Companies in the B2B market develop a dazzling array of new products. Some are modifications or minor upgrades of last year’s offerings.
And some are extraordinary new products that are designed to be significant revenue producers or game changers or in some cases “bet the company” entries into the market.
Unfortunately all too often, even when the new product falls into the extraordinary category, the product launch to the sales team more closely resembles an escape plan than a product launch to develop market superiority. The investment in training the sales team to sell the new product is simply not commensurate with the importance of the new product.
This omission constitutes a strategic missing link. Even an extraordinary new product will not sell itself beyond the early adopters. The sales team needs a comprehensive body of product knowledge and they need to fine-tune and adapt their sales skills to the customer requirements related to the new product. The more innovative the new product – the truer this proposition.
The sales team will not accomplish this information acquisition on their own. Training is required and for an extraordinary product, it is only fitting that the training be extraordinary.
So let’s explore what extraordinary new product launch training might look like? The discussion addresses both product training and sales skills training. The ideas originate from our launch projects with clients in the B2B marketplace.
Product Training. As a baseline you have know the features and functions of the new product. But talking about a product and selling a product are two very different things. Therefore extraordinary product training must include more than information about features and functions. You need to know a second tier of knowledge that has to do with product application.
How do your products individually or collectively solve the various problems likely to be encountered by your customer base? How do they impact desired customer outcomes like: productivity gain, risk management, expense reduction and revenue generation? Can you delineate the research that demonstrates your solution does what you say it does? Can you fine-tune these narratives based on whether you are talking with a customer who is an engineer versus the CIO?
Sales Training. There are several baseline considerations for designing sales training that is commensurate with the importance of a great new product.
First, the sales training must be customized specifically for the new product. Second, all the players need to come to the party not just the account executives – for example the engineering/technical support people engaged in the sale, the marketing people who understand the customer profiles that are most likely to be good fits, and the sales managers who must provide initial guidance and coaching.
When it comes to specific design specifications a two-day program works best. The first day should be a highly interactive practice-based experience focusing on initial skill development in areas such as:
- Understanding the market forces driving the need for the product.
- Examining the customer organizations that are high priority prospects.
- Exploring the value propositions for the key players.
- Understanding the buying process and decision criteria.
- Overcoming unique obstacles and objections.
The second day should focus exclusively on providing practice and feedback in two fundamental skill areas – how to develop an account strategy for a targeted account and how to plan and execute face-to-face sales calls on the key players in the decision process. The idea is to drag the real world into the classroom so the participants can practice selling the new product before the product is launched. Sales simulations are a particularly effective instructional methodology for achieving the required realism.
Final Note. Each year a significant number of extraordinary new products are launched with great expectations. Unfortunately, far too many never live up to their potential. One way to minimize this maddening outcome is to make the investment in training the sales team to sell the product commensurate with the investment in creating the product in the first place.
Some additional posts about new product launches you might find interesting are:
- Great new product launches – an opportunity in waiting
- Five techniques to bridge the marketing-sales chasm
- Selling new products – 5 best practices for training your sales force
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