I once worked with an aggressive product manager who decided to include a product made by another company in his suite of products. It seemed like a good idea because it provided a capability his current products didn’t have and it would increase the overall value he was able to deliver to his prospects and customers. In fact, he was so excited about it; he began describing it to a couple of customers he worked closely with. Being a small and tight industry, those who heard about this upcoming offering told some of their friends at other companies. They were curious about this new product and called their account manager for the details.
Unfortunately, the product hadn’t been introduced to the sales force so each account manager was put in the awkward situation of having to admit they didn’t know about the product and they would have to collect information about it and get back to the prospect. This is not a situation you want to create for your sales team.
This raises the importance of in what order should the product be introduced to your different audiences. It’s not a complicated problem if you think about where people get information and who you want to deliver the information. First, you want to prepare the people that should be delivering the information to the most important audience, the intended customer. This is your distribution channel, and for many B2B companies, this means your direct sales force. To strengthen their relationship with current and future clients, they should be given the opportunity and information to accurately and confidently present the value of the new offering.
You also need to prepare industry analysts and influencers so they will have prepared thoughtful and hopefully positive reviews of your product when the curious prospects start surfing the web for information about the new product. Don’t forget your support people. They are in constant contact with customers so you need to prepare them with the key messages to use when a customer asks them what they think about the new product.
Following this simple pattern, it’s not hard to develop a schedule of which audiences need to receive the new product information before others. It’s usually your target market that should hear about your new offering last. Introduce the product to
your sales force, your company, the industry infrastructure, and your value network partners first because they’ll play an important role in delivering your messages for you.
Your company has invested a lot of resources researching what your intended customers need and developing products and services that will deliver a superior experience. Now it’s time to publicly announce the results of your labor which will hopefully build rapid sales momentum. Unfortunately, many new products stumble out of the gate with a clumsy introduction. In many cases, it might be more accurate to say they escaped rather than were introduced.
Product introductions, or product launches, are a broad topic and I’d like to focus on just one critical but often overlooked element, the audiences. The obvious, knee jerk response is that in order to build sales momentum, the audience is the intended customer. No argument there, they need to hear about the product in order to start the sales cycle. But it’s not that simple.
If you think about the sales process in the B2B world, there are at least three different intended customers who need to hear about your new offering. There are the user buyer, the economic buyer and the technical buyer. Each has a different role to play in the purchasing process. You must keep all three in mind as your prepare.
Don’t forget your current customers. First, they’re likely purchasers of your new product and even if they’re not, you have several goals with your introduction. You can strengthen your relationship with them and assuage any concerns they may have about the potential negative impact of the new product on their use of your current offering. Are you shifting direction? Will support go away on the current product?
Your direct sales force or distribution channel will be hungry for the appropriate information as they will be delivering the message and answering questions from your highest potential prospects. And don’t forget your partners in the value network. If they provide complementary products and services, you’ll want them to be prepared to contribute to a positive introduction.
When you hear about a new product for the first time, where to you go to learn what others think about it? You probably go to your favorite industry analyst, blogger, or industry-specific web site. Those first reviews and impressions are critical because with instantaneous access, the waves of positive or negative reviews are formed in hours. Therefore, your introduction plan should include industry influencers.
Last but not least, don’t forget about your own employees. A new product introduction is an excellent way to reinforce your mission and strategy. It’s a chance to celebrate the hard development work and strengthen their understanding of how your company is delivering superior value to your intended customers.
Are there any other audiences that should be added to this list? In my next post, I’ll talk about the timing of messages to the different audiences.