Intrapreneurial innovation can benefit from involving a member from the sales team at every stage of the Innovation Value Chain (IVC).  Involving sales in the innovation development process starts with sourcing ideas and utilizing a salesperson’s skillset for vetting ideas with customers.  When innovation reaches the acceleration stage, it is important to determine whether existing sales channels are a good fit.  When the commercial potential of a new product or service is identified and the go-to-market strategy is defined, now it’s time for sales to do what it does best: SELL.  Here are 5 tips to help you launch a successful sales program:

1.)  Provide training and sales tools

The innovation management process requires the development of a number of documents, such as a business model canvas.  During the launch stage, it is critical that your sales team is provided training documentation and marketing materials.  Before sending your sales soldiers out into the field, they need the proper training to make sure that they stay on message.  A one hour training session via webinar is likely not enough.  Reinforce the message and provide several training sessions.  Also, make sure there is plenty of time for Q&A (and if the Q&A is quiet, that is a sign that you may need more training or that your sales team is disengaged).  A sales kit typically includes a powerpoint deck, brochure, and proposal templates.  I also like to include a video with a youtube link (if appropriate) and a call script that can be customized.  When selling B2B (vs consumer-focused innovation), the one pager and a demo are also important parts of the sales kit.

2.)  Get the compensation plan right

What motivates most sales people?  COMMISSIONS.  To get your sales team excited and engaged, the comp plan needs to be right.  A comp plan should consider these three things: What are the profit margins? How long is the sales cycle? Is it recurring or one time?   There are a number of compensation models to consider, such as profit margin vs revenue.  Put in the time to analyze the financials and develop a plan that you are confident will get a positive reaction.  Sales’ rejection of comp plan can delay your sales efforts and diminish the excitement that they should have towards your newly innovated product.  If a sales team has been making their living selling a certain product with a certain compensation model, there can be some resistance to a new product, especially if the compensation is inferior or unclear.  Getting the comp plan right is a critical step towards landing your first customer.

3.)  Profile prospects to find the right customer

Your customer validation during innovation development identifies the best and most promising opportunities for your new product or service.  This gives you the basis for defining your target market.  You should also consider the product lifecycle curve and the profiles of customers.  Understanding how to identify innovators, early adopters, and early majority profiles will allow your sales team to have laser focus.  Selling innovation is not about finding a customer, but finding the right customer at the right time.

With B2B sales, this adoption profile is often more about the company than the individual.  Some companies and some industries just don’t embrace new things.  The adage of “No one got fired for buying IBM” is rooted in the fact that some people are risk averse and are not willing to try something until others have proven that it works.  The right prospect for innovation in B2B will include a “champion” that has the resources, power, and vision to see the opportunity that your innovation offers.  Now that you know who to look for, your sales team is ready to start selling.

4.)  Don’t make your first call to your best lead

After training your sales team, getting them excited with a comp plan, and providing them a list of prospects, now it’s time to pick up the phone.  But wait!  Don’t start at the top of the list, start off the list.  For even the most skilled sales veteran, the first sales call with a new product can be rough.  Avoid the rookie sales mistake and recognize that your pitch needs practice.  You can go through the exercise of practice pitching with your sales manager or a colleague (but let’s be honest, both of you will feel a little goofy and it won’t be like a real sales call).  Go into an old prospect list and pick someone that may or may not be a relevant target.  Build up your confidence by practicing your pitch on a half dozen unqualified leads.  This will help you develop a rhythm to your pitch and you didn’t waste any of the good leads in the process.  Once you are confident, pick up the phone and start closing some deals! (Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy)

5.)  Require feedback & refine your pitch

No matter how detailed and thorough your planning iss during the innovation and acceleration stages, there are surely some assumptions left in your sales plan.  Once your sales team starts picking up the phones and meeting with prospective customers, then your assumptions will be tested.  Don’t just encourage, but require your sales team to provide feedback on the effectiveness of the message and the response from customers.  Establishing a feedback loop with your sales team is critical to refining your pitch. One reaction you may have is to be skeptical of the sales team’s feedback (especially if it is negative).  Listen and be flexible.  Allow your sales team to tweak the message slightly if they feel it will help the sales process and ask questions so you can share that knowledge with the rest of the sales team.  Expect to be wrong on some things, remembering that the ultimate goal is a successful product launch, not proving that your assumptions were correct.

The innovation value chain is a part of the process that Taivara uses to help our customers drive innovation.  Effective for both startups and large enterprises, the IVC is a framework to guide you through innovation, acceleration, and launch.  There is a place for your sales team in every stage of the IVC, so use them to their full potential..  After all that hard work, the last stage of the process will hopefully last a long time as customers adopt the product and you capture more of the market.  Now go sell something!

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