During the feverish pitch leading up to the launch of a new product or new version of an existing product, it’s easy to focus on the obvious: product, sales channel, and marketing. You may be overlooking an important product launch resource available to you that could have a big impact on your next product launch. That resource is your customer support team.
Often the fastest way to achieve product launch goals is to target your customer base: the folks who love you and your products. Of course you’ll want to be sure the customer support team is ready to support the product being launched, but they can also be a very effective evangelical channel to get information to customers about new products and services. Every day your customer support team is engaged with assisting customers with a variety of requests which translates into opportunities to talk with them about new stuff.
Particularly with technical products, customers often seek opinions from customer support representatives. “Should I upgrade to the new version?”. “Should I configure it this way or that way?”. Bonds of trust are built between your customers and your customer support team. You can leverage this relationship to deliver information about new and improved products in a way that doesn’t make customers feel like they are being sold to.
Consider your customer support team as an important resource in your next product launch and provide them with a way to engage customers about new products and services in a way that is relevant, timely, and genuine.
On my home I have a roof that includes a flat area, which is very common in the kinds of home built in the Phoenix, Arizona area. I was told that it’s a good idea to recoat the flat area every 5 years to ensure a good moisture barrier in the (rare) event of rain. Believe it or not roof leaks in our area are very common due to the brutal heat.
It seems like a reasonably easy job, but I wanted to get an idea of the steps involved. If the effort was more than I was willing to put forth, I’d hire a contractor. Before hiring the contractor at least I’d know what was involved and could make an informed decision.
I went online and did a search and discovered Canyon State Roofing & Consulting. The search took me to a page on their website with an article titled “Do-It Yourself Foam Roof Recoat”. The page provided step-by-step instructions on what is necessary to do the job properly. Brilliant.
You might wonder why a roofing contractor would do such a thing (as I wondered)? The good folks at Canyon State Roofing spelled it our for us…
“You may be asking yourself, Why are we giving you this free guide? Isn’t this causing us to lose business? The answer is, yes, it is probably costing us. However, it is extremely important to us to keep to our core values and mission. Canyon State Roofing’s core value include EDUCATING our customers and the general public as much as we possibly can in our trade. Education is empowerment, and we strongly believe that if we help to empower our potential customers, they will appreciate and remember us if they ever need a roofing contractor in the future. So to you weekend warriors out there, enjoy this guide!”
The question I’d like an answer to is how many people read their DIY article and then choose Canyon State Roofing because they were so forthright?
I just returned from Product Camp SoCal 2012 held at the Cal State University Fullerton campus. The turnout was impressive with over 400 attendees and equally impressive enthusiasm (this was a Saturday!). The facility at CalState Fullerton was ideal and provided plenty of meeting space and room to mingle.
If you’re unfamiliar with Product Camp SoCal (or any Product Camp for that matter) you might wonder why anyone would give up their precious Saturday to attend one. Product Camps are crowd-sourced events (to the extent this is possible). They’re free and all volunteer based. The sessions are proposed by attendees, who then vote on the sessions they want to hear. The types of sessions vary from how-to presentations, to panel discussions, and facilitated discussions. What is not appreciated are vendor pitches.
The typical attendees of a Product Camp are product managers and product marketing managers. All attendee to learn, to share, and to network. Product managers are looking for ways to help them deliver products better and faster. Product marketing managers are looking for ways become better marketers of their products.
Highly memorable for me at Product Camp SoCal was the opening session where we were introduced to Hunter, Bear, Ranger, which is a Chinese variation of Rock, Paper, Scissors only much more animated. It got things started with a bang (no pun intended). I found a YouTube video here to help you get an idea of what it’s about. Now imagine 400 people doing this at once!
If there was any concern among Product Camp attendees it was not being able to attend all the sessions. There were lots of great topics but only so much time. A new addition this year was a partnership with the SoCal Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, which was warmly received.
I attended “Survey Research for Product and Brand Success” by Ray Benedicktus from OC Marketing Analytics and “Your Blog as a Product” by Dori Gilbert at Storycology.com. Both sessions were informative and engaging. My only regret is not attending more of the many great sessions.
My session was titled “5 Reasons Why Begging and Pleading for Customers No Longer Works” and was targeted at product marketing managers. The product marketing community is one I wish I would see more of at Product Camp. If you’re in a product marketing role you owe to yourself to check out a Product Camp in your area.
New tools I picked up at Product Camp SoCal 2012 include InboundQ (finds tweets that contain keywords you care about), InboundWriter (help you write blog content that is search engine friendly), TwitterFall (gives you a running list of tweets based on a variety of search criteria, and the Smart SEO plugin for WordPress (finds keywords in your content and suggests links).
The all important milestone of a product launch plan is the launch date. For many product launches establishing a launch date in the product launch plan involves a lot of discussion, negotiation, and gnashing of teeth. Sometimes the launch date appears to be arbitrary while at other times is carefully planned to coincide with an important market event, like an industry tradeshow. While the ‘perfect’ launch date for your product launch plan could be debated ad nauseum, I’d like you to consider one often overlooked, yet critical technique.
Each week I have the priviledge of teaching our Product Launch Essentials class and the topic of establishing a launch date for the product launch plan always comes up. Through the years I’ve learned great techniques from others and there is one thing I had to learn the hard way, that I want to share with you. And that is, before you recommend a product launch date, consider where it is within the fiscal quarter.
The bulk of my career experience has been within the software industry. I’ve done just about everything in a software company except accounting and legal stuff. I’ve seen a lot of product launch train wrecks along the way and I’ve had the joy of seeing some successful product launches. Setting and managing expectations is a big part of a product launch owners success. The secret? Establish a launch date for your product launch plan at the beginning of the quarter. Never at the end of a quarter.
Why, you are probably wondering should the product launch date be at the beginning of the quarter? There are two important reasons to have a product launch date at the beginning of the quarter.
If you have a launch date at the end of the quarter in your product launch plan and you have a development delay your product launch is now pushed into the next quarter. While that may not seem like such a big deal on the surface, the sales momentum that was hoped to be generated can be significantly impaired. When your product launch plan launches at the beginning of the quarter, you still have the flexibility of launching in the current quarter.
Lost Sales Momentum with Early Adopters
I’m not a proponent of allowing the sales team (or channel partners) to sell what isn’t shipping. That said, enterprise software companies with complex and long sales cycles have long discovered that preselling can be very effective in building sales momentum. If the launch date is at the end of the quarter and there is a slip in the launch date, deals in the pipeline that were ready to close are now pushed out into the future. This can have a devestating affect on the sales channel. I can assure you if the launch slips, the sales team’s quota won’t be reduced. When your product launch plan launches at the beginning of the quarter, you still have time to recover lost momentum and regain mind share with the sales team.What product launch challenges are you struggling with? Let me know either by commenting below or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
As it relates to your sales channel and channel partner readiness, there are two things to consider when developing your own product launch time line. First is the size of your sales channel. The second is the complexity of the sales cycle. By focusing on the sales channel and channel partners you address what is typically the most time consuming and riskiest part of a successful product launch.
Size of Your Sales Channel and Channel Partners
Get your sales channel and channel partners ready for product launch is often the most critical and time consuming part of product launch. You can deliver the best promotional programs on the planet but if the sales channel and your channel partners aren’t ready (or haven’t embraced the new offering) your success in the market could be severely impacted.
The size of the sales channel and channel partners has a direct relationship to the amount of time it takes to prepare it for launch. Let me illustrate.
When the sales channel is limited to 6 direct salespeople in one office, you can get them together over lunch. But when the sale channel is a combination of direct salespeople and channel partners scattered across three continents you have to plan ahead. Sometimes months in advance.
Let’s say that Acme Software has a direct sales channel of 300 salespeople in North America, EMEA, and Asia Pacific. They are in 15 countries and speak equally as many languages. Additionally there are channel partners in 10 other countries.
In the case of Acme Software you may need to start the product launch planning process of sales enablement training 6 months in advance of the target launch date just to coordinate training dates. If you have the added constraint of not being able to get everyone together in one place at one time, consider traveling to them or conducting sales enablement training online.
The Complexity of the Sales Cycle
The complexity of the sales cycle can introduce another dimension into your product launch planning. Products that are relatively simple to understand and sell, lend themselves to a much easier sales enablement training regiment and therefore a shorter planning horizon. On the other hand complex products take longer to understand and require much more involvement from buyers before a purchase decision can be made require a longer planning horizon.
Complex sales cycles require much more training about the problems addressed, who is impacted within the buyer’s organization, and what will they need to know in order to make a recommendation to buy.
Let’s build on our Acme Software example. Assume Acme is launching a new solution and for the first time will introduce to the channel a product with a complex sales cycle. Management is anticipating a 9 to 12 month sales cycle with no fewer than 8 to 10 people from the customer’s organization to be involved in making a decision to buy.
We’re presented not only with a new product to launch but a change in the way our sales channel will sell. This introduces risk. In order to minimize risk we may have to consider sales enablement training a year in advance by focusing on the problem, the market, buyers, and how they buy.
Another consideration here worth mentioning is sales culture. It’s not uncommon to see a sales culture where it’s OK to sell what’s not yet available. It’s another opportunity to introduce risk. Only this time the risk is about negatively affecting current sales before product launch. When we start sales enablement training we may run the risk that salespeople start talking about the new product immediately and inadvertently stop the deals they are working on today.
While I’m a strong advocate of a sales culture what sells what we have, I’m also a realist when it comes to long, complex sales cycles. If we wait until the product is announced we’re starting from scratch to build a pipeline. If we have a sales culture that sells futures, we start building a pipeline for the new product but run the risk of reducing the size of the pipeline for current products. Sometimes we’re in a no win situation. Err on the side of getting the sales channel and channel partners prepared to sell and leave the problem of selling futures to the VP of Sales and the CEO to resolve.
What are you struggling with?
Let me know by leaving me a comment below or sending me an email at email@example.com.
Marketing to B2C buyers is the same as marketing to B2B buyers, right? Not one bit and to understand why you need to start by examining the buyer.
In a B2C market the buyer is spending her own money.
In a B2B market the buyer is spending his company’s money.
In a B2C market the buyer makes the purchase decision without needing the input of others (except maybe my wife).
In a B2B market there is likely multiple buyers fulfilling different roles: the one with the budget, the ones who will use the product, and the ones who have to make sure it will work.
In a B2C market we connect with the buyer’s pain, fear, and guilt.
In a B2B market we connect with a business problem that needs to be solved.
Trying to use B2C marketing approaches in a B2B world (and vis-a-versa) can be costly and ineffective.
The moral of this story is to get a deep understanding of your buyer and what makes them tick before you waste your company’s resources.
I’m often asked to describe the difference between lead generation and demand generation. It’s not uncommon for the terms to be used interchangeably, but they are very different. Let me explain.
Lead Generation is about a single buyer.
Demand Generation is about a market of buyers.
Lead Generation is tactical.
Demand Generation is strategic.
Lead Generation is reactive.
Demand Generation is proactive.
Product marketing managers are often asked to create or increase the awareness of a product in the market. The belief is that awareness equates to leads.
Buyers are complex beings and go through stages of awareness as I’ve outlined below. An awareness of these stages (pun intended) helps to understand why the trade show you did last month didn’t result in a gazillion leads.
The buyer has no idea that your company or product is an answer to their problems. You are wearing the Cloak of Invisibility.
Provided with clues, buyers can recall your company or product, and that it might be an answer to their problems. You still have work to do.
Buyers recognize your company or product without help. They understand it’s an answer to a problem they are experiencing. The door is open to dialog.
Given multiple choices of vendors/products, buyers will prefer to buy your product as an answer to their problems. You are the ‘go to’ vendor. Congratulations.
Buyers will consistently choose your company or product over others, even when they have had a less than ideal experience. This is nirvana.
Rejection is the opposite of Loyalty. Buyers will go out of their way to avoid your product. For whatever reason, real or otherwise, they think your product sucks. You need to fix this perception.
What salespeople think I do when they get what they want
I am a tireless team player providing everything they need to be successful.
What salespeople think I do when they don’t get what they want
I am the devil who finds every opportunity to impede the progress of a sale.
What product managers think I do
Everything they don’t want do and it changes on a whim.
What my boss thinks I do
He’s not really sure, but tells me I’m doing a great job.
What my family and friends think I do
Travel in first class to exotic locations, waited on hand and foot.
What I think I do
I am a god-like, marketing genius deftly addressing every challenge with laughter and song.
What I really do
I take care to balance the urgent with the important, and try to get through the week in one piece.
In a previous post I introduced you to John, the product marketing manager. John is very busy and has his share of frustration. Most of John’s frustration is because his role is misunderstood. Product managers think he should do one thing. Marcom another. Sales yet another.
How did John get here?
For many technology companies the job title of product marketing manager is a fairly recent addition. The job was introduced to fill a void between product management, sales, and marcom. It happens when product managers are so consumed with product development issues, they don’t have the bandwidth to work with sales or marcom. The resulting problem is a sales force that is not prepared to sell and marketing that misses the mark.
Why is John frustrated?
He is frustrated because the line between what John should do and what the product manager should do is fuzzy. One time he gets scolded because he did something the product manager felt was her responsibility. Another time he gets scolded because he didn’t do something assuming the product manager is responsible. Finger pointing is not a solution.
What is John’s role?
There are activities in the Pragmatic Marketing Framework that are about using products and there are activities that are about buying products. One way of clarifying responsibilities is to have product managers accountable for activities related to using products, and have product marketing managers accountable for activities related to buying products. Another way of looking at it is product marketing managers are experts on buyers and how they buy, and product managers are experts on products and how they solve problems.
Are you clear about your role as a product marketing manager?
Are you defining the role or waiting for someone to do it for you?