Four Steps to Successful New Product Launches

By Heather Baldwin

Your company launches a new product and sales are a complete disaster. Who is to blame? If your company is like most, marketing will blame sales for their unwillingness to champion products with which they’re not familiar and sales will blame customers for resisting innovation and their unwillingness to be early adopters. Who’s right? Neither, says Stephanie Woods, VP sales operations at Huthwaite, a Sterling, VA-based company that works with sales organizations on sales performance effectiveness (www.huthwaite.com).

The problem with most new product launches is that too many organizations use a product-centered launch style that emphasizes the new product’s whiz-bang features and forces reps to memorize and sell those features. Instead, says Woods, companies need to switch to a problem-centered launch – a method that resulted in 54% higher sales at one company Huthwaite studied. Here are four steps sales managers can take to make that switch and boost the sales of new products.

  1. Work with the marketing department to ensure the product is launched in terms of its problem-solving capabilities. Rather than asking for a list of new features, ask for a list of reasons each new feature matters to customers, how each feature solves customers’ problems and the titles or positions of customers who are most likely to have those problems.
  2. When coaching your sales reps, make sure their call plans are designed to address the specific needs of each customer. Don’t let them throw all 40 features at every prospect. Ensure that they match specific product capabilities to the problems customers encounter based on their position.
  3. Instead of asking your sales reps to practice product pitches or memorize feature lists, conduct team meetings to talk about the new product in terms of questions reps should be asking customers. Take each feature and reverse-engineer it into a question, and make sure you come up with different questions for different types of prospects. A CFO will care about different things than an operations manager. The goal should be to devise a list of questions reps can use for each call.
  4. During post-call debriefs, make sure you debrief in terms of problems customers have instead of features reps pushed. Rather than asking reps whether they told prospects about the whirligig interface, ask what kinds of problems the prospects were experiencing with their current product. This last step is a critical reinforcement of the problem-centric launch approach, says Woods. “If you do steps one through three but not four, you’ve undone all your efforts to focus on problems instead of features,” she says.