CMOs and New Products: Go With the (GTM) Flow

CMOs and New Products: Go With the (GTM) Flow

I believe one of the biggest challenges a company faces to scale from $1B and beyond is how gracefully they diversify their product portfolio beyond their core offerings. This diversification can be attempted via the hard work of internal development or the difficult integration of an acquisition. Also, these moves often take a company beyond their traditional buyers and budgets, which places new stresses on a company’s go-to-market (GTM) model. The best I’ve seen at thriving in these portfolio diversifications is Cisco. I saw firsthand how the company introduced new offerings that attacked market adjacencies and drove demand for its core business. Entering the enterprise voice market and video conferencing markets forced the company to sell to different buyers and budgets, and definitely drove core networking business.

Cisco provided me with great lessons. Here, this was about how go-to-market strategy must go hand-in-hand, with early GTM planning for a new portfolio addition, and how the function of Product Marketing can play a strategic role to lead. One of the regrets I have in my career was not fighting harder to a more proactive GTM approach to launch new products to market when I was at a smaller, fast-scaling company. One of the company’s greatest strengths, best-in-class product innovation and portfolio expansion, made it culturally challenging to preach “tapping the brakes” and mapping out a more patient, selective approach for ramping new products that attacked those new buyers and budgets.

Let me paint the picture. I have a visceral recollection of sitting in a hotel banquet room, rented out for a leadership offsite. Our company was moving aggressively from thriving as a single-product, best-of-breed business to multi-product business. These new products were both developed organically as well as via “tuck in” acquisition. (Soap box timeout: The term “tuck in” should never be used for an acquisition that serves a different buyer and budget!)

This banquet room was not warm and collegial. There was a great deal of frustration boiling to the surface. The room had a leader, ostensibly general managers, for each new product. Each was struggling to grab mindshare, prioritization and accountability from the functional go-to-market leaders in the room. And each was struggling with ramping their new product to meet specific bookings goals. Each new session laid bare soft or non-existent pipeline metrics. A tiger team was set up in finance to attempt to capture all op ex spend for each of these new products. Accusations of neglecting these new products to die on the vine started to fly. Surely, each of these enterprises would have thrived independently!

The prevailing thesis was that our existing GTM engine should be rallying around these new products, and executing cross sell plays like there was no tomorrow. Our strong, hard-earned “best-of-breed” position in our loyal customer base should be embracing our new offerings and our reps and partners should be sprinting to expand their deal sizes and shoot past their targets. A great deal of the incoming fire was directed at marketing. Generate more awareness, demands and quality leads, and the sales engagement was sure to follow.

Wait …. What?

And then the meeting was stopped in its tracks. Our Chief Revenue Officer stood up, and declared that his teams were simply not going to actively sell the vast majority of these new products, because he wasn’t convinced the products were ready. To do so would create distraction, elongate sales cycles and raise potential customer satisfaction issues. The room was silent. There we were, locked up in the classic tug of war between engineering and product organizations who were desperate for sales and marketing to serve their new innovations, and sales and marketing questioning if the products were ready and whether they represented the best path to hit and exceed their targets. But who, and how was product “GTM readiness” defined and decided?

Sales overlay teams missioned to sell specific new products? Expensive, and complicated to orchestrate with account engagements! New product SPIFFS? Shelfware, and huge churn 12-months out! Build out islands of marketing, including DG and even website control to own their new product destiny? Expensive! Contact database opt outs! And the overriding vice exerting maximum pain around all of this? In parallel we were pushing HARD to drive down GTM costs by driving significant efficiencies across the sales and marketing board.

And honestly, both “sides” were right. We needed to grow as a company beyond our core roots, and several of these new products were quite compelling as vehicles to do so. Some represented the future of our market, versus the short-term comfort of our core product market. These products DID deserve to thrive in the market. Our company needed some of these bets to pay off. Any new venture requires strong investment ahead of the results. How many could we afford while driving our efficiency curves?

But the problem was, we were pursuing a monolithic, “tuck in” model and mentality, where new products are blunt-force inserted into an existing GTM engine. This was an engine that was excellent at selling and marketing our best-of-breed offering to our target buyers and their budgets. But was there the time, education, enablement and model evolution for this engine to diversify? And when to do so, and with which new product play?

Go With the (GTM) Flow

I believe the accountability to frame new products up for the business and answer these questions should be in the hands of the CMO and a fully-functioning and empowered Product Marketing organization that not only excels at positioning, messaging and promotion of new products, but critically, designs and executes Go-To-Market Flow for each product. I wish I had caught on and, candidly, stepped up more forcefully here.

And when I say Product Marketing, I mean a discrete, outbound Product Marketing function separate from inbound-focused Product Management (customer requirements, feature sets, packaging, pricing, serviceability). These two functions are often one and the same in smaller companies. I’d suggest that the time to separate these two should happen in the lead up to a company moving to a multi-product business.

I don’t believe there is any confusion when it comes to product marketing developing great positioning and messaging for a product. Nor do I think PMM’s role in fueling promotion of the product is in doubt. Where I want to focus is go-to-market flow. Fundamentally, GTM flow is about qualifying and building a smooth, efficient and rewarding path for a new product to reach your customers, hand-in-hand with your sellers and partners. And this experience should surprise and delight all three. 

Are your sellers ready to introduce and ramp the new product?  Do they believe in it? Do they have reason and incentive to sell? Same with partners. Depending on your offer, are your digital platforms ready to deliver that product experience to your customers, either direct or in support of a human selling network? 

Without an empowered team responsible for defining, qualifying and executing for GTM flow, multi-product companies can easily fall into the “press release and pray” trap. Let’s face it … I know of many, many companies who launch new products with the following steps:

  1. Issue a press release — everyone loves the press release! — sometimes bundled with …
  2. Keynote announce a new product at your user conference or online event
  3. Website is updated
  4. Train their reps and partners, without consideration for targeted incentives
  5. Wait for the leads, pipeline and bookings to quickly follow

These presumably come after a proper NPI (New Product Introduction) process has been executed by product management, including engineering gates, pricing, beta testing and more.  Hopefully … but even here only sometimes. This scenario, multiplied by multiple products, can get you to that tense banquet room I described, complete with missed targets.

Architecting GTM Flow for Multi-Product GTM Success

There is a better way to reach multi-product success, and your Product Marketing team can lead the way. Whether the product is under development or brought in via acquisition, product marketing leaders need to be brought into the fold early to set a clear standard for HOW and WHEN to take a new product to market. I believe these following GTM Flow gates need to be cleared sequentially to qualify when a new product is ready for prime time:

  1. Will you market and sell your new product to the same buyers and budgets as your core business?

It sounds like an obvious question, but when the answer is no, I’ve seen several examples across the industry of a “hope” GTM strategy. The company hopes their existing, core business sales engine can fold in the new offering, target the new buyer and budget, and execute. The key factor here is how many new product plays are on the truck, and how many reps could make their numbers selling core … the path of least resistance. Product marketing can play an important role in this scenario, 

If the answer is yes, the key question is how easy is it from a packaging and pricing perspective to elegantly sync in the new product to their existing sales cycles. Product marketing should be focused on how to package and promote the offering with bundling strategies and cross-sell plays. At the same time, ideally engineering is working on tighter integration where it makes sense to remove GTM friction. 

If the answer is no? New buyers/budgets/cycles? Get ready to dig in bigtime to the gates below. These are relevant for core and new, but particularly for new!

  1. Has your new product landed, not as shelfware, but as production deployed at 10 (+ or -) of your best, most loyal customers?

Any well-run NPI process must leverage a loyal customer base to put a new product through the wringer before general release. Product Managers traditionally should run this engagement. As part of launch preparations, Product Marketing has the opportunity to connect with these early users to understand and capture value statements to help shape messaging. And of course, any proper product launch needs customer testimonials for sales enablement and press purposes.

One key warning flag: Often you can see companies soft bundle a new product in with a core product sale. While this will land the product, it won’t unwrap or deploy, either in a test dev environment or moving into production. Before any execution on a outbound product launch, including that press release than many, many executives love to see, there needs to be an all-out effort across engineering, product management, customer service and marketing to do whatever is required to realize not only a landing, but an unwrapping and deployment of these new products. 

The critical point here is that any new product MUST pass this critical gate before any “mainstreaming” attempt across the GTM engine. This is a classic incubation approach, where a small product-centric team (including a great product marketer!) is pulling together the story, the value proposition, the early customer targets and the intense early customer acquisition plan with select sellers to win those early “lighthouse” wins.  Side note: I highly, highly recommend reading Geoffrey Moore’s book, “Zone to Win”. He offers up an excellent framework for how companies should balance and invest in new product incubations, and how and when to go big with the most promising incubation.

Until this happens, the horizontal GTM functions should not be investing material resources in the new product. This is hard for product-centric companies to swallow, but exhibiting patience up front to win those early customers will pay huge dividends down the road.  And after all, this is exactly how an independent startup would be executing!

  1. Do you have feedback and reference-ability from these customers?

Easy to say, and brutally hard to realize! But this is such an important step before the press releases are issued and sales plays are launched. Enterprise B2B marketing and sales motions are intensely reference-driven. Show me who else has made a bet with you. Who else has solved a key technical or business problem with your new product. And you can’t convince others, whether it be your broader sales teams or your prospects, unless these early adopters are ready and willing to talk!

I believe the product marketing lead should be all over this mission. They should be part of the early customer sales engagement, developing and delivering roadmap and value presentations. Working with the buyer/operator to identify great opportunities for this person to gain more market visibility at your company events, or industry events, to tell the story (hint: customers LOVE vendors who help them further their own careers!). And of course, product marketing should be documenting the new customer story to share with others.

Last key point — this is a great stage to bring in your top industry analysts to be briefed on your roadmap progress! Having 1, 2 and 3 nailed down gives your analyst pitch far great “vision” (long live those Gartner MQs!) credibility.

  1. Do your best and brightest technical sellers/sales engineers BELIEVE in your new product?

This is another one that sounds obvious, but isn’t always recognized. I learned this hard and fast rule from a Chief Revenue Officer colleague. There is no SPIFF, no DG campaign or tops-down edict that can drive new product ramp if your sales engineers do not have belief and trust in the offering. They simply will not risk sales cycle disruption or loss of credibility without being convinced.

Through early customer testimonials, technical validation reports and “bird of a feather” sales enablement sessions where an early customer win SE presents on the why and how the deal was won, this belief can build across the selling community. If the role exists in your company, this is exactly where a technical marketing engineer can make a huge difference to ready a new product for prime time!

  1. Have you identified the mix of sales, partners (reseller and/or strategic), digital, in-product will serve to drive the new product to market? How will marketing wrap around and support?

I believe this architecting happens, but far too often in functional silos. Engineering and product managers think a lot about this as they develop the new product. Sales organizations can, far too often, catch the new product being tossed over the fence, and reactively plan. Same with marketing. The best companies out there have a strong product GTM planning discipline that brings these functions together ahead of release. Specialist sales team? Partner-driven? Segmented approach by a particular vertical? I see an opportunity for the product marketing function to lead a collaborative effort to clear this gate….of course to be enabled AFTER gates 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been cleared, but in advance of going public with anything!

And most importantly, who is carrying a number for the new product entry? In absence of a sales-owned bookings target, obviously it comes pretty tricky for a CMO to determine how to invest in DG, to drive a quantity leads to hit a pipeline goal. And if you’re targeting a new buyer and budget, typically the cost-per-lead is going to be materially higher. All the more reason to not materially invest in DG until 1, 2, 3 and 4 are nailed!

  1. Have you thoroughly trained your GTM engine (reps, SEs, partners, etc) on who to target, how to compete and how to position and sell the new product?

Sales enablement is such a huge job. The best practices have developed a great discipline and approach for pulling together critical training content from subject matter experts, including product marketing, product managers, technical marketing engineers and early adopter win sales engineers. The best know to not overwhelm sellers with too much at once. And by following a GTM flow gating process like I’m suggesting here, you can have a convincing methodology to keep your sellers and partners learning, at the right time, with the right new product.

  1. And NOW it’s time to write that awesome press release, develop that killer new web content, create that keynote presentation demo and draw back the curtains on your awesome new product!

Now, be honest…how many of you have been in a scenario where #6 happens first, and some semblance of 1-5 are hustled together sometime after? There’s a lot of pain and “tension in the banquet room” that can be avoided by embracing GTM Flow. What a great opportunity for CMOs and their product marketers to play a truly strategic role in scaling and diversifying the business!

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