You have got approvals from key stakeholder, the senior management is bought in, and you have been allotted resources to build the product you dreamt of all these years. A little further along the line, you walk into this meeting with Sales people to review your launch plan. The initial discussion on concept overview, cost-benefit analysis and value proposition goes smoother than you thought. Everyone in the room loves you. But the moment you pull out the next slide on the launch timeline, there is an awkward silence in the room. Followed by some throat clearing, the head of sales looks up to you and says – “So…if I get this right – you want us to go ahead and start selling the product right now, when the product wouldn’t be client-ready for another 6 months? How do you possibly want us to sell the future?”
You take a shot at explaining why you (and may be few others in the room) feel this would work…but without concrete proof of concept no one pays attention and slowly the meeting agenda fades out without a list of action items in place…You feel stupid.
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Ever been in this situation? I have. Not once but numerous times in the last few years working as a product manager for a huge marketing company. By getting ripped apart time after time, I gradually developed my own approach to make these product launch meetings / sales planning sessions more productive. It’s all about preparation. The next time you have one of these where you are going to ask the sales people to start selling half-baked-cookies do this: prepare notes, get stats, examples and your rationale based on the following. I promise – you will sleep better that night.
- Sales Cycle: If you want the sales team to start pitching a product that’s still in development you need to show them why you think this would work. Do some research, find out the average complexity of sales cycle. For example – for that type of product if the sales cycle is 8-9 months then may be engaging the client while you get the product ready (in 6 months) is not a bad target. The sales people will feel better that there is a method behind the madness and you will gain credibility.
- Distribution Channels: Understand your sales channels better. Create a rough draft of the key things you care about such as size of sales channel, how many people from sales team will be selling this product, are you considering global market, are there language limitations, do you know the local challenges of the region you plan to sell? Based on all these factors you will get your answer. You will be able to prove that given the complexity of these factors the product launch activities should start earlier than in an ideal scenario
- Marketing Collateral: I dread the collateral requests from Business Development / Sales team when they have found a potential candidate for my product. The prospect wants to learn more, see more and discover more but since this is still work in progress you are not ready with client facing collateral – brochures, solution sheet, demos etc. This poses a huge risk. If you fail here, there is no gaining back the reliability from sales as well as prospect. Be ready. Think Smarter. Prepare some interim marketing collateral that you can readily share with interested prospects. Easier said than done, but trust me there is no bypassing this step.
On top of that, as a proactive product manager – consider the pre-launch interactions with clients as a market validation exercise. You are validating your assumptions by presenting the concept to the end client.
So, yes you can sell the future provided you do your homework right. Remember Albert Einstein- “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”