We’ve all been there. It’s new product launch time and everyone is jazzed. New product development has created the silver bullet that’s going to slay the competition and you’re rolling it out to the field. Marketing has done its part:
- They’ve nailed all of the features that customers said they wanted, plus a few more you know that they need.
- Focus group users loved the beta version!
- Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on market research, proving that the marketing message is spot on and that the market opportunity is HUGE!!!
Now it’s time for the field to take that baby and run with it. By the time you’re done presenting, sales reps can barely stay in their chairs. Everyone is on board and they have a plan that is going to make their year. They set up a few appointments and they start enthusiastically pitching all of the new features to their best clients.
And then they get punched in the face.
What Mike Tyson was talking about was the tendency of his opponents to talk big about their plan for beating him, but then abandon that plan once they got in the ring. Instead of executing the plan they knew was their path to success, they slipped into self-protection mode once they got punched in the face by the baddest man on the planet.
While sales is (hopefully) not as terrifying as facing Mike Tyson in his prime, the possibility that your sales channel will abandon their plan at the first sign of trouble is a very real challenge that product managers must overcome in order to be successful. How does a sales rep get “punched in the face”?
- Maybe they run into an unfamiliar, yet still entrenched competitor.
- Maybe customers dismissed a few of the “exciting” new features as inconsequential or of no use at all.
- Maybe the first five prospects they called expressed no interest and refused to meet with them.
- Maybe their best customer tells them that the features are great, but there is no way they can fit the price tag in their budget.
- Maybe the punch wasn’t even that hard, but it hurt because it blind-sided them.
- Maybe they didn’t even get punched themselves, but heard through the grapevine that “all” of their colleagues were getting punched.
Regardless, it often takes only one or two “punches”, real or imagined, to make a sales rep doubt their plan . . . to doubt the value of your new product. Fear of getting punched again makes them tentative and reduces their confidence when they make their pitch. That lack of confidence only increases the chances that they will get punched again.
Slowly but surely they back off your exciting new product, your baby, and they go into self-protection mode … they return to selling their legacy products. They might not set the world on fire doing that, but at least they know they’re not going to get punched in the face. Thus the downward spiral begins as your launch loses momentum and slowly dies.
No Feedback, Just Lousy Results
What does this look like from your desk? Mostly it looks like numbers. Sales numbers that are lower than you predicted. You start reaching out to the field managers, trying to find out what is happening. They reach out to their reps and they come back to you with stories about what happened when they pitched your new product … stories about how you got them punched in the face. You hear “We need more features!” or “We need a lower price!” or “It didn’t meet my customers’ needs.” You are unlikely to hear any admission that they didn’t try hard enough to work through the issues that come with selling a product for the first time.
A Failure of Product or a Failure of Execution
So there you are. You thought you had done everything right, and have nothing to show for it. Then the day comes and you have to meet with your CEO and she asks the question: Was this a failure of product or a failure of execution? Where should we invest next?
- Fix the product?
- Additional sales training?
- Additional commissions?
- Call the whole thing off?
And you don’t know for sure. All you have is the initial research. The research that said this would be an astounding success. And it wasn’t. Whose fault was it? Fingers get pointed and, worst of all, careers get sidetracked.
Can this scenario be prevented?
A New Paradigm
The answer is “yes”, but it requires some serious paradigm shifting. The old paradigm, where NPD and marketing researched, developed and marketed new products, and then turned them over to sales reps who figured out how to sell them, never really worked all that well. And now it doesn’t work at all. Competition killed it. The internet killed it.
Instead, marketers must find ways to:
- Develop messaging that works just as effectively in 1:1 sales conversations as it does in focus groups.
- Demonstrate that new features address issues that decision makers will find money to solve, even it is outside current budget.
- Help their colleagues in sales ask the right questions and see punches coming in advance and use those punches to their advantage.
- Build effective feedback bridge between the sales and marketing departments, enabling the organization as a whole to react quickly and decisively in the market.
Prescott Sales Pilots can help you make this shift. Contact us about your next product launch and let’s talk about how we can help.