from PRODUCT MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
A Newsletter of Tips For Companies that Develop Software
In small and large software companies alike, Product Management is usually the critical factor in creating an effective sales toolkit. That’s because Product Management marries the strategic goals coming from the management team with the level of detail needed to support the sales team. Product Management takes its understanding of everything from the business model to the targeted customer profile to the company and product positioning, and brings it to bear on the distinct benefits and associated features of the software. It’s the ability to translate the generalities of the marketing message down to the specific and practical details of what the software does, so that sales reps have a long list of capabilities that they can relate to bigger needs and benefits.
So one key result of thorough Product Management is the existence of a complete toolkit for sales. But providing the right toolkit requires more than just providing the tools. It’s just as important to provide guidance on how to use the tools. Without guidance and training to the sales force on how to use the fine-tuned sales mechanism you have provided, you may find it used as a blunt instrument, to little effect.
Read on below for a description of the important tools to include in a sales toolkit, and a discussion on how to help sales reps use the right tool to do a precision job each time.
A Kit Full of Toys
You need to provide the sales force, which includes the reps and sales support reps as well, with much more than they need for any one sale. In this sense it is truly a toolkit. Just as a carpenter has many tools at his disposal, but may only use a handful for any given job, so too does a sales rep need many devices within reach. The sales rep’s skill lies in understanding which tool to use and when.
Flexibility and Responsiveness
In order for the sales force to be able to use your painstakingly crafted devices in a flexible and responsive manner with each prospect, you need to structure the documents and other materials you develop so that they can be used that way. This means:
- Create separate tools for each special purpose. Unless your product is extremely simple – and most software products are not, because as a type of technology, they embed unfamiliar and specialized subject matter which prospects need to absorb in order to appreciate the benefits–don’t combine a feature-by- feature competitive comparison with the overall product presentation of benefits and capabilities.
- Cleanly separate multiple layers of detail, either within the same document, or into individual materials. When doing a competitive comparison, your sales force needs to be able to call upon materials that compare your company to your competitor – just the company. They also need to look at the feature-by- feature comparison for the products. There may even be a further level of detail about the underlying architecture and technology.
- Break materials into clearly delineated blocks of materials that a sales rep can jump between as they are having a conversation with a customer. For example, a demo script should not be a monolithic presentation that forces everyone to suffer through a speech lasting two hours. It should be broken into topics that stand independently. The topics you cover, and the order you cover them in, will be driven by the prospect’s questions and the sales rep’s skillful reading of their reactions.
It’s Always Personal
After Product Management has helped build a toolkit that helps understand the motivations of different types of prospects, their issues, and the product benefits and features that apply, your sales force has abundant materials to make a sale. But for any given prospect, you only use a certain portion of those materials, never all of them.
You pick and choose the tools you need during each conversation with the prospect. While having all the materials built is critical, only certain segments of those materials will be meaningful in a particular sale.
Note to the zealous: the twelve examples of sales tools provided below are enough to keep a Product Manager busy, full time, for a year, to the detriment of all other responsibilities, such as strategic product development. I have never seen an individual company that provided all of the tools shown below.
When developing prospecting scripts, a Product Manager can provide great guidance by breaking the script into easily navigable blocks, with separate sections for different kinds of customer segments (for example, price-sensitive versus quality-sensitive). Each segment has only those capabilities and selling points that most hit home. This kind of structure takes what would otherwise be an almost overwhelming task – especially for a less experienced sales rep or telemarketer – and makes it a valuable tool for identifying what drives the prospect on the other end of the line and explaining how your product can help them specifically.
It’s tough for sales reps to try to keep in their mind’s eye the link between all the various strategies they can use to penetrate an account and the applicable features and benefits of your product. A Product Manager can break down materials into sections for different strategies (for example: low price, foot-in-the-door, expand later vs. multi-functional initiative funded from many budgets) and list those features (modularity, scalability, and user pricing, vs. integration, configurability, and management dashboard) that back that strategy.
This way the sales rep can focus their skills and intuition on determining the right strategy, and can quickly pull in the right backup materials once they’ve done that.
Pain Sheets and Pain Chains (CBIs)
My Solution Selling(r) background is showing through here. There are other terms for these, too, such as Critical Business Issues, or Drivers. Pain Sheets address, either in a very specific structure to adhere to a specific selling methodology, or a more general one, the problems prospects are struggling with that would lead them to benefit from your product.
Such problems are often specific to a job title, role, or department in a prospect company. They also tend to cluster or tie together, or the solution to one leads to another. So it is important for a Product Manager to break struggles down into discrete sections, with clear jumps to related topics, so that a sales rep can easily navigate these materials while on the phone with a prospect.
A powerful way to attract individuals with buying authority is to reach them with expert materials that truly help them, as skilled professionals, understand and address the issues your product helps resolve. This is the purpose of White Papers and materials such as worksheets that help prospects pinpoint the nature and measure the extent of their problem (which your product nicely solves).
As a Product Manager, your important role in developing these materials is to make the leap from some of the concepts laid out in the materials to specific, measurable, practical numbers and pieces of information that link to the software. For example, if your software streamlines a process, you as Product Manager can develop a worksheet that helps prospects measure how much they currently spend on that process, in people, facilities, equipment, and other expenses, and then estimate what their potential savings would be from implementing your software.
The ROI Calculator
The ROI calculator is a topic worthy of its own article, and I have written an issue (see Previous Topics below) that covers this. Product Management can add a valuable layer of sensitivity to this tool by providing guidance to the sales force on which signs to look for in a prospect to indicate that using the ROI Calculator will move the sale along.
A Multifaceted Presentation
One of the hurdles you face with a standard presentation about your product is that it has been made to be all things to all prospects. That’s fine, but Product Management needs to provide further guidance to sales on how to read their prospect and determine which portions of the presentation to emphasize.
Here’s a common situation in many industries and for many software products. You are faced with predictable segments of individual prospects who have widely different perspectives and pains. For every slide in your standard sales presentation that they will find fascinating and worthwhile, there are two that won’t hold their attention for long. Define these different segments and explain to the sales force how to identify them, and which slides to lean on.
For example, you often face two segments: those who are quite experienced and specialized in their profession and have already used competitive products, and those who are new to the area of expertise, although they may have many other skills, and who are unsure of what they need a tool to do. The first segment needs to be steered to the slides that describe the product’s different components and their benefits. The second segment needs to be steered to the slides that explain why your product is different and better than the others.
The first segment still needs to hear why your product is better and different (though you can go over the material quickly), but they will intuitively understand much of that by hearing about the scope of what your product does. The second segment needs to be steered toward understanding how to determine that your product makes a better tool. They won’t necessarily appreciate its superiority by hearing details of what it does, and you can spend less time on the latter part.
Perhaps the best guidance you can provide your sales force is when, if at all, to use a short movie that you may have developed in flash format or as a video file.
For example, if you’ve got a champion or sponsor at your prospect, the movie can be something you provide to them to introduce and sell the product internally. But don’t insult a serious prospect by sending them a breezy movie which is light on details after a three-hour meeting, thinking they should see it.
Demo software usually has to be configured to address different segments, even different vertical markets, and different levels of detail of your product. Help sales support and sales reps understand how to quickly get to the vertical examples, segment-specific material, or level of depth that they need. Make it easy for the sales reps to find specific vertical or detailed information. This can be done using naming conventions (Healthcare Inc., Bankers Bank, etc.) or by grouping and sorting information.
The key with the demo script is to break it into sections or blocks that can stand on their own. After the introductory section, give the sales rep the freedom to jump from section to section, as directed by the customer’s questions. Don’t force the demo into a long chain of events or processes where each step depends upon completion of the previous one.
Screenshot demos are backup or introductory material for those who want to get an idea of what the software looks and feels like, but who are okay with not having live software. A sales rep can apply their skill to determining whether a screenshot demo is important – and you can provide some pointers on how they figure that out–and use the tool (or not) as appropriate.
Pricing calculators need to clearly break out their input and measurements to correspond with different types of customers, however they are defined for your product. This could mean hosted versus installed customers, or customers who want user-based versus site licenses. A Product Manager can ensure that the various critical segments are clearly visible and delineated in the pricing calculator, so that the sales rep can get to the right calculation quickly as they try to read their prospect.
Competitive comparison tools usually result in extensive information comparing three, five, or even more competitors to your product. Yet any given prospect may only be looking at two or three at a time. At some point, the sales rep knows that it’s down to your product and one other.
Provide a tool that is more than a big table. Provide a competitive comparison that can be narrowed down to only show selected products from the bigger list, because that is all your prospect happens to want to hear about.
It’s Never Enough
If you don’t hear comments such as ‘Is that all? Can’t you do more? Can’t you do xx? (you fill in the blank with something time consuming), you’re probably not working with Sales. While there are always new tools that Product Management could provide, and ways you could make existing tools more sensitive or specialized, the key is to provide a reasonably complete toolkit that a sales rep can manipulate to fit most prospects.