In today’s article, we review a topic important to every new product launch: Strategic alignment between the functional leaders of sales, marketing, and product.
Most leaders will tell you they communicate with their functional peers, and of course, they do. Communication happens but most of it is reactive. Because of the demands on time, alignment communication doesn’t happen consistently.
When product launch communication does happen it isn’t about the right topics. Communication starts too early and stays at too high of a level. Closer to the launch the communication starts again, but is reactive instead of purposeful. The communication occurs when something goes wrong or in late stage preparation. The marketing leader goes to the sales leader to discuss resolution, and vice-a-verse. This is solid business communication that should occur but gives you a false sense of alignment. Alignment by fire drill is not strategic.
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True product launch alignment involves talking about the right course of action well in advance. It involves discussing the allocation of people, money and time. Dialogue results in a plan of action to make the new product goal. This proactive dialogue replaces the problem resolution required to save the launch. Proactive planning looks ahead and results in executing plays before there is a gap.
Sales, marketing and product need to connect the product road map to the headcount plan. If you’re launching a new product requiring a new skill-set you should figure out how to sell. Are you training existing reps, adding a specialist sales support layer, or adding an entirely different rep? What are the implications of using one versus the other? If you’re not connecting the product strategy to the headcount plan, you’re operating in the dark.
You need to make sure marketing is allocating the right amount of budget to the new product to drive demand for sales.
Strategic alignment is measured by level of maturity. There are five levels of maturity in the strategic alignment model. Review the descriptions and plot your company’s preparation for your next product launch.
- Chaos – You may have a corporate strategy, but you don’t have functional strategies (Marketing, Sales, Product, etc.). This results in inconsistent performance. Tactics are executed without strategy. Heroic efforts of a few are required to achieve revenue goals. Leadership has no idea what’s going to happen in the future.
- Defined – Strategies at the functional level exist. The strategies are documented as part of the annual planning exercise. However, the plans are not fully implemented. Most often at this level the planning is a one-time event and then the functional teams execute tactics.
- Implemented – You have a corporate strategy and functional strategies. They are defined, and they are implemented within each one of those functions. Everyone in that function understands the strategies. You have more predictability. You have processes in place. But processes are not executed as well as they could be due to operating in silos.
- Managed – The difference between level three and four is that now you have cross functional alignment between the strategies. In level three you were silo’d, now you’re not. You are aligned internally across each strategy, and you receive the multiplier effect of being aligned. The missing piece is, you’re not aligned in the market.
- Predictable – You have your functional strategies aligned across all the departments, and you are also aligned to the external markets. You are making decisions based on what’s happening in the external markets, taking an outward in-view.
Earlier we reviewed the example of a new product launch performed poorly. Now we will walk through a new product launch performed with strategic alignment.
A large R&D investment has been made to develop the new products, and you have a revenue goal to hit.
Marketing needs to go beyond just driving ‘any’ lead. Demand needs to be driven in a way that aligns with sales goals by product. Marketing then allocates the proper amount of budget to make sure the new product is going to be successful.
The marketing team will be meeting with product management well in advance to understand the user and buyer drivers. Marketing then conducts additional buyer research to build-out product marketing materials in advance of the roll-out. Sales has what they need for a strong start.
Sales leadership needs to set comp plans and quota goals to provide the right incentive to produce the right selling behavior of the new product. Otherwise reps will sell the old products that does not take as much effort.
Budget is determined early to add the appropriate head count and any new roles required. This gives you enough time to bring the talent in and ramp them. Marketing allocates budget for the new product and has their marketing plan locked down before launch.
Product, marketing and sales leaders who are strategically aligned are prepared for a new product in advance of the launch. The leaders then follow a regular cadence to discuss priorities, dependencies, objectives, and market intel to stay get ahead and coordinate success.
Ultimately the CEO is the one driving the bus and responsible for strategic alignment. The head of each department shouldn’t passively wait for the CEO to show them how. Functional leaders should take initiative and getting strategically aligned with your peers. Strategic alignment conversations need to occur at monthly off-sites and/or quarterly reviews.
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