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Maybe Sales is Struggling Because Your Marketing & NPD Execution Strategy is Broken

I believe it was Thomas Watson Sr. who coined the phrase NOTHING HAPPENS UNTIL A SALE IS MADE!” (Thomas Watson Sr. was president of International Business Machines (IBM) from 1914 to 1956.)

This is another way of saying  nothing sells itself. Every company has to sell something to exist.  A well thought out sales and marketing strategy in the hands of a professional sales team  is an essential ingredient for business success.

Sale’s measurement of success is converting prospects into paying customers at a price point where the customer perceives “good value” and the company achieves sufficient profit to continue to innovate, market and grow.

But when sales aren’t going well, the sales team, rightly or wrongly, tends to look at the product as being the crux of their problem. Perhaps you have heard  sales say something like this:  “if we only just had  so and so, we could own the market.”   

This “so and so” could be a legitimate new product opportunity. But it can also be a tell-tale that the current sales process isn’t working.  Perhaps the sales team is running into resistance because they haven’t learned how to sell the product yet?  The value proposition being presented doesn’t resonate with the current targeted prospects?  Maybe the idea-to-launch framework doesn’t define and test the go-to-market strategy, and sales wasn’t prepared to execute.

Okay, sales can be a very tough role, especially when they are asked to sell products and services that for whatever reason, no longer measure up favorably to alternative solutions in the minds of the prospects.  Or even more common in the fast pace world of high-tech, being asked to sell a solution looking for a problem.

Frankly, if you find your sales team in either of these two situations (trying to sell inferior solutions, and/or trying to sell solutions looking for problems), this is a good sign that your marketing  and NPD strategy has broken down in some fundamental way.

  1. It failed to create a superior (or at a minimum “adequate”) solution to provide customers a compelling reason to buy from you.

  2. It failed to create a unique selling proposition and/or create a validated go-to-market strategy the sales team could execute.

  3. It failed to see new competitive solutions on the horizon and was late to act.

  4. Or it failed to really understand who the customers are and why they need your solution (the old solution looking for a problem). But chose to launch anyway, perhaps at the urging of the VP of Sales?

So what should you do if the sales team is convinced that they can’t sell the “junk” that the marketing and development team has provided them?  And if they are equally convinced the product needs to be revamped if they are ever to sell this thing?

First of all be reasonable and evaluate what sales is saying. They wouldn’t be pointing fingers if all was well with the product offering.  The solution however, may not be a new development cycle but rather a new positioning strategy, or better lead generation or channel development programs.  Or sales leadership.  Sometimes sales just simply doesn’t “get it.”  This is especially true with new products that fit outside the existing sales channels and tactics.

The key is to make an informed decision on what, why and how the product development and marketing team will support sales in making the best of the situation. If that requires development resources to revamp the product, it also means making a conscious decision on which projects in the product development portfolio will be put on hold till current issues are resolved.  And understanding what the potential long term impact of delaying core strategic projects will have on your competitive future.

The worst thing you can do in responding to a sales crisis from a product development perspective, is assume you can simply add more task to the development team’s plate without adding new resources. While at the same time, expecting the development teams to make launch commitments they promised they could make if everything unfolded as planned. This will result in time-to-market delays, frustration and burnout. And probably future opportunities will be squandered as a result.

Do what you need to do to keep sales coming in. If you run out of sales, you basically run out of runway and the next great opportunity will never take off. So if there is a problem with the current product offering, either fix it or maybe you need to kill it and take your losses.

Killing off a product after launch is one of the toughest decision a CEO can make. But sometimes it’s the best solution out of all of the alternatives – especially if your idea-to-launch framework really missed the mark and launched a total dud. It will mean taking a big hit on the bottom line, but  additional precious resources won’t be wasted on a loser.

You might just be better off  bridging the revenue gap with current products that are selling, and focusing your resources on future products that you have high confidence will sell. A bitter pill to swallow for sure, but it may be the best choice to take if facing a product failure. Cut your losses and move on. Learn from the situation and revamp your idea-to-launch system to eliminate waste related to launching products sales can’t sell.

It’s a competitive and tough game out there. Play to win and live to fight another day.


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