New Product Channel Sales Introductions – An Accessible and Comprehensive System for Partners

Companies are experiencing New Product Introductions (NPIs) much more frequently today. Product life cycles continue to shorten and the cycle time from development to introduction is decreasing as well, even for equipment manufacturers. Product introductions used to be sequentially managed, step-by-step, from design to manufacturing to marketing. But with the constant pressure to release new products to remain competitive, the process had sped up. Technology now allows for the simultaneous development and coordination of new products, encompassing all departments, including design, engineering, manufacturing, accounting, marketing and sales. Today’s reality? More sophisticated products are being launched, more frequently, with diminishing “first mover advantage” in the marketplace.

Many product launches succeed in this environment for sure. However, many fail. One research study suggests an overarching reason for this failure:

“The biggest problem we’ve encountered is lack of preparation: companies are so focused on designing and manufacturing new products that they postpone the hard work of getting ready to market them until too late in the game.” (Why Most Product Launches Fail, Joan Schneider and Julie Hall, Harvard Business Review, April 2011)

This lack of market readiness can be intensified when a company markets its products through a dealer or channel network. If you’re ready but your dealers aren’t, your product launch will fail. (For simplicity, I use the term “dealer” to encompass all different kinds of channel partners including distributors, dealers, VARs, resellers, etc.)

Today, more and more companies are using Partner Relationship Management (PRM) systems to steer new product introductions to (and through) their dealer network. A PRM system is web-based channel management software that unifies all facets of managing a dealer network into a single partner portal. Using training/certification, marketing communications, collaboration, and dealer readiness tools, manufacturers can provide an accessible yet comprehensive system so their dealers are ready and excited when new products are introduced into the marketplace.

Are Your Dealers Really Trained?
If people are not educated about a product, they won’t believe in it, and they won’t be committed to selling it. Sales people like to sell what they’re used to selling – usually the old product. Launching new product training through a partner portal can offer the most effective way to quickly train and generate a sales person’s interest. Once features and benefits are learned, sales people can more easily become excited and committed.

Dealer sales person training is key. Train them immediately at product launch, so they are already prepared when their customers get the news. Help the dealer principals accomplish this as efficiently and effectively as possible – don’t make the exercise a time-consuming, take-forever task. Give sales people a certification goal to entice them to achieve. And provide them a reward and recognize them for their success. A PRM system can manage this sales enablement for a company and its channel partners.

Are Your Marketing Materials Readily Available?
You can spend vast sums on brochures, press releases and product information bulletins, but if they cannot be found they become useless. Your dealers must be able to easily access and download the exact information they need to help you market your new product at the exact point in time that they need that information. A Content Management platform integrated into the PRM system provides an efficient process for discovery and delivery of new product marketing materials. Give your dealers what they need when they need it, thus making it easier for them to sell it, while improving your ROI.

What is the Reaction to Your Product Launch?
Getting early feedback from dealers and customers is vital to gauge the success of the product and its launch, and to make mid-course directional changes if needed. Peer-to-peer, ask-the-expert, blogs and other social media platforms are now great ways to both receive important feedback, and to embed best practices across the dealer network. A PRM system that incorporates these kinds of activities can help manufacturers understand what is happening in their dealer channel, and take advantage of the excitement created by the new product launch itself.

Most companies today create a new product website for the general public to drive demand. That makes sense. Now, more and more manufacturers have learned that creating ‘internal’ portals using their PRM system to create a ‘campus’ or virtual meeting center focused on preparing and galvanizing dealers to support the product launch and drive customer demand in an integrated way leads to much greater profitable sales results. These centers focus the information and extend the awareness, preparedness to support, knowledge and excitement of the new product launch further than was possible before.

Is Your Channel Ready for Your Product Launch?
You can’t manage if you can’t measure. When your boss asks you if your dealers are ready to effectively sell and service your product, the answer, “yes they are – trust me,” is not going to cut it. These days, you must have the metrics to prove it. With a PRM solution including performance measurement tools, dealer management is easier. A company can establish a performance standard, measure against it and support their partners in achieving it. Sophisticated technology-enabled tools using dashboards and reports-on-the-fly allow a company to measure many of the critical elements of a product launch with a holistic basis of objective data. Certifications, meeting and webinar attendance, Market Development Fund (MDF) allocations, lead status, order analysis, and more can all be a part of a real-time performance standard that today’s PRM systems enable.

Avoid a “Bad” Product Launch in Your Channel
Most companies in today’s unforgiving market cannot afford a “bad” product launch. What is the cost if your partners are not ready to market your new product? Too many managers lose sight of lost sales, wasted marketing funds, sluggish demand and channel conflict. If the new product is replacing an older, successful product that is a significant part of the company’s business, product launch failure is not an option.

Companies today are using technology to extend the reach of their new product launch budget. PRM systems, built with the right tools and accompanied with the right strategy, can greatly increase the chance of marketing success of a product launch in the channel. If you make it easier for your dealers to work with you and to get the information they need, New Product Introductions can be launched smoothly and effectively.