How to Sell The Problem Product

Product Marketing

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Bookings review meetings have been jammed with stories of how you’re getting slaughtered by the competition.  You’re pushing sales to get back in there and fight, but you know in your heart that the product’s got problems.  For whatever reason, you’ve failed to define and deliver a winning product.

Your win-rate is dropping like a rock. It’s a house-on-fire moment. Management is looking to you for a mitigation strategy to cover the company until the product’s problems are fixed.

But how do you sell a problem product?

To be clear nothing in the following prose will erase your problem. The root cause is the product, and it must be fixed.  But if you and the sales force can accept that it’s your job to make the best of a bad situation, read on for things you can do while the product’s in rehab.

Find Niches

The feeling of failure that you have is because your product is unable to compete in the market you originally defined for it.  But what about parts of that market?  Are there places where you still have an advantage or your disadvantages are muted.  The first step in selling a problem product is to look for places where it’s not a problem. Two good places to look are:

1.       Your installed base

You can provide value to existing customers that you competitors cannot.  You can upgrade the installed fleet, help them avoid switching costs, or transfer processes on legacy tools to your latest model.  Not only are you likely to find source of competitive advantage in your installed based, it is also the most important territory to protect.

2.       Use-case variations

Your target customers don’t all use our equipment in the exact same way. Find those that use it in a way the doesn’t expose your competitive weakness.  For example if your fundamental weakness is process setup time, look for customers who dedicate the equipment to a single process.  Or if your disadvantage is power consumption, focus on customer with low power costs.

Create Local Value

When marketing types think of competitive advantage and value propositions, they tend to think in terms of a broad market segment.  But there’s another layer of value that you can provide. It’s called local value.

This is the unique value that you can bring to an individual transaction.  This requires getting very intimate with an individual customer’s situation, then using that knowledge to identify ways to bring unique value.  These are things that no marketing guy would ever think of. These are the things that only the attentive sales professional with well-honed discovery skills will find.

If you make it a deliberate effort to seek out these sources of local value, you be surprised at how many opportunities you’ll uncover to create value. Things like:

  • Identify seemingly minor product attributes that are very valuable to a particular customer
  • Satisfy a  narrow delivery window
  • Enter co-development project related to your product
  • Help the customer navigate import regulations
  • Help set up their facility
  • Meet a unique equipment size constraint or configuration requirement
  • Help customer market some surplus equipment
  • Satisfy unique deal structure requirements
  • Broker a partnership with a third party

The possibilities are almost limitless. But you have to shake your standard definition of the competitive playing field. Get know each customer. Learn about their problems. Seek ways to create local value.

Bring in the Minor and Non-Measurable

When the now maligned product was conceived, you probably identified the primary, quantifiable value drivers. These are the big things that you anticipated would drive purchasing decisions. You expected to have an advantage on them and therefore made them central to your marketing strategy.  But now they aren’t working.  It’s time to take a second look at all those potential advantages that you discarded as either insignificant or not measureable.

Your customers need to be exposed to these other potential advantages.  They need to make their way to your marketing materials in order to serve the niche and local value strategies.  This list of the minor and non-measureable creates the opportunity to have a conversation about different sources of value.

Dealing with a product that’s out of position is difficult. It can affect morale and can shake your confidence. The important thing to remember is that more than likely there are places out there where you can still win.  Make it your mission to find them.

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