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11 min read

Leading your sales team to success during a product launch

Leadership

Product launches will mean nothing if you haven’t got your sales team on board.

Why?

Because if they won’t know what they’re selling, how to sell it, nor will they be aligned with the goals you’re hoping to achieve. If they don’t have this information to hand, how can you expect your sales reps to communicate your value proposition and drive sales?

Enabling your sales team to get the job done is pivotal to the success of a product launch. To do this, you need to be a strong leader and focus on the needs of your sales team.

In an episode of Leading the Way: The Sales Enablement Podcast, host and VP of Product Marketing at Highspot Jarod Greene spoke with Harish Peri, Head of Product Marketing at Salesforce.

Jarod and Harish both have a lot of experience under their belt dealing with different teams - including sales - and leading product launches. So, what two better people to learn from?

In their conversation, they discussed how to help your sales team close deals successfully during and after a product launch, focusing specifically on:

  • Helping your sales team manage change at scale
  • Getting the whole sales team on board with your product launch
  • The dynamics between sales and sales leadership in the context of a launch
  • Thinking about the sales learning side of a launch
  • The secret to product launch success
  • How product marketers can help their sales enablement team

Helping your sales team manage change at scale

Q: Even when you have a solid strategy in place in product marketing, one of the big grievances there is, is around product launch. Everyone's got a piece of it. The corporate marketing team to demand team, enablement, sales, customer success… Product launches require, I think, a lot of coordination, and a lot of cat herding.

And so when we think about what it really means, it's about change. It's how you effectively manage change at scale. Curious to know what you think about this.  

A: “On the marketing side of things, we get caught up in the ‘sugar highs’ and the quick hits of the launch, which is, did we get the press mentions? Do we get social coverage? And did we create the right buzz if you're doing a launch event, did we have the right entertainment there like people?

“We get caught up in all the trappings of the launch. But you have to realize that salespeople are going through an entire kind of mental model change exercise with their own prospects. And when you launch something, that disrupts that mental model.

“A lot of times, we think that something that's new isn't good enough for that sales process. In fact, it may not have been impacted at all. And so it's less about the reps aren’t able to deal with changes in strategy. It's almost like the launch strategy doesn't match up.

“Our rep is enacting a kind of a mental model change with a prospect or a client if you're upselling them. So I’d argue that, with launches, a lot of time is spent on the trappings and the fun stuff, versus very little time to spend on how we can inject the benefits of this launch into existing deals that are in flight.

“Or, into existing plays that our reps have with customers, and almost mold the launch to fit those models, versus trying to just throw something new and see whether it sticks.

“It’s tough being in SaaS. Everyone’s competing, coming up with new things, and launching left and right, so I get the pressure. We’re in product marketing - this is our life, we see this all day every day.

“But I’d almost argue and say that it's up to the product marketers to say that your shiny new product almost doesn't matter how it fits into the enablement. The playbook and the mental model of different reps in different segments and how they talk to their customers are really what the launch should be about.”

How is product marketing connected with sales and marketing?
Holly Watson and Devon O’Rourke explore the importance of optimizing the relationship between product marketing, sales, and marketing and how to do so.

Getting the whole sales team on board with your product launch

Q: There’s a gap between what the really good sales reps can do, what the not-so-good reps can do, and what the struggling ones can do. When you think about a launch, how do we solve that? How can organizations think about moving that needle and getting the whole team on board for what the launch is intended to support and drive?

A: “The worst thing you can do is say ‘hey, we launched [this new product] or [this new feature], it's amazing for [these reasons] … good luck’. Of course, there's going to be a small portion of AEs (account executives) or reps, who are going to take that and say, ‘I know exactly how this fits into my world’.

“This is because maybe they were already proactive, were in sync with the product teams, and were thinking about this ahead of time, right? That's part of what makes them really good reps.

“But you want to systematize that out of the equation, where it isn't about how you’re not so reliant on a star performer. You need to be more focused on building a team that's covering your entire customer base correctly. And that's done through proper enablement.

“There needs to be the right education, the right enablement, and the right pressure from sales management to say, ‘we’re only executing [these plays], this is how you take these products to market’.

“So whether it's combinations of products, a specific industry use case, a specific kind of compelling pain point - whatever those plays are, when those plays are enforced, the key is to get the launch to fit into those plays, or create a new play that supports that launch.

“Then everyone has been onboarded, demonstrated that they can execute the playbook, and you can then take that risk factor or star factor out of the equation.

“That doesn't take away whether some reps are more proactive than others. But you’re reducing whether the launch will land or not by getting that enabling machine working and getting those launches plugged into those plays is at least in my view a way to fix that.”

The dynamics between sales and sales leadership in the context of a launch

Q: One of the things we've learned is that enablement only really goes so far as the sales managers and the sales leadership team allow it to. If you enable the rep, the first question they ask isn’t back to the product marketer, or back to the corporate market, or back to the product - it’s to their manager, saying ‘hey, just launched, what is this? How does this work?’

And if the sales manager isn't informed, or worse, the sales manager isn’t on board, bad things can happen. So how have you understood the dynamics between, not just sales but, the hierarchy of sales and sales leadership in the context of a launch?

A: “Your tactics will depend on how big your company is, and what the culture is. But it comes down to relevance. Ultimately, the larger the company is it's always a fight to get your launch to be relevant to some kind of corporate initiative or company-level goal.

“This shows we're supporting it, and gives a manager the ammo to say, ’look, in executing this play, you're supporting something big that the CEO wants to get done’, right?

“So, there's a certain level of politics that a larger company has to deal with. With smaller companies, it's much easier. You just go to the VP of Sales and say, ‘Listen, this is what's gonna get your reps to get the quarter faster. And this is how we're all gonna go to club.

“And so, you make it relevant in that way. Then it becomes a no-brainer. If there's a way to tie it to a deeper customer success or values outcome, then that's even better because the best sales manager will want their own customers to succeed, in addition to the rep succeeding as well. So it just really depends on what stage you're at, how large it is, and ultimately what the culture is.”

Sealing the Deal: The Essentials of Sales Enablement has been designed to help you understand key areas of sales enablement, empower your sales teams, and above all else, convert more prospects into bona fide customers. Download your copy today.

Thinking about the sales learning side of a launch

Q: What do you think about the training and sales learning side of a launch?

A: “There are two parts to it - there's a kind of push and pull. On the pull side of things, it’s an easy thing that product marketers can do to really highlight your wins. There's that scary initial month, let's say after launch, where once a sugar high fades, as a PMM, you're desperately looking for some deals where the reps actually succeeded with the new launch with a new product.

“And then you want to latch onto that and rapidly document and publicize the heck out of that with your reps.

“Because you can say, ‘somebody in your team uses [this] to execute in [this way]’. Then, you can let them explain it to the team because that’s way better than any marketer talking to a sales rep. It's a credibility thing, right? Ultimately, there's a fine line. Product marketers aren’t the Spartans in the field. That's always the big difference.

“We can take it up to a certain point, but we're not the ones who are feast or famine from a quota perspective. Whether or not the deal was humongous, it's a segment-specific thing. But the story is very important.

“They’ll be able to explain, ‘This is why I went after this in the messaging that I use, this is the opening that I had, oh, by the way, here's the thing that's not documented, also look for accounts that have these characteristics’.

“Because what marketers may not have known when we launched it, that's the learnings you get from the field. And so the deal winds are supremely important. The second thing is, you know, as much as this can be codified into the actual sales process itself.

“So I have to plug CRM (Customer Relationship Management) because that's my day job. But if it’s in all of your opportunity stages, are you tagging things correctly with whether you use a certain player or a certain methodology that may have been impacted by this new launch? That's something from a push perspective, where a manager can really coach on a day-to-day basis to say look why or why aren't you using this approach?

“Why aren't you talking about new capabilities from this launch? I'm not seeing documented in the CRM, for example. So, it's a push and pull thing, but in my experience, the deal winds are, by far, the thing that just removes any skepticism and almost creates a little healthy competition, because we all know that that's the culture, right? You’re motivated by a little bit of competition.”

The secret to product launch success

Q: If you had to kind of summarize and say, to launch effectively, you must do X or X and Y, what would be some of the pearls of wisdom you'd like to pass to the audience?

A: “I think the hardest thing, but the thing that really makes a launch successful is everybody needs to fundamentally have the same definition of what success looks like.

“Otherwise, you have this huge trough of disappointment afterward, where somebody didn't get what they wanted, or somebody didn't see the outcome they wanted, because, in the very beginning of the process, the launch owner wasn't - I would almost say - brave enough to say,’ listen this isn’t something that's going to impact sales, that's okay’.

“If the goal is to create buzz, then focus on that, and leave it at that and then the next day, go to sales and say, ‘Hey, are you folks using this in your processes?’ They'll say whether it affects them or not, and if that wasn't a known objective, then no one's that happy, right?

“But if you notice your objective is actually driving sales success, don't spend so much time on all the fluffy noise-making stuff and get into the weeds with the reps and say, reverse engineer, how do we position this launch? So, it'll help you the minute it hits.

“And so it's always about wrangling people that matter to agree on what the definition of success is, and those are very hard, annoying conversations. But the launch owner needs to be brave enough to drive who they are and to get alignment, then those are the situations I've seen where it's smooth because there are people that want, and there's no one out there that has really disappointed after the fact.”

How to support your sales enablement team

Q: How can product marketers help the enablement team and by-product sellers be more consistent in their ability to execute?

A: “I think it’s a cultural thing. It's almost like part of marketers need to have a little less hubris.

“It's less about believing that they created the right bill of materials, the datasheet, updated the first call deck, and the demo video and assuming that that's going to make a difference and more about really understanding what the language of enablement is.

“So, what do they do day to day? And how can product marketing create the right outputs coming on for launch that’ll help the enablement function? How can we create the right outputs that are going to help?

“And sales being a broad definition at a segment level, right? How can they help the SMB function, the mid-market members, the enterprise folks, and the strata comm, folks, how can they frame the launch to help them?

“Because product marketing sits in the middle of everything. And fundamentally, our job is as linguists. We're using different languages to talk one thing to product people, one to the enablement people, one thing to the reps, one to analysts, and then to customers.

“And so it's really understanding that mental model of how does enablement succeed? And then what can we do to help them so it comes down to plays, it comes down to the right. The right kind of materials may not be sexy stuff, but it's important stuff. Some are it's a work in progress, but it's a thing that PMMs have to get better at.”

Product marketing playbook for sales enablement
In this article, I’ll cover the must-have product marketing playbook for sales enablement, reflecting on my two-plus decades of experience in sales enablement, product management, and product marketing.

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Written by:

Charley Gale

Charley Gale

Charley is the Content Lead at Product Marketing Alliance. She has a passion for creating new content for the community. She's always open to new ideas, so would love to hear from you!

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Leading your sales team to success during a product launch