Is a failed product launch sales’ or sales enablement’s fault?
The weeks since your big product launch initiative have turned to months. As the one-year mark looms ever closer reality begins to sink in. Sales are flat, revenue is sluggish, and your worst fears are being realized—you’re looking at another failed product launch.
As your team dives into the postmortem, the inevitable blame game begins: whose fault was it?
While there are several functions that typically take part in a product launch, the relationship (or lack thereof) between sales and sales enablement is often tumultuous. The personalities that exist in each camp are quite different and conflict often arises between the two when a product launch falls flat.
Blaming Sales for a Failed Product Launch
The sales team is an easy target for enablement and product managers to point their fingers at for a failed product launch. After all, if they had just taken the training seriously; if they had bothered to introduce the new product to their accounts and prospects; if only they had practiced the messaging…
Think about product launches from the sales team’s perspective. These guys and gals have a day job. They come to work every day and doggedly drive to meet their quarterly sales quota targets. They are being hounded by upper management and sales leadership to hit their number each day, all day. When the end of the quarter arrives, a new one begins. The counter is reset to zero and the sales team starts all over again.
The real reason sales didn’t pitch your product is two-fold. First, a product launch takes them out of their normal, everyday workflow. They have to stop what they are doing (making sales calls and prospecting) and attend either a webinar or a training class (time is money, folks!) And that is it—We’ve built it, now you go forth and sell it. They don’t receive the comprehensive training and structured practicing they need to effectively sell the new product. It’s just dropped on them.
The second issue is that you are asking them to change in some way without properly applying any real change management techniques. When you introduce a new product to the mix, your sales team has to make changes to their process, messaging, and well-practiced conversations. This change doesn’t just happen automatically once you’ve given them a product features and materials dump. They need to be able to practice the new messaging and work out talk tracks.
Blaming Enablement for a Failed Product Launch
Sales management, on the other hand, likes to blame enablement for the failed product launch. After all, if enablement had bothered to present a product that people actually cared about; if only they had provided them with more scripts and materials they really needed to close sales; if they had just thought through the messaging better…
Sales leaders and managers need to take a moment to pause and think about it in broader terms. The reality is that many new products, messaging, and other change initiatives can in fact help them reach their quota goals. How well have you dedicated time and resources to helping your enablement colleagues understand what your sales team needs to be successful in selling a new product?
The issue really boils down to a lack of alignment between the sales and enablement functions, and sales management needs to take a reality check to realize that they are complicit in the issue.
Product launches require a coordinated effort among various stakeholders. Depending on the size of the launch and the organization, this may include product development, enablement, marketing, operations, and sales. While it is true that the job of a sales manager is simply untenable, sales managers do need to provide their colleagues on the other side of the “wall” with their perspectives, expertise, and influence.
While enablement is trying to create a great product launch, they can not do it without the engagement and input of sales managers who have the necessary insights and influence to make change happen on the front lines.
Building Sales and Enablement Alignment for Successful Product Launches
The keys to avoiding yet another failed product launch are to build sales and enablement alignment within your organization and treat it as a change management initiative.
Start by identifying those sales managers who are naturally engaged in affecting change on their team. In many cases, these are the people who brought the market issue to product development’s attention in the first place. Perhaps they’d had several calls from accounts that did not go well, or their conversations with a customer uncovered market needs. Form a coalition with these people to help build a communication and development plan.
Also, don’t let your product launch training be a one-time event. Most organizations will do a big webinar where the product manager will discuss features in great detail, and then enablement will send out an email with a sales packet and call it a launch.
Create a comprehensive communication plan around the launch that includes “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) messaging for your sales team. Include your sales management coalition partners in the webinar or launch event. Let the message come from sales. Then, make sure everyone understands, practices, and certifies on the new message using a well-planned launch blueprint.
Your product launch review should be more than a blame game. Look at the inputs to the revenue generation engine and think about how you can change or adjust those inputs to improve product launches going forward. Engage with a coalition of stakeholders that can become your champions on the sales team, and always make sure your team can certify that your sales managers and reps can demonstrate the new pitch and messaging behaviors that your product needs to be successful.