The best product leaders make a regular practice of co-opting Sales Reps and Sales Engineers in developing new product ideas and in creating the longer-term vision for those ideas.

A product leader at a recent client of mine expressed a frustration that most product leaders can relate to. His organization had recently invested heavily in developing a new product that targeted a growing segment of the company’s customer base. The development phase went off without a hitch. The new product had attributes that were far superior to competitive offerings and had attributes that would save hundreds of thousands of dollars for large customers in the targeted space. However, the product hit the market with a thud. No buzz, no activity, and no sales.

 

Download the Product – Sales Engagement Scorecard. This tool helps rate how well your Product Team engages Sales in the development of new product ideas and the vision for those products, and allows you to leverage various engaging questions to identify trouble areas and rate your Product Team.

 

Deconstructing a Failed Launch

 

So, what was the cause? In this particular case, Sales had zero involvement in the development of this product, and zero input in crafting the vision for the product. Product assumed that customers would flock to a new product, but Sales knew that existing supplier relationships in the target market were very sticky. Despite the value represented by the new product, the customers in this segment were skeptical of theoretical efficiencies and cost savings. Product felt it could extract a premium price for a superior product, but Sales knew that customers in this space were never going to pay more.

 

In addition, by not involving Sales from the beginning, Product missed a golden opportunity to create a wave of early adopters. When Product involves Sales from the ideation stage forward, they provide reps with an opportunity to engage those customers that are most interested in trying something new, and allow those customers to shape a product to their needs. In that case, everyone wins, including you, the Product Leader, who has just dramatically increased your chances of a successful launch. When done well, you’ve also won over some customers for life, as they now feel like true partners.

 

Co-opting Sales in Developing a Product Vision

 

Back in December, I wrote about the importance of developing a Product Vision, a North Star that lights a path to the success of a product. As a product leader, it is critically important that you have alignment with all key organizational stakeholders around the objectives of a given product.  However, trying to gain that alignment after the product is fully baked is an exercise in futility, especially if you’re looking for alignment with Sales.

 

So, what is the key to developing a product vision that Sales can get behind? The answer is getting them involved as early as possible as you are initially crafting your vision.

 

Here’s a roadmap for engaging Sales in the development of a Product Vision.

 

Engage Sales in the Ideation Stage

 

In most companies, there is no shortage of ideas for new products. However, the ideas for products that are truly going to move the needle almost always come from those closest to the customer – your Sales team. Sales will provide you the best glimpse of what the market wants, what the market opportunity is, and how customers receive value from products on the market.

 

To bubble up product ideas from Sales, you should have a cadence of regular meetings and interviews with a variety of reps. In addition, you should also be engaging Sales in their natural habitat. Go on sales calls and hear firsthand what customers are saying about your product and competitive products. Sit in on Win/Loss calls and make sure you understand especially why customers opted for a competitive offering. (If your company doesn’t conduct effective Win/Loss calls, be sure to check out this article written by my colleague Dan Korten last year.

 

What questions should you be asking Sales in the ideation stage?

 

  • What are the biggest product gaps in the market?
  • What would cause customers to switch suppliers?
  • What product attributes would give us a better chance of upsell/cross-sell/expansion?
  • What are customers willing to pay a premium for?

     

Re-Engage Sales as You Are Building out an Idea and Crafting the Product Vision

 

Once you’ve aligned around an idea that you’re going to pursue, Sales can help you develop a more complete vision for the product – both through their own input and by introducing you to early adopters among the customer base. These early adopters are your key to understanding the ‘Voice of the Customer’ as you tailor your vision and begin to develop the product itself.

 

It is also important at this stage to include representatives from Sales as you build out the actual product vision document. Don’t let the value of the original concept get diluted due to a lack of representation from those that are closest to the customer. Enlisting Sales to co-author the product vision helps to build a sense of shared ownership for the success of the product.

 

What questions should you be asking Sales during this stage where you are crafting the Product Vision?

 

  • How are early adopter customers reacting to our ideas?
  • Who are the personas that we will need to reach?
  • What messaging is resonating most with these key personas?
  • How have our assumptions & ideas changed based on our initial conversations with customers?

     

Keep Sales Engaged Throughout the Development Cycle

 

So now that you’ve now co-opted Sales in the development of both an idea and in the vision for that idea, don’t lose their engagement as you carry these products across the goal-line and into the market place. Involve your Sales counterparts on product development calls so they can follow along as you encounter challenges and as your team comes up with new ideas. Sales involvement at this point will also help you shape the enablement content that will be critical to a larger scale rollout.

 

Representatives from the Product team should also be regular fixtures on sales calls with those ‘early adopters’ that were identified earlier. Share development progress with these customers, support early product trials where appropriate, and continue to iterate on the specific features of the final product.

 

What questions should you be asking Sales during this Development phase

 

  • How are our early ideas and prototypes being received by early adopters?
  • Are there any changes in direction based on some of the early feedback?
  • Have our assumptions on the target market or the market opportunity changed at all?
  • Should this product be sold as a complete bundle to replace current installations, or does the product fit into a land-and-expand strategy?

     

So, How Are You Doing in Engaging Sales Input?

 

By involving Sales every step of the way, you’ve not only mobilized an army of internal advocates before your product is even on the market, but you’ve also hopefully landed a few early customers as well. To see how you’re doing in comparison to best-in-class Product groups, download the Product-Sales Engagement Scorecard.

 

 

Additional Resources

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chad Wittenborn

Bringing growth leaders into alignment around emerging best practices, enabling them to outpace their competitors and make their number.

Chad deploys a highly analytical approach, leveraging a background heavy on growth strategy, sales effectiveness, and operations, to drive top-line revenue growth.  Prior to joining SBI, Chad held a variety of growth leadership roles in industries ranging from Manufacturing to Healthcare.  He has worked closely with sales, marketing, and operations leaders to identify obstacles to growth and to execute initiatives to overcome those barriers. Chad has delivered results by leading projects involving structural transformations of sales organizations, new service line launches, incentive plan overhauls, performance management programs, and CRM implementation and adoption.

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