customer feedback through surveys and marketing studies. However, they lose important context of business growth strategy and competitor positioning by focusing on product and buying attributes versus compelling business needs. This is where the sales team can bring insight based on their countless number of customer interactions. By leveraging sales team insights into the product development process, you are more likely to focus on how new products will address customer outcomes rather than improving features or benefits that may only matter to product users, who are often influencers, not decision makers. By incorporating this additional input, you gain buy-in from the sales team early in the process and jump start the value proposition development process.
Involving Product Development & Marketing in the Sales Process
As the product is being developed and meets the criteria to be tested in live customer sites, often times companies use friendlies that are willing to test the product at a cost advantage. This testing results in feedback on product performance, feature enhancements, functionality, ease of use, etc. It does not provide feedback on how the product performs during the sales process. The true test of the product’s value will be ultimately judged by the buyers willing to open their wallets and spend, likely at the expense of other investment opportunities. This is where the second change in the process must occur. Test the product with one set of customers, but try and sell the product to a different set of customers. Marketing should go on live sales calls and live firsthand how customers react to the product offering and its value. And they should be accountable to closing a certain number of deals prior to handing the product to sales. Why? The insights gained from the selling process are primarily based on what buyers are looking for in terms of business outcomes versus product features. This input helps marketing shape and create compelling value propositions that can be quickly adapted and used by the sales team. Traditionally this occurs in the first three to six months after launch, and depending on the customer acceptance and sales team confidence, will often determine the future performance of the product. More often than companies would like to admit, the sales team rejects the product and the company does not realize its planned ROI.
Translating Learnings into a Sales Playbook
Incorporating sales into the product development process and involving marketing into the initial sales process testing creates the foundation of a strong customer-focused value proposition. It is now time to create a tiger team comprised of product, marketing, finance and sales to hone that value proposition based on the customer segments the company serves. This team will run the sales process from start to finish for all customer segments creating power messages and identifying key activities for not only decision makers, but also influencers. If special contracting or pricing processes must be created, they should be documented and included in the playbook. The outcome of the sales playbook is a guide which increases sales rep confidence and positions the new product to focus on customer outcomes.
Time to Revenue
Companies that reduce the amount of time it takes to reach a significant revenue stream from new products will be the ones that can continually innovate and stay ahead of their competitors. Reducing this time means embracing the sales team as a key component in the product development process, while leveraging marketing to assist in establishing strong customer outcome-based value propositions. This closed loop process between sales, marketing and product can significantly improve performance while avoiding painful product launch failures.