Getting a new product or service to market is tough and there are myriad factors that impact success. Whether the new offering comes from bold innovation, cross- organizational collaboration to create new solutions, or simply next generation products and services, the product launch is a critical component if you expect to increase revenue, find new clients, and expand existing business. Yet new products often fizzle on the launch pad. Depending on the industry and study, you’ll find statistics as high as 70-80% failure in consumer-packaged goods and a 30%-50% failure range for other categories. While it’s difficult to isolate the data to support an exact failure rate for new products and services, there is no question that this is an area of considerable challenge for many organizations.
As part of a strategy engagement, I was recently invited to participate in a series of meetings to launch a new suite of products. Within 15 minutes I could tell that the launch was in trouble. The marketing team, which was filled with very talented and intelligent professionals, presented collateral and PowerPoint slides ad infinitum describing the details, features, and bells and whistles. There were oohs and ahs and some excitement about the capability. That’s to be expected. But there was no talk about customer needs, circumstances that were ripe for solving problems, or situations that would indicate opportunity. It was straight up, a pitch. A one-way stream of information shared rapidly in order to get every single cool detail in.
The marketing team is responsible for the product launch, but then the sales team is quickly handed the responsibility for making it a success. When your sales team has information about new products shared with them in this way, how do you suspect they’ll discuss your new offerings with prospects and clients?
No matter how much you talk about solution, consultative, or other derivatives of a customer focused method of selling, this approach to product introductions is a recipe for pitching. If you want your sales team to succeed with a new product, service, or combined solution, introduce it using this process:
Develop descriptions of the product or service in terms of the problems it solves or the opportunities it helps your client capitalize on. Marketing collateral and launch material ought to be focused on communicating how your new product or service solves client problems and addresses a need. It’s not that technical specifications or details aren’t important, but companies tend to do a good job on that. There’s a need for equal rigor put toward researching the details around customer objectives that are resolved, lessened, or improved with the new offering, information that is too often missing in product launch materials.
Create the ideal client profiles and situations that represent the most fertile ground for your new product or service to grow. Get specific about the client circumstances and needs that indicate ripeness. Sometimes this information is broad, such as a mutual fund wholesaler knowing clearly that financial advisors are always looking for strong performance and low fees. Other times it’s more precise, like a company that is planning to expand to a new space prompting a data center technology provider to introduce new services. There are likely a handful of conditions that represent the sweet spot for your new offering, so get clear on what they are.
Identify your priority opportunities. Don’t make the mistake of saying, “Now get out there and sell this new [widget] to every prospect and client.” It isn’t that you don’t want everyone to buy it. The priority is a focused effort on the part of the sales organization to get early wins, positive client reviews and even case studies on your new offering. As an EVP of Sales I was part of new product launches that succeeded as well as those that failed to deliver on our expectations. Knowing our potential early adopters, and targeting the kind of prospects who are dealing with conditions that you can improve (in our case, the service focused on integrating a company post-acquisition), was a key factor in those launches that worked. Have your sales team list their accounts most likely to represent the issues or opportunities you can best support. Track these opportunities in whatever CRM you use and invest resources and support, such as access to company leaders or subject matter experts, to ensure their success.
Plan call strategies that focus on what to ask versus what to say about the new offering. Companies frequently put considerable effort toward creating enthusiasm in launches of new products and services. That’s valuable, but it has a downside if not harnessed correctly. Have you ever talked with someone about something they are very passionate or excited about? They don’t shut up about it, right? In research from Neil Rackham contrasting sales of new and existing products, when selling new products, sales professionals made statements about product capability 300% more of the time than they did with existing products. Instead of bombarding clients with all the exciting new information the sales team has absorbed, take the focus back to what you need to find out or explore in order to best position your new capabilities. At its most granular level, draft some call strategies in terms of questions that could be asked. (Cautionary note here—the most common error I see in consultative selling is that conversations turn into interrogations.) Prepare the sales team to have mutual explorations with prospects about the conditions in their environment.
Yes, it’s harder this way than a “rah rah” pitch session. But done well it may not require more effort or time than you are already spending. You’ve spent tons of money on developing a new product or solution, so don’t fail on the last stage of your launch sequence.