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- Are salespeople the right resource in the booth?
- Trade shows set the stage for mismatched expectations
- If not salespeople working the booth, then who?
If salespeople should work the trade show booth is one of the questions that comes up frequently when I’m teaching classes for Pragmatic Marketing. The ensuing discussion can get really interesting and sometimes a little heated. It’s a question that begs further discussion given that it’s often the Sales Team that is driving the need for trade show attendance.
For many technology companies the number of trade shows in which they are exhibiting is down compared to previous years, but for the trade shows that they do participate in the need to show a return on investment is every bit as challenging.
In the early days of the technology industry, sales transactions could be conducted in a trade show booth. It was easy to justify the attendance at an event based on revenue.
Over time the ability to conduct sales transactions in the booth has been taken away. Even though this is the case for most trade shows today, there is still a sense from the Sales Team that it’s an opportunity to sell. This creates the perfect storm for a disconnect between what the Marketing Team is doing and what the Sales Team expects.
Today it’s not uncommon to measure the ‘success’ of a trade show investment based on the number of ‘leads’ generated. Most ‘leads’ aren’t really sales ready leads at all. They are swipes of attendees badges, often with little qualification other than a chance at winning the cool thing we were giving away.
The Marketing Team returns with a bucket full of badge swipes and proclaims the trade show a success, only to be chastised by the Sales Team as wasting their time and the company’s money.
Through the years trade shows have evolved into education and networking forums. Little selling is actually conducted. Attendees are scouts looking to learn about the next new thing and identify new options to solve business problems. Scouts may be influencers of an eventual sale but lack the authority to make buying decisions. Salespeople respond to this reality by indicating that there were not enough buyers to talk with (and therefore it was not a worthwhile investment).
From the scout’s perspective they want to learn, they are not ready to be sold. Too strong of a sales emphasis turns them off.
From the company’s perspective we need to consider the opportunity cost of dedicating sales resources to the trade show booth. A direct sales force is a big investment. Salespeople are valuable resources and we want them to focus on activities that provide the best return. Working in a trade show booth for two or three days resulting in few (if any) sales ready leads would not qualify as a good return.
We need to reorient our thinking around trade shows. Instead of measuring the success of a trade show on leads alone, it’s time to focus on educating and informing influencers, planting the seeds for future sales transactions. The more they view us as being helpful, the more likely they will turn to us for future consideration.
So if we don’t have salespeople in the trade show booth, then who should we consider as an alternative? You may be in an organization with a dedicated trade show team and the debate about having salespeople in the booth isn’t even an issue for you. If you don’t have a dedicated trade show team, then what? Here are some alternatives to consider.
Sales Engineers can be highly effective working a trade show. They have product knowledge and they are comfortable helping people learn about your products. SEs are often viewed as more approachable, especially to a technical audience.
Product Marketing Managers
For product marketing managers, working a trade show can result in important market insights. It gives them the opportunity to engage in discussions with a broader audience that can help with building buyer personas. It’s not uncommon for product marketing managers to pull booth duty but for some companies it may be overlooked as an underutilized resource for trade shows.
Have you considered having customers work your trade show? From a learning and sharing point of view it can be ideal. Scouts are talking with a real, live user of your product.
Consider that your company is already paying for people to work the trade show. You have customers that may have a desire to attend the trade show, but lack the budget to get approval to attend. Offer to host them, provided they spend time working in the booth. It’s a win-win situation.
Give them a different color shirt so they are easily identified to the team as a customer. Give them guidelines of what’s expected and who to grab if they need help. Then let the magic happen.
Also consider having a contest to award customer evangelists to work your trade show booth. It’s a great way to get a knowledgeable resource and someone who is passionate about your products in front of influencers. At the same time it’s a great way to acknowledge and reward the important contribution customer evangelists have on your company’s success.
In class the other day, a student asked why we see companies offering big discounts at trade shows.
It happens not only at trade shows. We often see great deals if we’re willing to make an immediate decision. Go see a professional speaker and at the end of the talk he or she will likely have product to sell in the back of the room … deeply discounted if you purchase today.
Of course, the discount is intended to get you to purchase immediately, but it’s more than that. These companies believe, probably correctly, that if you don’t purchase now you will likely never purchase. Hence, any incentive to get you to act now increases their sales.
However, you rarely see this at retailers. Imagine walking into McDonald’s and they say, if you buy today you can have a Big Mac for 50 cents. Almost never happens. Because once you’re inside, you’re going to buy something from them. By selling you a deeply discounted product they take money away from themselves.
These deeply discounted “act now” deals work best when the potential customer is in a unique place for them, a place they are not likely to be in again for a while. That way, if they want this great deal they have to act now.
If you are contemplating deep discounts to get buyers to act quickly, ask yourself, are you credible? If you say to a potential customer, I’ll give you 50% off if you act this week, what does the buyer think? If the buyer waits more than a week and then offers to buy from you at the previous price, will you reject it? Probably not and your buyers know it. Hence, it’s not credible. In most situations, deep discounts to act now is just giving away money.
Also ask yourself, would I win this business anyway, a little later but at a higher price? If so, it may be in your best interest to wait out the customer. (Of course you’re always at risk of losing the deal to a competitor.)
Deep discounts can motivate buyers to act quickly, and it is sometimes in your best interest to do so. Just be clear about your expectations if you choose to try this tactic.
Photo by supa_pedro
Use product launch tiers to allocate launch resources
Prioritize launch resources based on business/market impact
Companies with large product portfolios can face a dizzying pace of product launches. Realistically, not every product update needs the resources of a full-blown product launch so we need a rational way to prioritize resources to more closely match business outcomes.
One method is to allocate launch resources by prioritizing product launches based on a combination of the impact on the market and the impact to the business. Products that are expected to have a larger impact, get more launch resources. Products with a lower impact, get fewer launch resources.
We can do this by establishing launch tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 launches.
The x axis represents market impact: how the product launch will impact the market.
The y axis represents business impact: how the product launch will impact the business.
Tier 1 product launches are the highest priority and are reserved for products that are expected to have the most impact. Tier 1 product launches are less frequent and have significant strategic impact. A Tier 1 product launch might include new product categories, introduce an acquisition, or represent a significant change to the business.
Examples would be the introduction of the Apple iPhone or HealthCare.gov.
Tier 2 product launches have mid-level priority and are reserved for products with less market and business impact than a Tier 1 product launch. While still important to the business it can be rationalized that fewer product launch resources are needed. Tier 2 product launches are for products with incremental improvements where we want to make some noise in the market, but not the big promotional effort reserved for a Tier 1 launch.
An example would be Apple iPhone 5S.
Tier 3 product launches have the lowest priority and are reserved for incremental releases where there isn’t sufficient business or market impact. Tier 3 product launches need minimal resources and would typically be incremental in nature, like a maintenance release of a product intended for an established customer base where the changes are minimal.
An example would be Apple IOS 8.1.
Discretion needs to be applied when determining launch priorities. Let’s say we are a SaaS-based company and are planning for future growth. We’ve decided to add instrumentation to our application to provide better customer support. The market impact is low and perhaps the business impact – today – is relatively low as well. We could rationalize a Tier 3 launch.
On the other hand, if our SaaS-based company is having a severe customer retention problem due to issues in the application that are difficult to identify, we may decide to add instrumentation to better identify problems to help reverse the churn. The market impact would be low and the business impact would be high. We could rationalize a Tier 1 launch in that case.
In both scenarios we’re adding instrumentation to the application (the same development effort) but for different business reasons.
In other words, a higher development effort does not automatically imply a higher launch priority. Market and business impact are they drivers that determine the launch priority, coupled with a dose of reality.
Innovation and acquisition are two popular ways companies grow their portfolios. However, with 50 percent of all new products failing, 46 percent of all research and development dollars spent on cancelled or failed products and the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions hovering between 70 and 90 percent, portfolio planning is critical.
Product portfolio management is a fundamental part of what product managers should be doing. In Pragmatic Marketing’s November webinar, Mike Smart and Nils Davis of Egress Solutions, Inc., discussed the challenges companies face managing their product portfolios. Here are some highlights from their discussion. To listen to the entire webinar, click here.
There are two parts to portfolio management: analytics and planning. Analytics requires companies to assess their current state and determine where they are. Planning requires companies to determine where they’re going, how to invest resources for the best results, what their pipeline looks like and how to achieve portfolio goals. Planning also helps companies decide what to do about the products that aren’t going to make it.
The objective of a product portfolio is to determine the optimal product mix and product investment to achieve business goals. Use R-W-W to analyze your portfolio:
• Is it real?
• Can we win it?
• Is it worth it?
Many product companies and most product portfolios include too many products. And often, there are too few high-value products in the pipeline. This results in a portfolio that isn’t balanced across risk and value, doesn’t align with the organization’s strategy and doesn’t deliver the value it should.
It’s important that companies with two or three products in production practice portfolio management. The big questions to ask are:
• What are the organization’s goals?
• Where should we invest and how much?
• How are the products doing?
Move away from the notion that if a company has $1 million to invest and five products, it should allocate $200,000 for each product. It’s easy for a company to fail in portfolio management by overwhelming its resources so it can’t actually complete any projects. A company can’t succeed if its products don’t do the things they’re supposed to do. That requires killing underperforming products and even some promising products to keep a sharp focus.
Creating a high value, high impact portfolio will maximize the return on a company’s product innovation investments and maintain its competitive position. It will also achieve the efficient and effective allocation of resources while forging a link between project selection and business strategy.
For more information about portfolio management, listen to the full webinar with Mike, Nils and the Pragmatic Marketing team.