Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center
An ideal product launch should not only focus on marketing the product to the customer, but also on “marketing” the product internally to assist the Sales Team optimize its sales efforts. Too often, focus is placed on selling to the customer, without effectively training the sales team in the nuances of a product that requires more than just the presentation of features and benefits.
As technologies develop and products become more complex, the more information the Sales Team has on the product, the better they will be able to answer questions knowledgeably and overcome obstacles when working with their customers. Similarly, data gathered by the Sales Team should be cycled back to Marketing to ensure that product is being received and is performing as expected, and any potential issues or improvements can immediately be fed back to the Product Development Team.
Remember that the sales team is on the front line, so a Marketing Plan or Commercialization Plan should include an element that arms the sales team with as many preemptive answers as possible so that he or she can present the company’s expertise effectively and deliver a consistent product message. So what should be included in this Plan?
Make sure your sales team understands how and why your product is positioned the way it is. If the product was developed as the result of a recurring problem expressed by several customers, make sure the whole team is aware of it. Just because a customer hasn’t expressed the particular problem, doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced it! If it was developed as the result of a new technology that makes the customer’s job easier, make sure they know it.
If you want your sales team to sell on value rather than price, then you need to make sure they understand the intrinsic value of the product and its benefit to the customer, not just its features and price. What problem does it solve? Will it make the customer more effective? Will it save time or labor?
Make sure everyone is on board with precisely which customer segment(s) constitutes the target market, and that the sales team understands the criteria on which the potential market size was developed. If the numbers were developed based on a specific application, and a particular customer ends up using the product differently (it has been known to happen), this is critical information that should be fed back to Marketing and Product Development for further evaluation. Was the original data based on a false premise (hopefully this is never the case), or is this a viable alternative application? If so, can this application be extended across the entire market in which case the potential market has just increased and the information should be distributed to the entire sales team!
What competitive products is your sales team likely to come up against? How does the product perform against these products? How are competitive products used versus pricing? Having spent many years in the chemical industry, I have learned that one of the first things to check for is the dilution rates of chemicals: if a product costs $10.00/litre and needs to be diluted at 1:2, it is NOT cheaper than a $50.00/litre product that can be diluted at 1:12 and offers comparable performance!
Don’t just send the sales team off with a data sheet and price list. Testimonials, value calculators, editable presentations, how-to’s and trial protocols (if applicable) all help the sales team present a professional, polished image of a company that understands its market and is working with their customer to help them make an informed purchase.
If the product or service you are offering has customization options, make sure your sales team is fully aware of the criteria for customization: options, minimums, lead times and other requirements. As Carla O’Dell once said, “If you don’t give people information, they’ll make something up to fill the void”, and too often it’s something along the lines of “Of course you can have that in 2 weeks!” This not only creates chaos for the Product Development and Operations teams but can set unrealistic expectations as far as the customer is concerned. Most customers would rather have a realistic 6 week lead time, than constantly be given reasons why an unrealistic 2 week lead time could not be met!
As a final note, while many companies focus on training upon recruitment, they fail to continue this training as products and markets evolve, yet studies have shown that proper training can boost a salesperson’s productivity by 20% and profit margins by much more!