In part six of this series the concept of Product-Market-Fit was presented as a “market ready” product; that is a product that has the minimum necessary set of features and attributes required for a customer to begin using and/or begin paying. Of course this is not the end of product development (product improvement is iterative as will be discussed in part eight of this series), but it is the beginning of active go-to-market.
The very best product managers are the chief executives of their products, and this means working as closely with the marketing and sales team as with the finance, user design and engineering teams. At launch, a successful go-to-market effort, guided by the product manager and product marketing manager, will have detailed the follow through with the development partners and the many potential customers and reviewers who offered feedback along the way. The go-to-market plan will include clear sales messaging based on the solutions designed into the product and the role of product management in training and supporting sales. And the go-to-market plan should include a content marketing communication plan designed to leverage industry publications, conferences, blogs and other forums to amplify the new product messaging.
Engaging the Development Partners and Other Customer Contributors
Your team is launching a new product to solve meaningful challenges your customers face. You know you are launching a new product that will achieve the customer acquisition and revenue targets you set because you have sought constant learning and validation. The development partner panel – between six and 10 partners – has committed to working alongside your product team across the entire new product process. Development partners join into a partnership with the entire organization because they feel the pain that you have proposed a product solution to address. These are your early advocates and first customers. Your first job at launch is to ensure that your entire development partner panel is on board to use the product and supports the claims of the marketing message and sales approach. The successful product manager will have been in weekly and often daily communication with development partners so there should be no surprises. These are your first buyers, first users, first advocates and best source for lifelong product feedback.
Development partners are a special breed and are discovered in the ongoing outreach and customer engagement process. Over the course of early product discovery and as a function of the daily role of being a product manager, you will speak with hundreds of prospective buyers. These many interactions will occur as structured interviews, user feedback sessions, surveys, and focus groups. Each of these sessions must be catalogued with important comments, questions and observations noted for later follow up with the customer that provided the feedback and insight. As the product team nears launch with the product-market fit, the product team should return to these many providers of intermittent feedback with an update on the impending product launch and with detail on how their individual questions, comments and observations are or are not addressed. This level of interaction will enable a powerful first sales call by the account manager and, more importantly, will be received by the customer as proof that his or her earlier interaction with the product team was meaningful.
Sales Messaging and Sales Support
I want to make a bold statement: The new product sales message must include solutions framed as questions to which a prospective customer will respond positively. In other words, the discovery process, if legitimate, will have unearthed real problems in need of solutions. And the product launch will address these problems head on. The product manager, working with the product marketing manager, will convert these product features into sales collateral and messaging centered on the original problems that drove the entire product development process. It is an unfortunate reality that many products are launched with superficial product messages that do not resonate with customers. Every salesperson you know will vividly recount the many new products they were asked to promote that fell flat with customers. Follow the process described in this series and you will launch products customers need and salespeople are pleased to promote for having done real and meaningful good in the customers’ life.
It is not enough, however, to have developed a solid product with reliable and validated sales tools and customer-facing sales questioning tools designed to highlight the product solution; the product team needs to get on the road, or on the video call, alongside the account manager, to model the effective sales call and the manner in which the focus is directed to the new product solutions. Immediately after ProQuest acquired Alexander Street, the product team responsible for the streaming video product, Academic Video Online, went on the road with each of the 30+ ProQuest account managers to model solution selling. The product team proved that the sales tools and tactics worked and that the problems the product was designed to address were real and meaningful. Academic Video Online quickly became one of the fastest growing, most popular products in the ProQuest portfolio.
The final piece in an integrated and long-running new product go-to-market plan is content marketing. In much the same way that the new product development process reveals the challenges and needs of the customer that ultimately inform the sales tactics and tools, the customer discovery process will yield abundant qualitative and quantitative data to underpin valuable content marketing.
Content marketing is synonymous with the sharing of product research data, processes and results. It is “marketing” only in that the desired outcome is advocacy for the uptake and use of the new product. In this sense content marketing is unabashedly biased, but it is a bias informed by real and validated customer feedback developed across the new product development process, launch and subsequent refinement and improvement of the product solutions, and supported by legitimate data.
Content marketing can take many forms, but in the context of content-based products for learning and research, I suggest focusing on industry publications, white papers, conferences, blogs, and online discussion forums. The very best of these outputs will be jointly authored/presented by a member of the product team and a customer or customers. The backbone of the report or presentation will be data collected in product discovery amplified by broader, contextual industry data. For example, the product manager and a development partner will present data on the search efficacy/accuracy of a new search tool grounded in industry data on the need for general improvement in search efficacy.
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