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A Special Forces team for new product launch

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

What really sets them [Special Forces soldiers] apart is their attitude, which is a unique mixture of unpretentiousness paired with an almost childlike curiosity which comes with fluid, differentiated and unorthodox thinking. It’s not that they are smarter than other soldiers, but that they think differently. Unconventional warfare requires counterintuitive and “out of the box” thinking which you won’t find in conventional units. It’s the way SOF [special operations forces] soldiers approach a problem that makes them special:

  • there are no concepts, be formless!

  • consider nonmilitary solutions to solve military problems

  • base your decisions on facts and not on opinions like “we are the best” or static military concepts

  • understand the paradoxes of unconventional warfare

Roland Bartetzko, author, former German Army Paratrooper, Croatian, Defense Council, Kosovo Liberation Army

These are also the characteristics for the team leading a new product launch and absolutely required if the technology or service is innovative and disruptive. The professional sales team and, for that matter, the whole professional sales organization is designed, trained and managed to efficiently execute a proven sales model. When launching a disruptive new product, by definition, there is no proven sales model. It is waiting to be discovered, distilled, validated and codified, before turning it over to the professional sales team to execute at scale.

So how is the proven sales model discovered, distilled, validated and codified?

Similar to the military where a SOF team is deployed to solve special situations, the sales special forces product launch team is deployed to address and solve the unique situation and challenges of a new product launch. This sales team is not better or smarter than the professional sales team; it is different. They think differently; they are “wired” differently. Just like the military, they have a different skill set. They can be found within the sales team but those with the necessary skill- and mind-set are small in number (less than 5%). And they might be referred to as “rebels”, “cowboys” and “troublemakers”.

Some indicators to finding them within your sales team.

  • Challenge common wisdom or leadership mandates

  • Come up with their own solutions

  • Go to the mat for their customers

  • Develop unusual collaborations

  • Call on different types of customers; sell into new market segments

  • A tendency to “go of reservation”

  • Restless in their jobs hence their penchant for creating “mischief”

Many of these behaviors are often scowled upon and discouraged, if not stamped out. But when assembling a special forces sales team, I am screening FOR these characteristics. I had a startup client who fired their “salesperson of the year” four months into the following year saying, “She just wouldn’t follow the instructions of her sales manager. She kept doing her thing.’’ We had spent a week working side-by-side together; she was smart, creative, results driven, humble and loved by her customers. She was always coming up with and trying new ideas. She was deeply invested in her clients often blurring the line between professional and personal relationships with clients/friends. And obviously she was considered a troublemaker and disposable regardless of her high level of performance. The quintessential “special forces” team member.

At the moment of a new product launch, the sales organization has a detailed plan mapping out the launch. As we’ve discussed previously, this plan is based on assumptions including messaging, pricing, sales cycle, call points, target customer profile, etc. While we do our best job to mitigate the risk and understand the unknowns, the fact remains that much of the sales model cannot be developed until the product is in the market being sold. So by definition the proven sales model is unknown at launch. This is where the sales special forces team with their unique skill set comes to play.

Skill set of the special forces sales team member

  • Balance right/left brain thinkers using both their rational and creative sides (almost evenly)

  • Problem solvers and visionary so instead of just executing an existing plan, when they encounter an obstacle they will analyze the facts and devise their own practical solutions

  • Team players which is a bit tricky and almost paradoxical as they are often off doing “their own thing”

  • Rule breakers, trusting their own experience and instincts

  • Look for solutions anywhere they can find them which are often unconventional

  • Big thinkers (visionary, big picture) but also operate and execute at ground level

This week, we’ve talked about the why and who of the sales special forces team. Next week we’ll delve into the what (to do) and how (to do it) aspects of launching new products with a sales special forces team.

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