Main illustration: Micah Belamarich
Shipping product fast and often means more opportunities for the sales team to delight customers and engage with prospects. But your sales team needs a lot more than an email on launch day to maximize the opportunities that product launches present.
Here at Intercom, Sales Enablement is responsible for ensuring sales reps have the skills and resources they need to capitalize on product launches. Before sales enablement became an official function, our sales team didn’t have a way to learn about features before they were shipped. That led to some awkward conversations where customers would tell us about what’s new instead of the other way around! Today Sales Enablement acts as a filter for the massive streams of information that accompany launches and distills it to what reps need to know to sell the new feature effectively.
The work of sales enablement begins as soon as the product roadmap is set. We partner with stakeholders in marketing and product to assess what’s coming down the line and determine the best way for the sales team to get new features into the hands of customers and prospects. The goal is to make sure, through a robust, cross-functional approach, that the investment we make in our product pays off in the market. At a high level, our process looks like this:
Having recently led our sales enablement efforts for our new Messenger, I’ll use that launch to illustrate the exact steps I followed to set our sales team up for success.
1. Assess the complexity of the new feature
It’s important to look at new features from two perspectives, the reps’ and the customers’. The level of complexity associated with what’s being launched is a leading factor in the sales enablement activities you do. To assess the complexity of our new Messenger, I asked the following questions:
- How different is the new Messenger from the old one?
- How different is it to what’s available on the market?
- Does it introduce new concepts to customers or the market?
- Will our team need to sell it to a new audience?
- Will it add more steps to our customers’ workflow?
- Will it save customers time, money or both?
For every launch, I use our sales and product teams as a sounding board. These are things they think about everyday. If their answers aren’t clear, I get volunteers from the sales team to test the new features, watch how quickly they adopt it and track any questions they have. Their reactions are a good proxy for how the rest of the sales team and our customers will react.
2. Determine the potential opportunity or risk
The upsides of some product launches are immediately apparent. If you’re releasing a new product with its own pricing plan, that’s a clear opportunity to drive new business and upsell current customers. But there are other circumstances where a change might be received negatively. If you’re retiring a feature or increasing your prices, customers might react by churning or contracting their accounts. Our goal in sales enablement is to give the sales team ample time and assistance to get ahead of any opportunities or risks.
Upgrading to our new Messenger was free. On the face of it, that seemed to mitigate any risk but changing our core product meant a whole new experience for our customers and their customers. The imperative for the sales team was showing customers how our new Messenger added value that wasn’t there before and helping them get set up.
3. Decide on your sales enablement activities
Now that you’ve assessed complexity and opportunity, you can make an informed decision about what your sales reps need to make the most out of the product launch. It may seem obvious but the more complex the product launch is and the bigger the risk or opportunity tied to it, the more training you should do. If a new feature is straightforward and frequently requested by customers, you won’t need to do much training — everyone will easily understand it. Here are the activities I chose to do for our Messenger launch:
- In-person sessions on messaging and competitive landscape: we’ve found the social aspect of group sessions to be very impactful for getting reps trained. My advice is be selective which product launches you do this for because it takes reps away from selling.
- Product walkthroughs for how to use the Messenger: it’s important to show reps the end-to-end workflow for the new feature so they can explain it in sales conversations. I asked a product expert do this for our new Messenger because the walkthrough was quite involved.
- Workshops with subject matter experts: because our new Messenger is substantially different from our old one, I asked internal experts like Brian, our Director of Product Management, to explain the value of the new features to our sales team.
- Pitch decks and templates to use in sales conversations: giving reps the tools they need to talk about the new features is critical. For our Messenger launch, we created a deck with our core messaging that reps could customize for specific prospects.
- Physical one-pagers for easy reference: a simple summary of what’s launching is a great way to build enthusiasm on the day of. I printed them so they were within reach when reps were having their first conversations about the Messenger.
- Internal communications plan to build excitement: when your company is moving quickly, there are a lot of things vying for reps’ attention. A few well-timed emails about the value of forthcoming features can help reps get and stay excited for launch day.
4. Create and execute your sales enablement plan
Preparing for a product launch is a deeply cross-functional process
Preparing for a product launch is a deeply cross-functional process. There are lots of moving parts and work done in tandem. It’s important stakeholders from marketing, product and sales are all speaking the same language and fully aware of each other’s goals early on. For big product launches, we work with our Program Management team to establish clear responsibilities for each stakeholder, set concrete milestones and maintain visibility into how each team is progressing.
Once all your stakeholders are aligned, which is always easier said than done, you can start gathering information and executing on your sales enablement activities. I create one document that serves as the source of truth for product specs, product positioning and sales assets. Here’s a quick overview of the plan I created for the Messenger launch:
Bonus: Download this template to create your own sales enablement plan.
5. Be prepared to react quickly on launch day
On launch day, you need to be able to react to any problems or opportunities that arise. A successfully executed plan means nothing out of the ordinary happens. But as with all things in life, that’s only sometimes the case. I monitor customer responses to messages in our sales team inbox and ask our reps for ongoing feedback in a Slack channel to see how our product messaging is resonating. For bigger launches like the new Messenger, I also monitor our product, marketing and customer support channels in Slack. My aim is to spot issues, like negative reactions to our messaging or pricing, early so we can resolve them quickly.
6. Measure the impact of the product launch
There are two types of feedback we look for with product launches: feedback on the product and feedback on the training. I want to know, did our sales reps have the right resources and feel confident taking the new feature to market? How did prospects and customers respond?
The best way I’ve found to gather feedback is to survey the sales team two weeks after the launch. All of this information gets funneled into my process for the next launch and especially for big wins or learnings, shared with our stakeholders in Marketing and Product. Here’s the survey I sent to sales reps after our Messenger launch:
Intercom’s approach to sales enablement is constantly evolving as our team, product offerings and business grow. But what stays the same is our robust, cross-functional approach to product launches. For me it’s critical that every stakeholder sees the value and effort we put in coming back out, whether it’s as revenue, retention or customer happiness.