Why IP Portfolios and Sales Often Misalign

It ought to be a given that the IP portfolio should align with the salient benefits that salespeople for the associated products and services sell.  For example, if salespeople use safety in an accident as a key selling point for Volvo, then you should expect that an ample part of the R&D effort and associated IP would read on inventions for accident safety.

Two key ways, although not the only ways, that IP portfolios and sales misalign include the following.  First, R&D is an inherently unpredictable process where inventors working on one problem, such as accident safety, may stumble upon an invention that could improve something else, like road performance.  While such an invention can have value, it may set an ample portion of an R&D team off in a direction different from that most promoted by salespeople in the market.  That requires a decision to be made about which of R&D or Sales will rejigger what they do.  Options, with the above example as illustration, could include a separate venture or license to another entity that could develop the deviating road performance invention, leveraging the accident safety advantages that the improved road performance could deliver – perhaps accident avoidance, or executing a deliberate refocusing of the sales effort – with the understanding that this last would almost always be the most challenging adjustment to make.  Once a brand earns an identity, such as for accident safety, it tends to stick.  

A second and often overlooked way IP portfolios and sales misalign is that people associated with R&D often have the mindset to make the best solution while the market tends to seek the best-fit solution.  Sometimes the best is also the best-fit, and sometimes it is not.  As a salesperson out of the army in the early 1990s, I learned the hard way what this kind of misalignment can do to a company.  I worked for ROLM, which had and continued to develop in R&D the technically best office telephone system on the market long after having the best did not matter to most potential customers.  Being the best mattered in the 1980s, having the best-fit mattered in the 1990s.  At sales training, we were told to focus on having the technically best office telephone system on the market, and I learned all the reasons why the ROLM system was the best to justify our premium price.  We got hammered in the field by Northern Telecom and AT&T salespeople who sold a better balance of price and performance for most customers.  ROLM as a brand disappeared.

5 Comments on “Why IP Portfolios and Sales Often Misalign

  1. Adopting a business strategy of sometimes NOT embracing the “best fit” solution is interesting, counter-intuitive [at least for me], and probably quite often the right business approach. The perfect is the enemy of the good. It’s difficult, however, to be the one in the room who advocates the position that X is “good enough.” Especially if you’re the IP attorney. But that’s what leaders do. Good, insightful post.

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    • Thanks – the power of the optimal “good enough” was the most important sales lesson that I didn’t learn in sales school. It has become a very important topic for me since then – “The wolf emerges from the forest no more and no less the hunter to have the affect on the forest intended for the wolf.” Counterintuitive and also easy to misinterpret:) – “good enough” here is synonymous with optimal and not just adequate.

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  2. The reason this happens in so many product and service based businesses is that most sales people do not understand what they are selling. Ask a software rep from any leading software company what he or she is selling, they will say product not a license to use ip. Ask a service sales rep what they are selling, they will say consulting but what they actually mean is a body. MIS alignment is standard industry practice!

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  3. Hi Ip Dude … Thanks.  I expect misalignment is caused from multiple issues, this being one.  It is certainly a point of personal frustration to find salespeople who do not understand what they are selling – that is common.  Regardless of anyones position, it strategically comes down to situational awareness and the personal inquisitiveness to ask “why?”  Just as an engineer should ask why anyone would need a feature, a salesperson should ask why an engineer included a feature – both parties need understanding.  Best case is when both tech and sales “get it” from the perspective of the customer.

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