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The Sales Evangelist


Thomas Steenburgh, New Products, Donald C. Kelly Salespeople often ask how to effectively sell new products to current customers. Some clients are satisfied with the current service they’re getting and they’re not keen on investing in another one. There is a way through this sales ordeal. 

Thomas Steenburgh teaches business marketing and sales at the Darden School of Business. He’s also an administrator and has stayed with the school for seven years. 

His team did a five-year research project on how to effectively sell new products to customers and what’s so hard about it. 

Looking at the problem when selling new products

Thomas’ team looked at various factors:

  • The different ways people sell
  • The types of people who excel in the process
  • The organization’s structure
  • The culture that the companies/organization create

The combination of these processes which is finding the right process, finding the right people, finding the right organization, and finding the right culture is the key to making this happen. 

Challenges with new products

If given a choice, most sales reps would love to sell new products because it gives them an advantage at the clients’ accounts. The question, however, is if they’d continue to put the same amount of effort from beginning to end. 

Selling new products takes a lot of energy and more time. Thomas and his team found out that selling a new product takes about 30-40% more time as opposed to selling an extension of a line. On top of that, sales reps need to meet with a lot more people in the buying process and develop a different network site to be able to sell. 

It is very resource-intensive. 

On the customers’ side, when you’re selling a new product, everybody wants to talk to you because people naturally want to know what’s going on in the marketplace. 

Sales reps become hyped due to the attention but not for long. 

When the reality sinks in, they’ll realize that there’s a change in the buying organization. It’s actually late in the sales cycle. This is problematic from the seller’s perspective. What felt like traction would suddenly feel like getting stuck in the mud. Sales reps aren’t making any progress beyond the hype, they become discouraged, and eventually stop devoting effort in selling the product. 

When you face resistance, your numbers don’t go down quarter to quarter. What happens is that it becomes harder to figure out how to make that sale and investment. But if you persist, the effort will pay off in the long run. t can be difficult to make that commitment to selling new products when you have numbers to think of but in time, you will get there. 

New products take a while to sell

Thomas’ research on several companies that did well shows that new products take a while to figure out how to sell. There are a couple of different types of mindsets for reps. One is the performance mindset sales reps who think of the quarterly numbers and the one who gets the joy out of learning and solve problems. 

Research shows that the trajectory of sales from these two mindsets is very different. Performance reps don’t invest in learning the product right after launch. The sales go down initially because they failed to learn how to sell the product. For learning-based reps, there’s a big drop early on because they spend that time learning the product instead of selling and marketing the product. 

In the long run, the sales of the performance reps recover but they go up only so much. For the learning-based reps, their sales go up at a rapid pace but it’s very late after the launch. 

Learn how to effectively sell new products to current customers by finding the balance. 

Finding the balance between selling and learning

What this reminds us is the need to find a balance between these two sales reps. Find sales reps who go out and learn how to sell the product at the same time. Sales leaders need to give their sales reps ample time to learn the product, figure out how to work their clients and their pain points, and know the objections that may occur later in the sales cycle. After that, bring them back to the firm and redesign the sales process to sell the new product. 

Most marketing teams throw the product over the wall then disappear. Sales reps are left to figure things out themselves. Somewhere in the sales organization, sales reps are bound to dedicate some time to learn how to sell and anticipate objections later on. Not all sales reps are willing to devote their time to learning, so sales leaders should find the right person who is willing to learn and put in the time. 

Most sales training for new product launch often focuses on features and benefits, not on the marketing trends. The training doesn’t include changes in the buying process. 

Clients’ perception matters

One example is a company moving from old-line media to digital media. Their sales force was asked to sell new digital ads in this new space. They had the knowledge they needed but they were worried about how to interact with the clients because they hadn’t interacted with them before. 

The manager saw this problem and he approached the team differently. He had a two-pronged approach. He invested time in learning and figuring the market trends and where the marketing was going. He tried to look for ways these trends could help his sales reps sell the new product to their clients. Aside from that, he coached his team to figure out exactly what their job was. He asked each of them to write down their roles in the business. 

This taught Thomas how much emotional component there is in sales. Even when sales reps are thick-skinned, they’re still worried about how clients see them. 

They want to look good and they want to be an expert in front of their clients. 

Going back to the example, the sales reps of the company weren’t confident with just the knowledge of the product. They were only able to go out when they had the right type of market knowledge. 

What matters: 

  • Figuring out what’s different about the sales process
  • Knowing what your roles are in the sales process
  • Knowing how to make a difference in your clients’ business
  • Encouraging people that they have all the resources they need

When sales leaders and sales reps consider the factors above is when things can start to take off. 

It’s not always the one on top

Another research result shared by Thomas is that it’s not always the best overall performing rep that becomes the leader in selling the new product. Sometimes it’s someone else from the team. If somebody figures out how to sell the product fast, you need to share the knowledge and the best practices at some point to the rest of the sales team. 

Sales culture is important to be able to effectively sell new products to current customers. Companies need to take a long-term perspective on the sale. Give your sales rep some space to figure out how to sell the new product and let them invest in learning. 

The best performing reps focus deep on the sales process and ask questions about how the new product is beneficial to the clients. 

Best performing reps focus deep on the sales process while average reps focus on the immediate thing. #SalesFacts

Focus on learning first then move on to performance. 

“How To Effectively Sell New Products To Current Customers” episode resources

Stay in touch with Thomas Steenburgh. You can find all of his information on his academic page. Do you have sales concerns and questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Donald via LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

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About the Author The Sales Evangelist

Donald is the host of the popular sales podcast,"The Sales Evangelist". He is the founder of The Sales Evangelist Consulting Firm where he helps small companies develop killer sales process to scale their business and increase growth.

Donald is also an award-winning speaker, sales trainer, and coach. He's a big fan of traveling, South Florida staycations and high-quality family time. Donald has a belief that “anyone” can sell if they have the desire and receives the proper training.

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