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Selling New Products Is A Matter Of Will Or Skill

Dave EgloffMany chief sales officers (CSOs) struggle to get their sellers to effectively and productively sell new products. It may seem like the problem is caused by sales development issues or a lack of cross-selling opportunities, but those are only symptoms of the problem. Assuming the issue is not the product itself, the problem may be rooted in seller will or skill.

Problems With Seller ‘Will’

A will problem shows in an inability to attract seller attention. CSOs can analyze pipeline and opportunity data to see how dedicated sellers are supporting new product launches. As intended, the sales pipeline is meant to provide transparency into future results. When the new product has a soft pipeline, it is the result of sellers failing to create opportunities … but why?

Many sellers feel that selling the new product is not as much an opportunity, but rather an opportunity cost to selling the legacy products. A remedy for a will problem is compensation.

Research from Gartner’s Sales Practice shows that sales leaders should consider the following factors when examining the opportunity cost conundrum:

  • Rate of Pay — do sellers get the same rate of pay for all products? A premium rate may be needed to attract sellers to the new product — do not be too aggressive. A rate that is too high may put existing product sales at risk.
  • Size of Deal — what is the anticipated deal size for the new product compared to the historical average deal size (across other products)? If sellers typically sell $500,000 deals, a $100,000 new product opportunity may not seem like a good investment of time.
  • Length of Opportunity — this time metric is a proxy for the level of effort. Like the size of the deal, issues arise as new product opportunities compare negatively to the historical averages. People do not want to work harder for the same level of pay.
  • Perceived Success Rate — if sellers don’t see an opportunity, they will focus their energy on where they perceive more success.

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Many of these factors can be best observed as comparative metrics. When the comparison identifies a significant gap — mostly reflected in income potential — compensation can close the gap and attract sellers to the new products.

Problems With Seller ‘Skill’

A skill problem signifies that the sellers are missing something. Skill problems reveal themselves in both a lack of seller attention and an inability to close deals — reflected in metrics like win-rate. Sales enablement is the remedy for skill problems. Gartner research shows that sales leaders faced with seller skill challenges should consider the following:

  • Launch product awareness campaigns to help sellers understand and effectively communicate the value proposition.
  • Audit sales collateral to ensure that your sellers have the proper tools to become “new product savvy.” These tools should help sellers — and their managers — identify the right opportunities and improve execution.
  • Leverage differentiated content to appeal to the various learning styles across sellers in the organization. This approach increases both the consumption and retention of the content.
  • Ensure sales managers are involved. Sales managers can highlight the new product launch in their team meetings and reinforce the launch in their one-on-ones.

If sales metrics fail to provide insights into whether the challenges are “will” versus “skill,” CSOs should work with the front-line sales managers to identify both root causes to each challenge and potential remedies. In some rarer cases, the situation may call for a full examination of sales role clarity and overall coverage. This might be true if:

  • Compensation changes to address problems with sellers’ will cause unnecessary risk to other sales goals; and
  • Competent sellers in each role are overwhelmed with all the skill they need to accumulate to be successful.

Sales role clarity and sales coverage model changes are larger efforts that can be quite disruptive. CSOs are far better off exhausting solutions across will and skill — as these are easier to resolve tactically.

While organizations are excited to launch new products, a slow ramp-up will frustrate and cause friction between go-to-market stakeholders. The most successful organizations highlight the value of the new product to both buyers and sellers. Sellers should see new products to penetrate new markets, challenge market competitors and expand existing customer relationships.


David Egloff is a Senior Director at Gartner, currently advising Chief Sales Officers and Sales Operations leaders on initiatives spanning sales force design and operations. Primary areas of focus include role design, segmentation, sales coverage models, analytics, sales compensation and sales transformation. Additionally, lead research and content agendas across sales strategy and design and sales.

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