The (Internal) Marketing Plan: Bridging the Gap Between Product Development & Sales

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center


How often has a new product been launched and the Sales Team been tasked with the “simple” directive to “go sell” it, armed with little more than a data sheet and price list? One year later, everyone wonders why the sales figures never quite match the numbers projected by Marketing.

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?

Product Positioning

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?

Target Market

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!

Competitive Landscape

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!

Sales Tools



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.

Product Availability

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!

Creating and Selling Value: Creating Value: Sales & The Value Pyramid

By Dora Cheatham, Emerging Enterprise Center

Going from supplying a product that meets basic customer expectations to contributing to a client’s organization can be hard to establish and even harder to maintain, but is an invaluable strategy for long term profitability. Keeping a customer requires the creation of a relationship of mutual trust and partnership that goes beyond supplying a quality product.

Seeking to create value and a sustainable competitive advantage is increasingly difficult in today’s data-filled environment. Buyers today are educated and savvy. In the B2B world, the buyer can be 60-65% through the purchase process before he or she even makes contact with an incumbent or potential vendor. They know what’s out there and what it costs so if all you have to offer is a product that meets specifications, then you have effectively created a situation where your only option is to sell on price—and the lowest price invariably wins. That also means that as soon as a competitor emerges with the same option at a lower price, then chances are that customer is lost to the newcomer. So how can you ensure that your customer remains loyal to your product and business?

Smart Buyers Seek Value

A truly smart buyer understands the value of a vendor that contributes to the smooth running of his or her business. If you can deliver a flawless product, on-time, every time, with excellent customer service, then it behoves him to use your product—because spending time dealing with vendor-related problems and quality issues costs money and impacts his own customer service and bottom line (think about the UPS “I’m happy” ads where department managers and customers are happy thanks to UPS Logistics).

By supplying a quality product with excellent customer service you have already established some level of competitive advantage. And many companies today provide good products with good service – it is a prerequisite to staying in business. To sustain that advantage however you need to continually climb the value pyramid and add to your product in terms of additional service and knowledge, eventually making a quantum leap to the peak of the value pyramid to establish yourself as more than a vendor, but a trusted strategic partner.

Can you help lower your customers’ costs or improve their productivity? Can you help them identify new products or markets? At an even broader level, can your customers call on you for advice on operational systems and processes or strategic direction? In other words, does your customer consider you a supplier or a partner?

Schematic adapted from Doyle P. and Stern P., Marketing Management & Strategy, 4th ed., Prentice Hall


As you climb the value pyramid, commoditization decreases and company and product value increases, with fewer competitors able to compete at the same level. The fundamental difference between the lower and upper levels of the pyramid is distinct: to be good at the former, the salesperson and business needs to have a top quality product to sell and needs to understand his product and his own business well.

To be good at the latter, the salesperson and business needs to have an understanding not only of his own product and business, but of his customer’s business as well. He needs to understand his customer’s individual and industry needs and must excel at consultative selling, offering solutions that are of mutual benefit to both organizations. Only then can you hope to ensure an enduring partnership and long term rewards.

You don’t close a sale; you open a relationship if you want to build a long-term, successful enterprise. Patricia Fripp.

Marketing for Small Businesses – 3 Steps to Success

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

We often hear of the failure rates of start-ups and new businesses, or even longer term firms going out of business for one reason or another.The US Census Bureau’s statistics certainly bear this out, with as many as 44% of businesses failing by their 3rd year and 71% failing by Year 10.

While this depends greatly on the industry, the chart below from Statistic Brain, shows just how fragile some industries can be:

While the final cause of death is usually financial collapse, the symptoms most likely started much earlier with failed strategies and operational inefficiencies. While no-one has a crystal ball into the future, you can certainly try to preempt as many obstacles as possible with careful planning and preparation; as Alan Lakein once said “failing to plan, is planning to fail”.

So if you’re thinking of starting your own business, or you’re beginning to see fissures in your business, there are definitely steps you can take ahead of time. Here are a few from a marketing perspective to ensure that your business survives and succeeds.


Understanding the lay of the land is critical in helping you determine what actions you will need to take to grow—or in some cases—survive. An excellent tool for establishing the lay of the land is Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model. This popular model forces you to look at your industry within a specific framework that takes into consideration competition between existing firms, the threat of new entrants, the strength of buyers and suppliers and the threat of substitute products. Another simple but frequently used framework: the SWOT analysis that assesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—use it to assess not only your own business but also that of your competition.

How do you fit in these frameworks? What are your core competences? What are your weaknesses? How can you leverage your strengths and improve on your weaknesses? It’s not enough to know and believe in your own product: you need to understand how it fits within the industry and among other like products in that industry. You also need to have a clear understanding of your customers’ (existing and/or potential) needs and wants.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a one time exercise—external forces and world events can impact the lay of the land, change the balance of power in these forces and overturn the positions in these frameworks within a matter of weeks! A catastrophic event – think 9/11 and its impact not only on the aviation industry but also the industry’s suppliers, travel, tourism and beyond – can and will result in a need to re-assess your business strategy in short order.  


Once you have a clear understanding of the lay of the land, the business then needs to determine its focus: What is your differential advantage or value proposition as a business? What are your growth objectives? Which products and markets offer the best opportunities to achieve your growth objectives? How will you achieve these objectives? Will it be through market penetration? Product development? Market development? Diversification? How will you position the business and your products to meet these objectives? Which core competences do you need to develop to achieve your targeted growth and create a sustainable competitive advantage? What will the investment be in time, talent and treasure to develop these core competences and what will your return on that investment be? 


The Marketing Mix is generally referred to as the 4Ps (or 5Ps depending on the source!) and encompasses decisions surrounding your Products (performance, features, design, presentations, name, etc), Pricing (direct, distributor, geographical, etc), Promotion (PR, marketing collateral, advertising), Place (distribution channels), and People (tasks, sales, support). In other words, you know your market and you know your customers. You now need to ensure that you have the correct products, that they are correctly positioned and that your communications correctly reflect that positioning. Do you have the right distribution channels set up? Do you have effective and efficient processes in place?

A common fallacy to avoid is that marketing is the same as sales, particularly on a B2B level. The two are very different and – while they work hand in hand – they perform different functions. Marketing creates the value, the visibility and the lead; it can also provide the tools to make the sales process more effective, but it is an ongoing process and does not preclude the need for a sales strategy to leverage and capitalize on the value created through the marketing process (check out the posts on Creating & Selling Value and What’s In A Brand?).



As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s not just about the strategy but about implementation and execution of that strategy. Once the lay of the land and the road map have been laid out, specific tactical and action plans, budgets and measurement criteria can be put into place to guide that execution and implementation. One of my favorite quotes is from the entrepreneur Naveen Jain. “A great strategy alone won’t win a game or battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.”