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A Special Forces team for new product launch - Part 2: The Tip of the Spear

Last week, we discussed the why and who of the Special Forces sales team. Let’s dive into how the Special Forces product launch team operates and what they do. The SOF (special operations forces) sales team operates almost diametrically opposed to how a sales organization operates. From the primary objective, to the game plan, to the management style, to their compensation – the marching orders are completely different. And outright contradictory to the principles of leading, building and managing your professional sales team.

You might have to bear with me as we have this discussion. Your first thought might be, “This doesn’t make any sense” or “This is crazy talk”. But I promise you, it does make complete sense and more important, it has gamechanging impact … reaching scale in a fraction of the time with less capital to get there.

The Primary Objective

The goal of the sales organization is to efficiently execute the sales plan and meet the revenue projections. And the primary measure is revenue or sales.

The primary objective of the launch team is to discover the proven repeatable sales process (RSP) or the scalable sales model in the shortest time possible. Revenue or sales becomes an indicator; not the primary measure of success. The primary measure is time (to RSP and scale). This is a foundational principle of my Agile Market Entry framework which contextually alters everything downstream – including planning and execution into and through launch.

Hence the unique, specialized skill set required of your SOF sales team.

The Game Plan

To meet the primary objective of minimizing the time from launch to scale, the SOF sales team designs market-base experiments to validate the critical assumptions of the sales model. For instance, the primary call point and target customer profile, the estimated sales cycle or the price model. And in the course of conducting the experiments (selling and closing deals), the team will validate some assumptions, invalidate other assumptions and uncover hidden assumptions or unknown challenges.

To facilitate the learning and discovery process, the SOF sales team has to operate as a true team sharing their individual trials, successes, failures and learnings regularly. This allows the team to learn and iterate quickly by uncovering and validating successful strategies and jettisoning failing strategies. And then designing new strategies and tactics to test the next critical piece of the puzzle. Hence the required rebel or cowboy skill set of conceiving and trying new tactics but at the same time being a team player (not an insular lone wolf).

I have a current medical device client where we are doing exactly that. In the midst of the pandemic, we are still onboarding new clients for a new procedure being conducted at the bedside in ICUs across the US. I know, talk about being at the tip of the spear. We have a pretty good handle of the early adopter target customer profile but we just don’t have enough new prospects going into the front end of the pipeline. It is the next critical step to developing the RSP. So we are now setting up a handful of lead gen experiments to trail, test, validate and optimize to prove which one(s) will deliver the best results. Each is a carefully designed controlled experiment (translation - lowest cost possible) to deliver the necessary data to evaluate effectiveness and develop best practices.

The Management Style

In order to operate effectively, the team is best served by the servant manager, leading from the front and guiding the team to keep it on the critical path. Instead of giving the team a plan and a script, the servant manager lays on the boundaries or rules of engagement and encourages the team to use their complete skill set to test and solve the problem … discovering and identifying the repeatable sales process. This is very different than the conventional top-down management style pervasive in professional sales.

The Compensation

Early stage sales is one of, if not, the most challenging, unpredictable and riskiest activities in business. Especially when bringing disruptive technologies to market. Ninety percent of startups fail and 90% fail due to market development.

Most salespersons are rewarded and compensated based on revenue generated. But the primary objective of the product launch is not revenue; it is minimizing the time from launch to scale.

The SOF sales team’s comp plan needs to address three factors to compensate for the added risk and the value provided.

  1. Both individual (yes, they are sales professionals) and team rewards (to motivate and reward the right behavior)

  2. A shift to a higher base compensation to offset the risks and to encourage the creativity and experimenting required to navigate this stage of product development

  3. A bonus for when the RSP is delivered to the sales org to do what they are trained and optimize to execute – revenue generation at scale.

Until next week ...

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