I’ve been covering and doing product launches across market segments for some time, and it strikes me that there are three rules for a successful product launch. Most of them are generally ignored, which is why most product launches fail to meet expectations.
As we drift into summer and folks have time to think about best practices, I thought it would be a good time to share those three rules.
One of the most common mistakes made around a new product is putting the go-to-market plan last. This is often one of the most expensive and difficult parts of a successful product launch; in some cases it is actually more expensive and difficult than building the product.
If the plan is in place up front, there is a better chance it will be fully funded and that the product will be designed for optimal sales using the marketing designed for it.
Part of the go-to-market plan typically involves fully profiling the customer to determine if they actually want a product like this. If they don’t, you can kill the project before incurring millions in development. Otherwise, you are left with an expensive product that no one wants to buy and a very visible and expensive failure.
Another part of the go-to-market is building up a group of advocates. One of the best ways to do that is to involve them in the initial creation of the product so they feel the product was built for them. Analysts play well here too because it is virtually impossible to be negative about a product that you personally helped define.
The result is a fully funded program and advocates who are motivated to support the product honestly because they are believers.
It often looks easy to sell a product that you’ve never sold before. (Look at Apple drool over the idea of selling a car.) But what you don’t know can literally kill the offering. Everything from regulatory issues to intellectual property challenges can turn an otherwise successful offering into a failure. This is not a learn-by-doing exercise. You want a full market assessment and experienced people that have learned by making mistakes on someone else’s dime.
An experienced team can save millions on mistakes that are avoided. However, often much of the market knowledge is learned after the product is launched. For instance, in my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes Elon Musk made with the Tesla was not knowing that in most of the mid- and eastern parts of the U.S., car dealerships are owned by the very politicians that would have to approve his storefront approach. That small oversight cost him millions in lost sales and attorneys' fees.
I’ve been involved with a number of products where the requirements were known but were treated like multiple choice questions. When there are a number of things you know have to be done before you have success, you have to do all of them—doesn’t matter if you are a tech or a CEO.
One of the worst examples I personally saw was years ago when a technology vendor wanted to sell some software to Rockwell. The sales team determined that they needed all five primary Rockwell sites to approve the deal. Two sites hated the vendor, and the sales team didn’t like the decision makers there as a result. So they spent several million dollars on the three sites that weren’t a problem, then lost the deal because those same two sites threw their bodies at the deal. The vendor was unwilling to do what it took to get the deal done, and as a result, wasted several million spinning their wheels.
The lesson here is learn what needs to be done and do it. If you aren’t willing to do what needs to be done, don’t start. And, here in particular, ignorance is deadly to the project.
Build in your demand generation and fulfillment plans up front so they are budgeted and the product is designed to optimize that plan. Know the market to ensure your plan is valid. And both know what it takes to get the job done and be willing to do it.
A couple more thoughts for an enterprise product: be aware that the enterprise buyer is complex. The line managers own the budget these days, while IT executes. You need to sell line but keep IT happy—or bypass IT.
Engage a firm like Ombud to help drop the cost of RFPs. You can literally spend millions on RFPs if you don’t optimize up front, and most of this money is wasted. A specialist in streamlining that process is critical to your surviving it.
Finally, hire experts in the product class and target market. The money you save hiring novices will be overwhelmed by the costs of their learning on the job. In my opinion, this is largely what killed Netscape.
Hmmm, this is actually six rules. See I gave you three extras for free. How’s that for value?
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.