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Marketing Jump Start!: Avoid mistakes when launching new products or services
by Jill Konrath

New products or services are the lifeblood of young company’s business. If they’re successful, the company can blast into new markets, leapfrog past competitors and reap significant financial returns.

Yet most new products fail to achieve the desired results in the vital first months after their introduction. In today’s economy, where the ‘window of opportunity’ is often only a few months, this can be disastrous.

Over the past decade, I’ve worked on new product and service introductions with numerous companies. Some have been incredible successes; others were severe disappointments. Invariably when sales fell short, companies cut corners or downplayed key launch components in their rush to market.

If you have an important introduction in the upcoming months, make sure you do it right. Don’t make these often devastating mistakes:

1. Weak Value Propositions

This is the biggest killer of all, but it’s one of the most common ones. You may think your new offering is technically superior, a breed apart or a boon to civilization but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world agrees.

“If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work in today’s market. You must clearly articulate and quantify value. Words like faster, robust, innovative or better teamwork are meaningless garbage.

To stand out from all the marketing clutter, your value proposition must relate directly to business needs. You have to explicitly state how you improve operational efficiency, reduce costs or create new opportunities. Tell customers exactly how you increase customer loyalty or give them a competitive edge.

Spell it out, loud and clear. Your customers won’t make the intuitive leap themselves; they’re far too busy.

Technology companies-beta tests are a grossly underutilized tool for you. Use them to find out how to sell your customers. Find out what problems your product solves, their business ramification and the value of resolution. This is invaluable information you may be totally missing right now if all you’re checking is if the product works.

2. Insufficient Targeting of Prospects

Seduced by the vast marketplace potential, growing companies love to keep their options open. But, in reality, lack of focus increases costs.

Because the offering is continually tweaked to meet the multitude of customer needs, development costs skyrocket. And, the final product never totally meets anyone’s needs. Trying to be all-inclusive, marketing programs such as advertising, PR, and collateral are watered down and spread too thin to be effective.

To increase your chances for success, pursue smaller market segments. Focus, focus, focus. Learn everything you can about your targeted customers. Understand what’s important to them, how they buy, how they talk, what they read, what conventions they attend.

Precisely define your targeted customer for your sales organization and don’t let them sell to “one-off” prospects. Establish yourself in one selected segment before expanding to others.

3. Inadequate Sales Tools

In today’s competitive market, unless your salespeople have the right tools they’re going into battle unarmed. A nice brochure just doesn’t cut it anymore.

What do sellers need? Start with an overview of how prospects currently do things including their problems, business implications and the pay-off for changing. Add in 10-15 good discussion questions to help uncover and develop needs.

Make sure you give them a competitive analysis, detailing strengths and weaknesses. Develop a customer-focused PowerPoint presentation. Create an easily customizable proposal template with an executive overview, situation analysis, recommendations, implementation plan and investment.

Invest the time and money upfront to do it right or you’ll pay for it later when the sales don’t come in.

4. Poor Sales Processes

If you’re in the B2B market, it probably takes 3 months or longer to make a sale. To be successful, you have to sell consultatively. But at launch time, most sellers’ consultative behaviors evaporate into thin air.

Full of unbridled enthusiasm for the new offering, they’re overcome with a severe case of diarrhea of the mouth. On sales calls they spend 80% of the call talking, talking, talking. What are the results?

  • Prospects ask, “How much is it?” And, because the seller hasn’t uncovered needs or established value, the price is always too high.
  • Prospects ask, “Can it do (some trivial detail)” trying to find a reason to say rule out a decision. As soon as they find what’s missing, it becomes a ‘must have’ so the sale is dead.
  • Prospects say, “Oh, that’s really exciting. I’m sure you’ll sell a lot.” But what they silently implied was, “But not here.”

As a result, good sales opportunities are delayed for many months or even derailed entirely. Frustrated sellers blame marketing for high pricing or inadequate product development. Marketing counters with cries of poor salesmanship. I’m sure you’ve seen this before.

How can you change things? At launch meetings spend lots of time discussing the customers’ needs, their decision process, and the sales process. Talk about key questions to ask.

Brainstorm what to do if you get caught in a product pitch. Ban brochures and PowerPoint presentations from early sales calls. And practice “leaning back” when you’re with customers-it keeps you in a consultative mode.

5. Calling on Top Prospects First

Tick…tick…tick. You’ve been counting the days till you can tell your best prospects about your new product. Right?

Slow down! Not yet. When you sell something new, there’s always a learning curve. It’s too easy to slip into that “feature dump” and create objections you can’t overcome. You’re going to stumble over your presentation. You’ll sound like a blathering idiot when you answer an unanticipated question.

Don’t blow it with your best customers. Call on your “B” prospects first. Practice till you can keep focused on your customer, not your product or service. When you have the bugs worked out, then give your top prospects a call. You’ll be ready!

Next time your company introduces a new product or service, don’t rush them out the door to meet some arbitrarily imposed internal deadline. Do what it takes to avoid these common, yet often catastrophic mistakes. You’ll see a big difference in your sales results.

This article is by Jill Konrath of Selling To Big Companies. Her web site is full of resources to help consultants, entrepreneurs and salespeople win big contracts with large corporate accounts. For a free newsletter or more information, visit http://www.sellingtobigcompanies.com

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