Product Launch Readiness: Planning for Sales Velocity

by Dave Daniels

So what is the point of product launch anyway? For most of us caught up in the vortex of getting a product to market, it’s to finish activity “A” or produce deliverable “B”. There is considerable pressure to get to market because so much money and resources have been expended to develop and test the product.

THE POINT OF PRODUCT LAUNCH IS CREATE SALES VELOCITY.

Velocity is defined as the rate of change of position, as used in physics. Sales velocity is what we all want to achieve with a product launch, but rarely see happen. We want to see a sales rate that climbs and exceeds everyone’s expectations. It’s the hockey stick revenue chart that every startup dreams about.

Sales Velocity Curve

But many product launches have a post launch revenue chart that shows an initial sales volume and then drops dramatically, never seeing the desirable Sales Velocity Curve. It happens because after the Sales team sells the product to the 10% of prospects who “get it” with little sales effort, they encounter the other 90% that require a more rigorous sales effort. Deals take longer to close and become more complex. If the sales team begins to experience a slowdown in deals they will look to other products in the portfolio to meet their quota.

Typical Launch Sales Curve

Product Launch: Beginning or End?

Your product development team sees product launch as the end of the development process. But your sales team sees product launch as a beginning, a time to close new deals and all the rewards that go with it.

Your marketing team may be more aligned with the “end of the development process” mindset. It’s only natural because the marketing team is running around working “the list” of deliverables that are needed to hand over the product to sales. You know what I’m referring to. There needs to be a four page brochure, a one-page data sheet, PowerPoint presentation, an email blast, etc. It’s all about getting “the list” done and little about helping the sales team to understand the problem, the Buyers and the Buying Cycle to move an opportunity from awareness to close.

Marketing’s job — to paraphrase former Coca-Cola CMO Sergio Zyman — is to sell more stuff to more people more often at a higher price. It isn’t about t-shirts, coffee mugs and trade shows. Those are merely tools in the toolbox. It also doesn’t imply that marketing‘s role is sales support.

Selling is about closing one deal with one customer. Marketing is about closing many deals with many customers — and it requires knowledge of problems and buyers. When members of your marketing team are helping one sales person close one deal they are doing sales support. When members of your marketing team are helping an entire sales channel close deals with a group of buyers with a common need, they are doing Marketing.

Getting the marketing team aligned with the mindset they are part of the selling process and taking a greater ownership in achieving Sales Velocity. Now let’s look at specific things you can prepare for sales velocity.

Grab Hold of a Moving Train
In order to achieve sales velocity there are things that are fundamental to your success. Depending on where you happen to be in the product launch process you many need to take corrective action now to get sales on the right track. For the purpose of this article I am going to assume you are introducing a new product to new buyers. This could be net new customers and it could also mean existing customers that have not yet bought your new product.

I will propose some planning guidelines, but I would expect the guidelines will vary based on the size and complexity of your organization.

Fundamentals
No amount of marketing effort will overcome a product that is a solution looking for a problem. You cannot achieve sales velocity with a product that doesn’t meet a market need.

Before you build one piece of collateral, one sales presentation or attempt to do a messaging session you need to know your Buyer and define what the Buying Cycle looks like. Many times this is an inside-out, guessing game which results in wasted marketing effort.

Sales Velocity Countdown

120 Days Before Launch

Get to Know Your Buyers
At the core of this knowledge are Buyer Personas. According to Adele Revella, “A buyer persona is a detailed profile of an example buyer that represents the real audience — an archetype of the target buyer.”

At a minimum a Buyer Persona Profile should contain job title, age, education, industry/segment, manager title, years in the job, most important responsibilities and activities, and the top five problems that interfere with success. You get this information by getting out of the office. A great way to learn about your buyer persona is at conferences. Strike up conversations at the snack bar to learn about them, what concerns them and how they find solutions to their problems.

If you have not built a buyer persona before don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time. The most important point is to get a basic understanding of each buyer who would be involved in the evaluation and purchase of your product. You will need this later for developing messaging, marketing programs, sales tools and conducting sales training.

Interview potential buyers using open-ended questions. The purpose of this activity is to learn what you don’t already know. Don’t be a victim of too much knowledge. Your assumptions about a given buyer could be dated and irrelevant.

BUYER — SOMEONE WHO IS INVOLVED IN A BUYING DECISION 
FOR YOUR PRODUCT THAT IS NOT ALREADY A CUSTOMER

Understand the Buying Cycle
Understanding the buying cycle will help you educate your sales team and define the sales tools you will need to build to move the opportunity through the buying cycle. The steps in the buying cycle can be best understood by talking with potential buyers. What you want to know is how they go through the process of evaluating and purchasing products that are similar in scope and price to yours, and who will be involved in the buying process.

Once you have a basic understanding of the buying cycle you can use it as a basis for developing a strategy for moving buyers through the buying cycle. If your product is new and has never been sold your first steps in understanding the buying cycle will involve a little educated guesswork. It’s typical that different products will require different buying cycles. Don’t assume that your new product will be evaluated and purchased in the same way an established product in your company is sold today.

Identify Resistance to Selling
Another factor to consider when planning for Sales Velocity is the amount of change the sales team will need to undergo in order to be effective at selling. Too much change in things like price point, sales process, buyers, technology or maturity will cause the sales team concern. That concern will manifest itself in resistance to selling the product either directly or passively.

A good product launch plan recognizes where sales resistance will occur and incorporates steps to overcome the resistance. Calling on a buyer that a sales person is unfamiliar with is one of the most common points of sales resistance. If he’s skilled at calling on the network manager and now you want him to call on the CIO he’s going to struggle. He’s very comfortable having a conversation with the network manager and now you want him to have a conversation with the CIO. You have a responsibility to show him how to have a meaningful conversation that will lead to a sale.

90 Days Before Launch

Develop Awareness Programs
Too often companies invest heavily in creating a great product that satisfies a problem in the market, only to be disappointed when sales volumes fall far below expectation. The assumption is that the product is so incredible that the word will get out and the product will sell itself. I wish it were that easy. Although the iPod is a great product, even Apple spent many millions to generate awareness about it and create an impression about the product in the mind of buyers.

Use Awareness Tactics Based on Buyer Personas
The most common mistake when developing a go-to-market strategy is guessing at the tactics to use for generating awareness. Understanding where your buyers seek out solutions to their problems is fundamental. Start with your knowledge of your buyer and go from there.

Map Different Buyers to the Buying Cycle
Your buyer research will reveal which buyers are involved in the buying cycle and at which steps. Use this information to map those buyers to the step in buying cycle for which they participate. While this may not be exact for every sales situation, it is a good approximation of the buyers a sales person is likely to encounter.

Develop Sales Tools
With an understanding of the buyers and the buying cycle, the job of planning sales tools becomes infinitely clearer. The goal of the sales tools is to persuade buyers to move from one stage of the buying cycle to the next. If you are in Marketing and asked to create yet another sales tool (YAST) that will never be used, refer to your buying cycle chart and ask where in the buying cycle are you getting stuck and why aren’t the existing sales tools working.

Help Sales Close Early Deals
One of my favorite techniques is to help seed early sales. You do this by identifying the sales person least likely to succeed and help him win his first deal with your product. I know this sounds like sales support, but you’re doing it for strategic gain so it’s a perfectly valid method.

Working with the sales guy least likely to succeed, use your knowledge of buyers and the buying cycle to get prospects for your sales person. Then work them through the buying cycle. The first purpose this serves is to validate your understanding and make corrections. The second purpose is to get the sales team excited and believe they can make quota with your product.

Prior to the next sales kickoff you will build a presentation that your sales person will present to his peers. You will coach him through the presentation to make sure he’s credible and knowledgeable. When he presents, the other sales persons are in complete disbelief that this guy made a sale. Even more important, they believe they can sell even more. Now you have their attention and can present the knowledge they need to win.

60 Days Before Launch

Develop Sales Readiness Training Materials

The typical sales preparation process is for the marketing team to build some marketing collateral, create a PowerPoint presentation, a new demo and throw it over the wall to the sales team. Then let the sales team figure it out and waste a lot of valuable selling opportunity.

At the sales kick-off members of your marketing team present new features in the product and explain how cool they are. They also explain the calendar of marketing events that will be conducted to provide the sales team with “air cover”.

The sales team doesn’t need to know about features and programs, they need knowledge. Knowledge of the Buyers, where to find them, the problems they are experiencing, how to talk with them and how the problems are affecting their organization. Then and only then do they need to know how the product they are selling addresses the problems and the competitors they are likely to encounter.

Address Resistance to Selling
Sales people must believe that they can achieve quota selling your product. Do you have a product that your sales team is ignoring or resisting to sell? It’s likely that one or more points of sales resistance are in play. There are five basic reasons that sales people will resist selling your product:

  • Change in buyers
  • Change in buying cycle
  • Change in price
  • Change in technology
  • Change in product/market maturity

A change in any one of these parameters will cause Sales to resist selling the product. Most often this appears when the sales person is asked to call on a different buyer.

If you are asking sales people to change any one of the five sales resistance parameters, it will need to be addressed as part of Sales Training. You can deal with this head on by using your knowledge of the problem, the buyers, their buying criteria and buying cycle. Instead of gratuitous product slides in the PowerPoint presentation, spend most of the time talking about buyers. Show the sales people how to have a conversation with them and you’ll win them over.

Establish Win/Loss Analysis Protocol

Using Win/Loss Analysis to learn about buyers and the buying cycle is one of the most valuable activities that Marketing can perform during and after product launch. Sales should never do Win/Loss Analysis. The reason is because the outcomes are predictable. We lost the deal because the price was too high and feature X was missing. Win/Loss should be used to learn what you don’t know, not confirm what you already know. It can reveal interesting details about which buyers were involved in the sale and where a deal got stuck in the buying cycle.

In the early stages of a new product launch, Win/Loss calls can reveal insights that will enable you to adjust messages, marketing programs and sales tools to win more deals, more often.

30 Days Before Launch

Conduct Sales Readiness Training
30 days prior to launch is time to ready your team to sell the product. Remember that your goal is get sales people to believe they can achieve quota with your product. If you have an indirect channel it’s getting them to believe that they can make money with your product at an acceptable margin.

Build in multiple ways to reach your sales channel with Sales Readiness Training. It’s not always possible get everyone in the same place at the same time, so you may need to travel to them or utilize web conference tools to reach them. Also build in checkpoints along the way to share newly discovered information and to share sales successes.

Sale Velocity is Planned

Sales velocity can be planned provided there is an alignment between solving a problem that is urgent, pervasive and buyers are will to pay to solve, knowledge of buyers and the buying process, giving the sales team the knowledge they need to win, and creating awareness in the market to drive interest.

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