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Wanted Cowboys, Rebels and Troublemakers (or Job Description: Sales Rep for Disruptive Product Launc

What really sets [Special Operations 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 [they] 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

Bartezko is also describing the characteristics of a product launch sales team. Characteristics that are absolutely required if the technology or service is innovative and disruptive.

Every professional sales organization is designed, trained and managed to efficiently execute a proven sales process. When launching a disruptive product, by definition, there is no proven sales process. It still needs to be discovered … and distilled, validated and codified.

A professional sales organization executes a proven sales process; they are not equipped to discover the sales process.

So how is the proven sales process discovered, distilled, validated and codified? One of the keys is starting with the right people … your ‘special forces’ sales team or market entry team.

Similar to the military where a special operations forces team is deployed to solve special situations, the market entry team is deployed to solve the unique situation and challenges of a new product launch. The market entry 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 from professional sales. They can be found within the sales team but those with the necessary skill- and mind-set are small in number (less than 5%).

They can be found in your Cowboys, Rebels 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 or off-the-book strategies, tactics and collaborations

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

  • A penchant to go off reservation

  • Restless in their jobs hence their rebellious nature and tendency for creating “mischief”

These are behaviors that are typically scowled upon and discouraged, if not stamped out, in a professional sales force. But when assembling a market entry sales team to lead a product launch, I’m screening FOR these characteristics. I worked with a 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 own thing and breaking the rules.’’ She and I had spent a week working side-by-side; 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. And obviously, she was considered a troublemaker and disposable regardless of her high level of performance. She was the quintessential ‘special forces’ sales team member. A top choice to be on my market entry team.

At the moment of a new product launch, the sales organization has a detailed plan mapping out the launch. All launch plans are based on assumptions including messaging, pricing, sales cycle, call points, target customer profile, adoption and retention, etc. While we do our best to mitigate the risk and understand the unknowns, the fact remains that much of the sales process can’t be developed until the product is in the market being sold. So by definition, the proven sales process is unknown at launch. This fact becomes hypercritical for disruptive products and services – and recognizing it and operating accordingly is often the difference between success and failure.

The market entry team with their unique skill set can play a critical role.

The skill set of the market entry sales person.

  • Balance right/left brain thinkers using both their rational and creative sides (whereas most sales reps lean strongly left)

  • 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 solutions

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

  • Rule breakers, trusting their own experience and instincts

  • Look for solutions anywhere they can find them, and often unconventional

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

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