Product Launch Planning: Sales Channel and Sales Cycle Complexity

As it relates to your sales channel and channel partner readiness, there are two things to consider when developing your own product launch time line. First is the size of your sales channel. The second is the complexity of the sales cycle. By focusing on the sales channel and channel partners you address what is typically the most time consuming and riskiest part of a successful product launch.

Size of Your Sales Channel and Channel Partners

Get your sales channel and channel partners ready for product launch is often the most critical and time consuming part of product launch. You can deliver the best promotional programs on the planet but if the sales channel and your channel partners aren’t ready (or haven’t embraced the new offering) your success in the market could be severely impacted.

The size of the sales channel and channel partners has a direct relationship to the amount of time it takes to prepare it for launch. Let me illustrate.

When the sales channel is limited to 6 direct salespeople in one office, you can get them together over lunch. But when the sale channel is a combination of direct salespeople and channel partners scattered across three continents you have to plan ahead. Sometimes months in advance.

Let’s say that Acme Software has a direct sales channel of 300 salespeople in North America, EMEA, and Asia Pacific. They are in 15 countries and speak equally as many languages. Additionally there are channel partners in 10 other countries.

In the case of Acme Software you may need to start the product launch planning process of sales enablement training 6 months in advance of the target launch date just to coordinate training dates. If you have the added constraint of not being able to get everyone together in one place at one time, consider traveling to them or conducting sales enablement training online.

The Complexity of the Sales Cycle

The complexity of the sales cycle can introduce another dimension into your product launch planning. Products that are relatively simple to understand and sell, lend themselves to a much easier sales enablement training regiment and therefore a shorter planning horizon. On the other hand complex products take longer to understand and require much more involvement from buyers before a purchase decision can be made require a longer planning horizon.

Complex sales cycles require much more training about the problems addressed, who is impacted within the buyer’s organization, and what will they need to know in order to make a recommendation to buy.

Let’s build on our Acme Software example. Assume Acme is launching a new solution and for the first time will introduce to the channel a product with a complex sales cycle. Management is anticipating a 9 to 12 month sales cycle with no fewer than 8 to 10 people from the customer’s organization to be involved in making a decision to buy.

We’re presented not only with a new product to launch but a change in the way our sales channel will sell. This introduces risk. In order to minimize risk we may have to consider sales enablement training a year in advance by focusing on the problem, the market, buyers, and how they buy.

Another consideration here worth mentioning is sales culture. It’s not uncommon to see a sales culture where it’s OK to sell what’s not yet available. It’s another opportunity to introduce risk. Only this time the risk is about negatively affecting current sales before product launch. When we start sales enablement training we may run the risk that salespeople start talking about the new product immediately and inadvertently stop the deals they are working on today.

While I’m a strong advocate of a sales culture what sells what we have, I’m also a realist when it comes to long, complex sales cycles. If we wait until the product is announced we’re starting from scratch to build a pipeline. If we have a sales culture that sells futures, we start building a pipeline for the new product but run the risk of reducing the size of the pipeline for current products. Sometimes we’re in a no win situation. Err on the side of getting the sales channel and channel partners prepared to sell and leave the problem of selling futures to the VP of Sales and the CEO to resolve.

What are you struggling with?

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