Tackling a challenging opportunity for a new product, we had to look at where the real opportunity was. It potentially had a big market, but how we approached it could make or break our success. The basic strategy was to go after our competitor’s weakness, although we didn’t have clear product differentiation vs. the competition. Also, the competitor had been on the market for many years, and had great name recognition.
So we identified an area where we could win by delivering economic value. We knew that efficacy and safety were important to our customers – but beyond that, cost also plays an important role. We saw an opportunity to win based on a focused strategy, driven by a cost advantage. This was a first for us and required a change in mindset from the ‘traditional’ ways of differentiating based on product-related features. This required a lot of market research, education and a team with a strong backbone to get both management and the sales teams on board.
In short, it was fairly simple: we would target a segment that wasn’t a major customer of our competitor, and was open to an appeal based on cost and contracting. Drawing on the skills of our entire organization, we partnered with an additional sales force that had skills complementary to ours. Finally, we detailed our strategy and made our case to senior management, who approved of the idea. Putting the pieces in place, we made our goals and proved the worth of our game plan.
SHIFTING OF THE MINDSET
We all know getting everyone rowing together in the same direction is key to winning the race, especially when a shift of mindset is required. Over my career in leading brands, I have found that it is critical to make sure we meet people where they are and make sure we are all aligned to the strategy. If they aren’t, the execution will fall apart. It’s all about how we make the shift. There are always those who jump right on board, those who will follow, and those who are the skeptics. The key is to provide the “why” behind the strategy, offering solid rationale that considers market dynamics, customer needs and the product offering – and then get some quick wins.
\Once people start to see the strategy is working, others are more likely to follow. Skeptics also play an important role. Knowing the barriers people will put up initially can help ensure you can proactively address them to gain the buy-in upfront. Of course the tools and training are important, but without everyone aligned, we could take two steps forward and one step back. Once the strategy is ready to execute, it’s then critical to share and recognize success – this will build momentum and drive uptake of the brand.
BUILDING THE COMMUNICATION HIGHWAY
Feedback and communication help to bridge the gap between marketing and sales. It’s critical for product launches to be sure we hear feedback from the sales force. We had a swat team, a field input team, that was assembled on regular conference calls. We wanted to know what they were hearing from the customers. Is this something that is happening regionally, in pockets, or nationally? We created a virtual working group between marketing and sales to discuss what was going on in the market place. As we were developing the launch plan, strategy and positioning, we had the sales managers come in and provide feedback on our progress.
This is what we call the “open kimono” approach. Transparency, honesty, confident communication. “This is the current thinking, why we are going in this direction. We want your reaction, a reality check.”
We talked about the full organizational approach. This requires more than just a conference call. It needs a focused discussion where everyone is fully engaged. We scheduled intense comprehensive workshops so that everyone had a voice into the strategy. Then we could leverage the champions when it was rolled out. Your colleagues on all levels have to see they have a part in the process. We asked questions around how colleagues would receive the strategy, what type of questions they would have, what type of concerns and barriers, what will they be most excited about. This takes us to where training, marketing, and compliance can be prepared to address what can potentially arise as we roll the strategy out. When we didn’t do that in the past, there were unwelcome surprises.
LEVERAGING THE DASHBOARD: EXECUTION AND FOLLOW-UP
Make sure that once you put the plan in place you’re clear on what’s to be done to follow through. Track that, and change course if necessary. I saw where we needed to tweak some areas and made sure the sales force was well-equipped for follow-up. It’s important to recognize the areas where adjustments need to be made – you’re not always going to get it 100% right for a launch – just identify the problem areas, learn fast and adjust.
NAVIGATING THE FLIGHT: THE DASHBOARD
Shifting gears from launch into this role, I made sure we had crystal clear priorities and metrics to create a dashboard, and communicated them. It’s important people know what their goals are and how they are tracking towards them – and communicate this often. Once again: transparency. And it’s made possible only when we work together to achieve the goal: what can marketing do, what can sales do, what are our pockets of opportunity? •