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.