Sales Enablement of Product Launches

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About eighteen months ago while riding shotgun with a perpetual President’s Club winning Account Executive I witnessed a product get dumped from our portfolio in real time. We were sitting in a Starbucks and he was frantically editing slides to delete any evidence of this new product feature. For a year he’d petitioned for this new feature relentlessly alongside his field sales peers, and only weeks past GA, it’s being added to the ‘sell everything on the truck except this’ list. A thorough investigation was required and without going into details, he and an SE presented this new feature to an existing customer and in his words got eaten alive in the meeting.

Multiple mandatory online training modules, emphasis at SKO, commission multipliers, and almost 2 years and I see a win report in my inbox from that very AE. He finally sold the ‘new’ product. Combing reports this seems to be the universal story for this new product and few others in the portfolio. All witnessed their expected success. Just much later than anticipated.

Your sales organization is always chomping at the bit to get new widgets to sell to new leads. Paired with your product management dream team and they’re always in the right place with the right product at the right time, right? Back to reality. Sales teams tend to flip from love to hate affairs with new products quickly. Confidence is a huge part of the successful salesperson profile; hence they’re always selling the best product on the market. The best are always early adopters, quickly marching into initial sales meetings to cash in on the new hotness. Without a proper enablement strategy though said confidence drops pretty damn quick along with their willingness to go sell a new product or feature.

One of the nasty side effects of a soft product launch is the inevitable finger pointing that enablement teams always seem to find their way in front of. Obviously, The product team has a solution that solves world hunger and the sales team can sell sand in the Sahara so they’re going to find a reason for lackluster results.

This becomes increasingly problematic as the pace that B2B technology corporations are introducing new products to the market is accelerating. Even early stage companies or startups seem to be anxious to diversify the offering. Multi-product generally means multi-customer, multi-workload, or a combination thereof. That’s the lingo your product management team used when they sold the executive team on their strategy that’ll ensure deeper and wider penetration into existing accounts and instantaneously increasing the total addressable market (TAM). There’s a few other ‘multis’ that a lot of organizations don’t invest enough time exploring. Multi-skillset and multi-competitor are a couple that can result in your organization being thrown into a high-pressure reaction mode.

If the organization has invested significant resources and money into developing new products your organization should be a part of that investment. In addition to data rich case studies of prior soft launches you’ll want to present a solid strategy. The following was paramount in earning additional resources and establishing initial consideration to make much needed improvements in my Enablement offering .

Develop a Standardized Launch Enablement Program — One thing you’ll realize quickly in an organization with an appetite for releasing new product and features is product management teams become extremely competitive. They’ll quickly learn that enablement is crucial to their success and while many will attempt their own offerings they’ll also learn how difficult this endeavor is. Having standardized enablement offerings will ensure:

· An accurate platform for analyzing and reporting results

· Ad-hoc enablement requests are staved off

· Higher adoption as a result of consistency and predictability

· A more cooperative launch team

Define and Map the Launch Team — This is likely the most difficult of the three components but often the most important. Start by identifying the departments and individuals that will have responsibility for the release of a new product. The hit list should at a minimum, include:

· Product Management

· Product Marketing

· Technical Marketing

· Sales Operations and Leadership

· Support

From here you’ll need to map roles and responsibilities with folks in the Enablement organization and get to work building relationships. I can’t even count the amount of half populated launch matrix documents and poorly attended launch meetings over the years. Without a relationship dotted cross-functional team management is just resume lingo. People are the first on the list my people are instructed to invest in. This is not to say documenting in a launch team matrix is not important, rather that it should serve for archival and documenting actions not establishing the action plan.

Get in Front of the Roadmap(s) — This is an extremely critical requirement to ensure products are launched. It’s your ticket into strategic planning instead of chaotic reaction. Beyond product roadmaps, the Enablement leadership should be in front of any major change that will impact the go to market strategy including: new partnerships, mergers/acquisitions, price or license changes, and marketing campaigns. This becomes challenging within large organizations where policy, process, and politics are more established, but you should be constantly campaigning to get closer to the decision-making process.

Next Steps:

Leveraging Champions — Call them before they call you. Subject matter experts (SMEs) and product champions fight for the sales team’s attention early in the product release life cycle jumping in any deal anywhere. With success, they’re soon asking for education and enablement for the general population, so they can focus on the most valuable opportunities. However, they’re now over extended, minimizing their availability to work with your team to develop a program that scales. Identify individuals that have relevant experience, skill-sets, and focus. Go beyond the dedicated SMEs, and specialists if you need to. Look to the sales teams who have beta customers for help. They’ve the passion and experience you’ll need to incorporate in your programs.

These are only 3 critical components of a successful product launch. Have another you feel should be included in the list? Perhaps a cool product launch story? Please share in the comments.

Originally published at medium.com on March 31, 2019.