22: Thomas Steenburgh: How to Sell Your New Stuff

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On this episode of The Manage Your Message Podcast host Jim Karrh speaks with Thomas Steenburgh, co-author of “How to Sell New Products” in Harvard Business Review.

Tom has a lot of insight as to why some companies are good at innovation (coming up with new products) but not at commercialization (actually selling new products). He saw this unfortunate phenomenon during his prior career at Xerox. Both the sales and product-development groups at Xerox were world-class, yet they rarely interacted—and the company Apple CEO Steve Jobs said “could have owned the computer market” was passed by.

Today Tom is the Richard S. Reynolds Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He studies the issues and opportunities for companies in selling their innovative new products.

There is a tremendous amount of money and reputation at stake. When it comes to selling new products, the best-performing companies generate 6X higher returns than average performers and 12X higher returns than the poor performers. Tom has found that selling new products successfully requires a different approach (not just a few hacks).

As one example, when it comes to the new stuff sales reps need to spend about 30 percent more time meeting with prospective customers’ cross-functional teams. There can be an extended education process, one in which many prospects will be willing (or even eager) to take initial meetings so that they can learn about changes in the market. However, sales teams can get frustrated when those initial meetings go nowhere. That means the sales approach might need to be more discerning.

Tom addresses many other important components, including…

  • The degree to which sales reps must become skilled as change agents
  • Creating involvement from Research & Development experts in the sales process (which typically does not happen)
  • Why the reps who are best at selling new products might initially appear worse
  • How managers can best help their sales reps psychologically


Find Thomas Steenburgh on LinkedIn

Follow Thomas on Twitter: @TomSteenburgh

Read more articles from Thomas in The Harvard Business Review

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