Non-Traditional Solutions Development: How a Playbook Can Help Your Solution Become Market-Ready

Light-Blubs-ChalkboardWe’re in the last days of collecting data for our survey on solutions development and we can’t wait to sharethe ways in which technology companies across the globe are developing customer-focused solutions.

A recent client engagement has already started me thinking, however, about activitiesthat, while we don’t normally think of them as part of a solution development process, can be essential to creating a solution that is truly market-ready.

A case in point is the development of a sales playbook.  If done properly, this activity can serve as the final stage-gate in the solutions development process by validating that the company has defined, to a sufficient level of detail, the value proposition, offering components, and targeted segments and buyersfor the solution.  A disciplined approach to playbook development can also uncover technical and operational issues that may have been overlooked.  Finally, it can serve as a “forcing function” to ensure that major issues are considered and resolved before the playbook – and the solution -- is launched.

About a year ago, I began working with a leader in converged solutions on a series of playbooks designed to help both direct and indirect sales people target and sell complex solutions.  Most of these solutions had already had a “soft launch,” but sales people were having trouble selling them and the market response was not as enthusiastic as my client had hoped, even to breakthrough technology.

Although playbook development is usually a marketing function, in this case the responsibility for managing the playbook development was given to the company’s learning organization -- the Academy.  This turned out to be an inspired choice because the Academy had a long tradition of creating innovative programs in support of sales and marketing, and the senior manager assigned full time to lead the effort was a 10-year company veteran who had excellent negotiation and project managementskills anda strong global network.

As we worked through the development of four sets of solutions playbooks, we followed the proven methodologySolutions Insights has used with other companiesincludinga facilitated workshop, strong input from global sales, a cross-functional review team, and a designated “play owner” who is responsible for final content decisions.

This client, however, added some key enhancementsto the process that enabled the playbook development process to serve as a final checklistto ensure a complete, targeted and sellable solution.

The process was enhanced in four important ways:

  • Specific Workshop Objectives–On conference calls before the workshop, the cross-functional team members wereinformed that theywouldbe expected to create actual deliverables during the intense one-day meeting. The analogy used was that of an Amish“barn-raising”where everyone in the community comes together to build the framework of a neighbor’s barn in one day.
  • Customer Problem and Solution Definition–Among the key deliverables from the barn-raising were a precise definition of the customer business problem and the specific technical and service components that made up the solution offering, includingpartner software and services.  The workshop participants also determined what was not included in the offering – a task that was predictably difficult because of the tendency to include every potential alternative a customer might want.
  • Identification of Barriers to Success–Another important deliverable from the barn raising was the identification of all the internal barriers that would hamper sales success as well as potential ways to remove those barriers.Before the workshop was adjourned, each issue was assigned to an individual who was tasked with researching or resolving the issue.
  • Internal Commitment to Resolve Issues before Launch -- Although the launch date for each playbook was set by the executive sponsors, they and the cross-functional playbook team agreed that, if certain issues were not resolved, the playbook would not be released.  Since the sales teams and the channel partners were anxiously awaiting the playbooks, this created a collective sense of urgency that had not been there before.  It also enabled the program manager and the play owner to use the playbook deadline to forcequickerdecision-making and more effective cross-functional collaboration.

For one recent solution, this commitment to resolving issues actually delayed the playbook release for three monthswhile pre-defined “bundles” of products and services were defined and then coded into the sales management, quoting and ordering systems.   Despite the delay, the team remains convinced that this was the right decision, and early indications are quite positive.  The new playbooks have been received with great enthusiasm by both direct and indirect sales teams who previously lacked confidence in their ability to sell the solution becauseit was difficult and time-consuming to configure, quote and order.

As I’m sure we’ll find when we analyze the data from our recent survey, companies use a number of different approaches – from very formal processes to ad hoc activities-- to develop and launch new solutions.  Especially when a company does not have a well-defined solutions development process, however, using a playbook as a final checklist and “forcing function”can be a viable strategy for refining and creating a market-ready solution.

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