Original insights in international business and marketing
Puzzled by the title? Bear with me a bit. In an article by Neil Rackham (author of SPIN selling) entitled “Why Bad Things Happen to Good Products,” the author makes the case that many highly promising and revolutionary new products often launch with a whimper and fail to meet early sales forecasts. The reason being that over-hyping the product’s new features and capabilities distracts the sales folks from trying to understand the customer’s true needs. Pumped up to a frenzy during the product launch event, sales people often return to their customers gushing all about what the new product can do. The research suggests that in the process of focusing so intensely on the new and exciting product capabilities, sales people often ignore how to position the product so that it actually solves customer problems. As a result, their early enthusiasm is met with general indifference and sales fail to ignite.
Part of the problem is 1) the over-hyping of the product capabilities at the launch meeting as well as 2) the insufficient focus on uncovering customer needs. Interestingly, Rackham explores what makes some sales people more effective than others at selling the new products. One common trait appears to be their general laid back or slightly indifferent attitude towards the hyped-product & launch event. “It’s just another product. When all the fuss dies down, I’ll figure out which customers need it.”
So this has me thinking. What if there was no product at the next sales meeting/launch event? Blasphemy! What is the point of having a new product launch meeting if there is no product to show or discuss? Right, I can hear you already. But really, what if there were no product at all? What would you fill the sessions with and what would be the reaction? The point here is that we would be forced to focus on something other than the product. Finished with the F&B love fest. Finished with the product capabilities and competition comparisons. Finished with the loud, sugar, alcohol and caffeine fueled product reveals.
Imagine instead, an actual “Customer Launch” sales meeting. This would be a product-free (or near-product-free) event where the focus becomes almost exclusively the exploration and understanding of the customer’s needs. By practicing customer insight gathering through the careful use of probing questions, we would re-direct the focus and energy away from ourselves/our products and place them directly on our customer. It would be less about us shouting how marvelous our solutions are and more about understanding what our target audience actually needs, or doesn’t yet realize what they need. Granted, this is not a new concept, but just how many of us have had the courage to ditch the product in favor of something entirely more valuable? Selling this to Sales and upper management will not be easy but I think it is a healthy discussion to have.
The key is to stop talking about ourselves, to stop over-hyping each new product like it will revolutionize the world and to stop focusing so much on the product’s individual features & capabilities. Instead, re-direct the attention on the customer’s unique situation, practice gathering insights through trained probing, listen to what they have to say (and what they are not saying) and only then, present your product but in the context of a broader solution, designed to meet an unmet need or newly discovered problem.
A “Product-less” launch event. Think about it.
Photo Credit: Terry McCombs at Photo Pin