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Managing Product Overload and Your Sales Force

securedownloadI walked into my local Starbucks the other day and realized that they had made some serious changes to their menu: They had devoted 1/3 of the menu to Frappuccinnos (iced slushy beverages), 1/3 to teas, and 1/3 to coffee.  The result of this menu distribution was they no longer offered all of the “flavored” coffee drinks in a non-Frappuccinno form.  When I asked them about it, because I am somewhat partial to their “Espresso Truffle”, the barista’s indicated that they still, in fact, had all of these drinks, they are simply no longer on the menu.

My reaction to that was, “how are they going to sell any of them if they don’t tell people they are for sale?”

This is an interesting decision by Starbucks that gets at a larger sales force decision.  To wit: Starbucks could have simply added more menu space, covering their walls with the hundreds of drinks they serve, but would exposing every drink they offer actually cause more or less confusion?  Would it increase sales?

in-and-out-menuCompare and contrast this with In-N-Out Burger.  They have super simplified their menu.  It only has 4 products that are not drinks on it: Double meat/double cheese burgers, cheeseburger, hamburger, fries.  Doesn’t get much simpler than that.  They also have a “secret menu” that you can order from if you are “in the know”.  Amusingly, even the secret menu on their web site does not have all of the secret things you can order.  There are literally hundreds of discussions about the secret menu all waiting for your google query.

Let’s bring this back around to the enterprise.  At AOL Advertising, we literally have hundreds of products for sale.  Almost any combination of behavioral data (and we can generate basically any behavior) and web sites (and we work with almost every web site), geographic targeting, custom dynamic banners, whatever.  Netblocks, clutterbusters, morphing logos, sponsorships, takeovers.  People can buy this on a CPA, CPM, or CPC basis.  Besides display, we have a search product, an affiliate product, a mobile product, and a video product.

How can our sales force, much less our customer base, hope to understand the myriad products available for purchase.  Yet, if you split the sales force, you have multiple sales reps calling on the same customer competing for a single budget.  Not having one person sell everything de-optimizes the sales force in the eyes of the customer.  Certainly, AOLs attempts to address this have been well-documented.  And every customer wants something a little different.  I am partial to the Espresso Truffle.  If AOL Advertising took some products off the menu, some customers would be angry, some would think we lose business because people want those products, and some would not buy from us because that is what they want and they just don’t know it is available.  Yet our customers only have a limited amount of time to spend learning about our products.  What products should we talk about if we only have an hour to educate the customer?  30 minutes?  15?

If there is one thing I have seen, it is that customers love the new stuff.  Our sales force would love it if there was a new, hot thing every two weeks that they could call their customers about.  Yet every new thing makes something fall off the back that a salesperson forgets he could sell.  Keeping the right things top of mind in such a world is a challenge for every sales organization.  And typically the new stuff is not the best stuff, it is just the new stuff.

I know, for me, I try very hard to avoid introducing new products.  And I run New Product Development!  How does your company manage the challenge of keeping the menu manageable and optimized?

2 Responses to “Managing Product Overload and Your Sales Force”

  1. alex Says:

    espresso truffle sounds really tasty.

  2. brent Says:

    I did. Why?