The new thing is coming. Finally, a product we can sell. This thing really changes the game. Everyone wants it. The plans are written, training is locked, messages are pure brilliance. As soon as we get CE and FDA, as fast as the factory can make it, we will sell it. The national sales meeting is coming, we are all going to hit the road and sell! Sell! Sell!
But then the launch is way behind expectations. All of the early metrics are not pointing to a quick turnaround. Yet another disappointing launch. What went wrong?
The strategy was clear: We would take the product to new customers. We finally had a means to take on the competitive accounts by breaking their stranglehold with our new wonder product. The messaging all aligned around this. The limited sample kits were distributed to the field based on this plan. Everyone agreed to the strategy.
But it didn’t happen. A closer look at outcomes revealed that despite a clear launch strategy, execution had failed in the targeting. The limited supply of sample product and the precious resources of time from the sales team were not going to the right accounts. The field took the launch to their friendly accounts instead and never walked in the door of competitive accounts.
It turns out one of the most important elements of execution in an early launch is targeting. This is a hard fact to learn because so many other areas can be audited and pressure-tested. But this one involves human nature and trying to control many individual behaviors. Especially in the situations where specific targeting is required, launch targeting requires a clear alignment between the marketing strategy and the sales execution. It is a simple concept, but hard to follow. From my experience, I can offer five tips to make this critical launch outcome work smoothly.
- Be clear on the strategy. If a strategy has been designed, go far out of the way to communicate this strategy to the sales team. It should be infinitely clear why any departures from the targeting plan will undermine the launch strategy. If they buy it, they just may try harder to make sure they execute.
- Make goals aligned to targeting visible, and measureable. Often, launch dashboards are constructed focusing on simple outcomes. They focus on showing early indicators about how much is sold. But it is my experience that if there is a clear launch target, ample metrics and airtime need to be devoted to ensuring the right targets are the ones buying. It seems simple but if you don’t watch it closely and count all sales the same, you will miss actually ensuring that performance is on strategy.
- Give tools, messages and preparation to succeed in line with the strategy. The launch team needs to carefully consider what will be required for the field to be successful with the target customer. The initial collateral, messages and training all need to consider the early strategic launch targeting to help prepare the field more for target accounts than the rest.
- Align incentives. We all know that money talks. We know a great way to get the field excited about a new product launch is a SPIF to support it. But what is often overlooked is paying differentially for the field to align to the launch strategy. Pick the account where you want to succeed and compensate only those accounts. It’s controversial, but it works.
- Be realistic. Lastly, acknowledge that the field cannot ignore their big accounts. If you are doing your job and making a splash, friendly accounts will want to know more. If they are not the initial strategy focus, realize that the reps won’t ignore those who butter their bread. So prepare them for conversations, prepare them to deal with questions. But also recognize that if you want them not to focus there first, we need to help them to manage what is a very legitimate request from our key customers. The more we can be realistic and work within the bounds of what is practical, the sooner we can optimize.
What is your experience? What have I missed that is key to achieve a targeting launch of a new product?