Every year B2B companies market a dazzling array of new products. Some are modifications or minor upgrades of last year’s offerings. Others are designed to be significant revenue producers or game changers and a few are “bet the company” entries into the market.
Unfortunately all too often the product launch turns out to more closely resemble an escape plan than a product launch to develop market superiority.
In some cases the product design was flawed. In others, the product concept was backed by poorly developed market research. And in still others, it was just a case that the timing was off. Yet, even when these problems are addressed, and increasingly they are, failure often is still the final result. One reason for the continued lack of success of new product launches is the failure of companies to effectively launch the new product to their sales force.
Although there are a number of reasons at the margin for this dilemma, two are the main culprits – failing to develop a compelling compensation system and failing to help the sales team adapt and adjust their skills to selling the new product. Get these two factors right and the success picture is altered dramatically.
Last week I had lunch with a friend and colleague, Jerry Colletti. Jerry and Mary Fiss wrote the most comprehensive book on the market about how to design compensation systems that work in today’s sales environment.
As our conversation wandered to the topic of product launches, Jerry noted “too frequently in B2B sales situations only 5% to 15% of the incentive opportunity is allocated to payment for new products sales. To reflect the complexity of new product sales and the degree of time and effort that sales reps may have to invest in successfully selling new products, the incentive opportunity should fall in the range of 25% to 40% of total annual incentive pay.”
Think about it. What is the effort, hassle, and risk associated with selling new products? The answer is a lot of each. You have to learn the product; you probably have to develop new customer contacts; you have to deal with implementation issues yet to be worked out and you have to worry about your own credibility if things go wrong.
Getting the compensation right is like the “ticket to the dance.” It is a fundamental that has to be in place for success to occur.
In today’s market most B2B companies have made a substantial investment in developing a competent sales team. But no matter how competent they will need to adapt and adjust their skills in order to sell the new product. The more creative and imaginative the product, the greater is the required skill shift.
Can they make the transition on their own? Some can, but most will take longer then you would like and some will never get there. And, the question is what is the priced paid in lost sales?
The sales team needs some help and the good news is there is a great mechanism in place to provide that help – coaching by the front-line sales managers.
In general, the front-line sales manager is the pivotal job for developing and sustaining a superior sales team and coaching is a primary tool.
Sales coaching should be an ongoing effort. However, if it is not there are certain Trigger Events like mergers and acquisitions, rebranding initiatives, and new product launches when coaching takes on an added importance. The investment in these Trigger Events is so great that the failure to help the sales team make the necessary transition via coaching constitutes a type of organizational malfeasance.
The following strategic questions require addressing:
- Do the sales managers have the knowledge and skill to sell the new product, if not how will that be corrected?
- Do the sales managers know how to coach, if not what can be done to fix that?
- Is the sales leadership committed to providing the priority to coaching to enable the managers to get it right, if not why not?
If as a company, your sales managers have historically struggled with sales coaching efforts, there are a number of new creative companies (e.g., Covocative) that have developed easy-to-use customizable software tools that can be of tremendous help for getting it right.
Summary. The failure to successfully launch your new exciting product to the sales team is a classic example of “for want a nail the kingdom was lost.” The investment in design and development is often staggering. So don’t forget to take the last step for achieving success.
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