B2B Sales of New Products

Sales Management
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Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

B2B Sales of New Products

Selling major new, innovative products is hard, especially if it's to new B2B clients. There are only few people who are good and successful at it. At the same time it is a crucial capability for many firms. That's probably why new product/business B2B reps can earn a high salary.

I just read a very interesting article by Steenburgh and Ahearne, who have done research about what it takes as a I. PERSON to be good at selling new (B2B) products, and what it takes as an II. ORGANIZATION to excel in selling new (B2B) products.
    What traits and competencies distinguish a successful new product/business B2B sales person?
    1. S/HE TAKES A LONG VIEW. Spends considerable time on qualifying just a handful of really good prospects and then focuses all her/his attention, time and resources on those few, focusing on a long-term, strategic relationship with those organizations.
    2. S/HE HAS DIFFERENT CONCERNS. Does not focus on product knowledge, but on the sales process and the views of the various influencers and decision makers.
    3. S/HE EXHIBITS MORE RESOLVE. Is very confident and determined and puts sustained effort in the future payoff of long, complex sales cycles and in coping strategies for barriers.
    4. S/HE HAS A LEARNING MINDSET. Has a desire for personal growth, to master this difficult role and to improve his/her abilities.
    5. S/HE IS KNOWLEDGEABLE, CUSTOMER-FOCUSED AND ADAPTABLE. Understands markets, trends and has a very strong desire to meet customer needs. Constantly adapts to feedback, to other managers and to changes in the market.
    What distinguishes an organization that is successful in new product/business B2B sales?
    It starts with a widely supported insight that investing in strategic innovation / R&D is needed, but is not enough to ensure any excellent new product will actually become a big financial success. Based on that insight, the organization should create an environment and culture that is conducive to new product sales:
    1. HAVE EXCELLENT FRONTLINE SALES MANAGERS. Ability to attract, assess and hire sales reps with the traits and competencies described under I., to coach these reps in their learning process (strengths, weaknesses), and to keep up their morale in difficult times. In my experience, a top new business sales representative can be, but does not automatically make a superb sales manager. A training and coaching program for sales management candidates could be a very good idea.
    2. PERFORM SYSTEMATIC SKILL ASSESSMENT. To be used for customized coaching and training purposes.
    3. TRAIN FOR KNOWLEDGE AND RESILIENCE. Again, do not focus on product knowledge, but on market trends, the sales process and selling skills.
    4. IMPLEMENT STRATEGIC ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT. Take a long-term perspective for business development and networking, and provide long-term incentives. Hold regular planning meetings with clients and collaborate with them, build customer intimacy and trust and develop partnerships with the best clients. Bring executive teams of both organizations together.
⇒ Do you agree with these characteristics of successful people and organizations selling new innovative products?

Source: Thomas Steenburgh and Michael Ahearne, "How to Sell New Products - Focus on learning, not performance", HBR Nov-Dec 2018, pp.92-101

  Javier Elenes
Business Consultant, Mexico

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  Maurice Hogarth
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  Alexey Timoshek
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Even if the manufactured product gives a lot of value to the potential buyers and even if the salesman is very persuasi...

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