You’re working hard toward launching your next product. Your project plan is glorious. The deliverables are well defined. The activities are noted. The interdependencies are evident in the Gantt chart. You have the best people on your cross-functional product launch team. You are set. Or are you?
Do you and your team know what a successful product launch looks like? How will the success of the product launch be measured by the executive team?
If you can’t answers those questions you’re not alone. Many companies get so fixated on getting “stuff” done in support of a product launch, they lose sight of what’s really important: achieving business goals.
To start to nail your product launch goals you have to backtrack to what the business is trying to accomplish. Then you can identify metrics that are in support of those goals.
Maybe you’re introducing a new product. It’s a product that – naturally – the executive team expects to add to the top/bottom line of the business. Chances are they have a specific set of numbers in mind… add $3.2 million in incremental revenue… increase margin by 17%… increase the customer renewal rate from 78% to 85%… establish a beachhead in a new market segment by landing three bluechip customers.
What we have to do is get a clear understanding of the expectation of the product launch and then translate that into metrics that can be used to track product launch progress.
Let’s say you are introducing a new product to gain entry into a new market segment. The executive team is expecting $3.2 million in incremental revenue plus establish credibility in the market segment. What metrics could we use to track product launch progress? The obvious is revenue, but what if there is a long sales cycle? What if this is a risk-averse market segment that needs customer references?
In support of the revenue goal you could focus on growth in the pipeline. That is, are we driving interest in our new product to a level that gets participants in the market segment to engage and consider it as an answer to their problems. But you would also try to focus your energy on finding buyers that are representative of the new market segment that could also be good candidates for becoming customer references, which drive additional revenue in a risk-averse market segment AND provides evidence of a beachhead.
To avoid wasting product launch budget, you might consider keeping the initial product launch activities relatively low key until the early adopters become references. At a later time you could make a bigger marketing splash and tout your initial success with “launch customers”, providing an element of safety for the majority of buyers in the new market segment.
What are your launch goals?
“Art of War” is my favorite business book. It has everything we need to know to compete in the cut-throat world of technology. When it comes to competitive intelligence, “Art of War” is highly informative.
“Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.”
It is only one sentence but it contains so much knowledge. How does it apply to us, in a technology battlefield?
What weapons do we need to bring to the battle and how should we conduct ourselves for success?
Know the Enemy
Before entering into battle it is wise to have a thorough understanding of our enemy. What are his strengths? What are his weaknesses?
From a business perspective our enemy (competitor) has goals and has certain views about the market. He has plans for achieving those business goals, and those plans are set in motion. Our job is to figure all this out in advance, because the time to learn about our competition is not in heat of battle but beforehand when we can strategize and plan.
We want to be able to forecast how the competition will react in different circumstances, so we can find the shortest route to victory.
What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? How do they stack up against our competition?
Our strengths should not be used to attack our competitor’s strengths, unless we have an overwhelming force. Our strengths should be used to attack our competitor’s weaknesses. Find the soft underbelly of our competition and attack that. Is there a market segment they are ignoring? Is there a gap in their product line? Is there something they are unwilling to do – regardless of the reasons why – that you can exploit.
“Now an army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.”
Conduct War Games
Now that we’ve identified our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s time to play war games. Develop a set of attack plans targeting our competitor’s weaknesses. In each scenario, how will our competition react? What will they likely do? What won’t they do?
Evaluate each scenario based on the likelihood of winning the battle. We will find that some scenarios are more favorable than others. The goal is to identify the scenarios with the highest degree of success and focus there.
Some Battles are not Worth Fighting
How many times have you seen your salesforce get into competitive situations that they could never win, yet burn untold company resources trying?
Knowing our competition, knowing ourself, and simulating what might happen in a battle gives us the insight that some battles are worth fighting (and winning) and some are not. In some cases we should rally all our resources for victory and in others we should retreat.
Too often the request for help with a competitor comes after the battle has already started. The biggest lesson from Sun Tzu about knowing our competition is that we shouldn’t wait until the heat of battle to start to figure this out.
You have access to invisible leverage that could improve product launch success, but few tap into this valuable resource. They’re ‘invisible’ because we often overlook them yet they can have an important positive impact.
In the flurry of getting the deliverables ready and activities completed for launch, I’d like for you to stop for a moment. Think about all the points of leverage that you could tap into that are beyond the obvious: your customer support team, sales engineers/product specialists, finance, partners, training, customer evangelists; anyone or any group that has regular contact with your target market. How could you take advantage of this to make the next product launch better? By assembling your armada for the big invasion.
Your customer support team has daily contact with customers. You could leverage this daily contact to plant seeds of interest for new offerings. So if your launch goal includes getting your customer base to upgrade to a new version or to consider a new offering, the customer support team could be a great avenue to generate some excitement. How might we do that?
When the timing is appropriate we could brief the customer support team on the new offering. You don’t want to do this too early but at the same time if you wait too long you lose the leverage. You will be amazed at the creativity the customer support team will offer. You may have a specialized newsletter that is managed by customer support, there may be a special list for high-priority communication, or they may offer regular educational webinars.
Sales engineers have contact with customers and prospects. They regularly see, from the field, rough spots and pushback the new version may address. As the time approaches to launch we could cultivate a handful of evangelists within the sales engineering team to be internal resources. We could also leverage this group of evangelists to organize and deliver technically-oriented education about the new offering to the customer base.
Finance is often overlooked as an ally in launching products, but there are times when leveraging the Finance team makes a lot of sense. What if your new offering includes important changes to the way your product is licensed, which may impact what customers pay? We certainly want to educate the sales team/channel partners on this change but we also don’t want to overlook the people who are responsible for billing and collections. It may be beneficial to equip Finance with frequently asked questions (with responses) and ways to have a conversation with customers so they will better understand the implication of the change from a financial point of view.
What points of ‘invisible’ leverage do you have available to you today? Build a list of internal and external resources that have routine interaction with your target markets. Don’t hold back; think outside the box. After building the list go back through it and consider how each of these resources could be leveraged to improve launch effectiveness. If you run into a block and can’t figure out how they could possible help, reach out to them and get their insights. You will be pleasantly surprised.
A number of recent studies indicate that budgets for content marketing have increased significantly year over year. While this is certainly a good thing, I wonder if marketing teams will just spend a lot of money and have nothing to show for it at the end of the year. Or worse, take a perfectly good method and give it a bad name. This is particularly true of technology companies.
Technology companies are fond of talking about their products. They often lack the core skills needed for effective content creation. So they will continue to produce the same product-centric “let me tell you about me” content they’ve always delivered. Including all the hollow-calorie filler words they are fond of using (robust, state-of-the-art, extensible, best-in-class, world-class, flexible, scalable, [fill in the blank with your favorite]). They’ll just stuff it into a new set of ‘channels’.
It sets the stage for a flood of useless dribble that won’t excite buyers or drive interest.
Content needs to educate and inform. To shape opinions. To make buyers think differently about solving their problems. And to associate those things with your products and services. We need a different approach.
Hire journalists into your marketing team. People who have the skills needed to communicate effectively with an audience. Few technology companies have these skills in-house. It’s time to change that. If we are to become content creation and marketing machines we need to stop thinking about ‘speeds and feeds’ and start thinking like publishers. And we also need to stop talking about us and start talking about them.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Stuart Miles
The most insightful information about what’s working and what’s not working, from a product marketing perspective, is found through Win/Loss Analysis. We learn about what needs to be fixed, we learn what to avoid, and we learn what to focus on to win more business. And if we win more, everyone is happier.
You can conclude that since Win/Loss Analysis is about selling, then our salespeople should be conducting this activity. Wrong. Bad idea. You won’t gain any new insights when salespeople conduct Win/Loss Analysis because the information will be filtered. Not maliciously, but nonetheless filtered. And a gentle reminder: the activity of Win/Loss Analysis is a market research activity not a selling activity.
So if insights gained from Win/Loss Analysis ultimately results in selling more stuff, why aren’t we doing more of it?
Fear that someone other than a salesperson will screw up a future deal.
Fear that information about a new product or new version will be disclosed and the buyer will question their decision.
Fear that some undesirable behavior by a salesperson will be uncovered.
Fear that a salesperson is incompetent.
And while your intentions of conducting Win/Loss Analysis are noble, fear is a powerful motivator to stop you from your pursuit. You are an outsider and your actions are treated with contempt. You have an agenda that must be stopped.
So how do we overcome fear?
Trust that the benefit to the sales team is they will sell more stuff.
Trust that you won’t screw up a future deal.
Trust that you are looking for patterns of success and failure across a range of transactions not focusing on any given transaction.
Trust that you won’t evaluate their personal performance.
I really enjoyed my friend Jason Baer’s post at Convince and Convert (sorry Jason, I still can’t call you Jay yet) “Did We Just Invent a New Form of Blogging?“. As a teaser… I love SlideShare presentations that tell a story and make a point. Sadly, most don’t; they’re just hawking their product or idea, and poorly constructed. The good ‘presentations’ are easily consumable and make me pause and change the way I view something. I usually make a ‘hmmm’ noise out loud while watching them. They make me THINK DIFFERENTLY.
Check it out and give Jason (er, Jay) some feedback. Great stuff.
For those of my friends in technology companies you know exactly what would happen to us if we were responsible for the planning and execution of the ACA 1.0 launch. It would be short and unceremonious. Turn over your building keys, ID badge, gather your possessions, adios.
Let’s put politics aside and look at the launch purely from an execution point of view; completely non-partisan. To do that we need to find dimensions that can keep us honest. Remember they’ve had over four (4) years to plan, evaluate contingencies, and consider alternatives.
Ability to Execute
We are understandably sympathetic to those who try their best and work hard, but when the stakes are as high as ACA 1.0 an ability to deliver results matters the most, especially with a critical market segment that can make or break the entire program.
The scope, scale, and complexity out-of-the-gate for the online application is way beyond the teams assembled. We’re talking about an application that could be simultaneously used by tens of millions of people. Users (citizens) want it to be bulletproof and secure. No doubt the technology staff designing and building the healthcare exchanges understood the complexity at the conceptual level but in day-to-day practice they lacked the requisite expertise.
Companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, Netflix, and Amazon have the experience to deliver large-scale applications and learned over many years by trial and error how to get it right. This includes the technical infrastructure to ensure it runs smoothly and securely, as well as a user interface that is friendly and intuitive. State and federal government teams, while well meaning, lack the commercial design, build, delivery, and customer support experience of the aforementioned tech giants.
Many consumers are technology savvy and demand that apps work right the first time, especially the most critical market segment: younger, healthier consumers. If the app doesn’t work as advertised they will return it, delete it, or demand a refund. From a market dynamics perspective it’s important to keep in mind that purchasing on the ACA 1.0 exchange is mandatory for many consumers, which means there should be great sensitivity to getting it right the first time.
Promotional programs have been amateurish. Plus it’s impossible to deliver a consistent message when you have a Congress and Executive branch full of stakeholders, so I’m highly empathetic to those who are charged with the go-to-market strategy (assuming there is one). It’s a no-win situation to even attempt to keep the message on point.
With over 4 years to educate the public of the various options and benefits of ACA 1.0 there is absolutely no excuse that can be presented that the market did not know about it or or unfamiliar with its benefits. All indications are that at best a “let’s throw it on the wall and see what sticks” GTM strategy is being followed.
If you have a high-risk product launch scenario with something your team has never had experience delivering, you would implement steps to mitigate that risk, especially when your most important measurement of success is getting younger consumers to purchase health insurance on the health insurance exchanges. This is not new territory and there are many good examples to follow.
An important context is in order that relates to overall success of ACA 1.0 and a factor in a launch strategy: participation of younger, healthier consumers. It balances out the insurance risk so insurers are more inclined to participate. It’s an easy assumption that people who need health insurance will participate, so energy should be focused on reaching that critical market segment that is commonly referred to as ‘Invincibles’; many who believe they don’t need health insurance.
Given the complexity of a national healthcare exchange and the risk of failure, the last thing we’d want to do is roll it out to all 50 states at once. That would be suicidal from a technology and customer service standpoint. We would start with a beta program with a handful of willing States that represents a good mix of consumers. Our goal would be to have success early at all levels. We would learn from that experience, make adjustments, then expand with an early adopter program adding a few more States. We could incorporate citizen advisory panels to get feedback to make improvements and solicit testimonials.
Perhaps over a couple of years we would have expanded ACA 1.0 to cover all 50 States (or faster as experience is gained). We might wait to hit the most populous States until we had the confidence to pull it off.
The launch strategy for ACA 1.0 appears to be everything for everybody all at once. The communication strategy has been disjointed at best. They have not created a compelling reason for younger, healthier consumers to camp outside on the sidewalk for days waiting for the health insurance exchanges to open.
Without a doubt the expectations for ACA 1.0 is has been set very, very high. This may very well be the most problematic issue of all. If ACA 1.0 were launched by a private company within the United States there would be wall-to-wall law suits.
Truth in advertising laws alone would shut ACA 1.0 down and drag on for years. There are too many incriminating statements that have been made publicly. The evidence is overwhelming.
Marketers are often criticized for over-hyping their products in the hopes of getting attention for subpar products. When customers buy these products and find out they don’t meet the expectation that has been set, they get angry and take action by returning the products and demanding refunds.
I’m not sure there is one. Speaking at a college makes little sense, at least to me. Why would you hype up a bunch of students who are likely on their parent’s health insurance policy? The most important market segment is the younger, healthier consumers and that should have been the thrust of the promotional strategy; reach these consumers where they hang out, get news, tweet, YouTube, watch TV, attend sporting events, and listen to music (South by Southwest anyone?). Assuming they will signup because they are required is arrogant and risky. They needed to get way out in front of it to ensure a successful launch, but they didn’t.
They have not created a compelling reason for younger, healthier consumers to camp outside on the sidewalk for days waiting for the health insurance exchanges to open. This is arguably the key to the long-term success of ACA 1.0. And even if they did camp out for days, the frustration of poor response time, inadequate customer support, and general lack of operational readiness would have turned them off immediately.
HHS as a Technology Company
So if Health and Human Services were a technology company, what would the market be saying about them the day after the launch?
Industry press – “Promising, but off to a rocky start. If HHS can take corrective action they may have a shot at making it work. Short of that it’s down for the count.”
Industry analysts – “Poorly planned and executed, we highly doubt HHS have the ability to correct the flaws in ACA 1.0 without significant investment in people, technology. This will take time, unfortunately time we don’t believe HHS have on their side.”
Company CEO – “We couldn’t be happier with the results of the introduction of ACA 1.0. Like any large enterprise rollout you have to expect some glitches, but we will work through those quickly and deliver a hot fix in a few days.”
Competitors – “Do you really want to risk your health insurance to that extent? Seems scary to me. Let me show you a more rational approach, with significantly less risk.”
How would you rate the launch of ACA 1.0? Was I too kind? Too harsh?
Let me know, but be forewarned. I didn’t intend for this post to be a political statement and won’t publish politically oriented comments. I hope you understand.
In July of this year Pragmatic Marketing introduced a big change to our curriculum that reflects the feedback we’ve received over the years. Many of you have asked “What’s new? What’s different?”. I’ll give you a high-level overview in this post. The new curriculum consists of five classes, anchored by a prerequisite class titled Foundations. As the name implies, Foundations covers the foundations of Pragmatic Marketing and teaches the core concepts that are needed for the other four classes: Focus, Build, Market, and Launch.
This post focuses on an overview of the new curriculum with an emphasis on the Market and Launch classes.
One of the important improvements of the new curriculum is flexibility. You start by having your team trained in the Foundations of Pragmatic Marketing. This class has been designed for a broad audience, not just product managers or product marketing managers. In other words attendees are not going to hear a bunch of industry lingo they won’t understand. If your desire is to build an organization that identifies and responds to market needs, everyone needs to understand what that means and how they can contribute.
A second big improvement is that each of the five classes now have certification exams! It’s now possible to become Pragmatic Marketing Certified in five distinct areas, not just one.
Understand the Curriculum Flow
The easiest way to think of the new Pragmatic Marketing curriculum is that it forks after Foundations into two directions. One is for product management (what to build), the other product marketing (taking it to market). However, once you’ve taken Foundations you are free to take any of the other four classes.
The implication is tremendous flexibility to choose the classes you need, whether you choose one day or five days of training.
After taking Foundations, the Market + Launch path contains the two classes that cover go-to-market and launch. I like to refer to these as the product marketing path because the classes start with an assumption of a market-driven context.
While highly complementary, Market is not a prerequisite class for Launch. Many technology companies throw good money after bad experimenting blindly with promotional tactics. It’s one of the key reasons why marketing teams get a reputation for ‘wasting’ money.
The Market class emphasizes a strategically-oriented approach to building a solid go-t0-market plan. The topics covered in the Market class include:
- Connecting business goals with marketing execution
- Building Buyer Personas – the people who influence a buying decision
- Exercise in building a Buyer Persona
- Buying Process – understanding how your buyers in a market segment make a buying decision
- Identifying the Target Buyer within a market segment
- Prioritizing marketing programs
- Identifying marketing asset gaps – what’s missing that buyers need
- Optimizing content for purpose
- Measuring the impact of marketing through return on investment (ROI)
- Developing a marketing plan
The time horizon for the Market class is assumed to be 12 months, as we typically build marketing plans that cover a year. The Launch class focuses on a specific launch instance within that 12 month window. Mostly we will be discussing product launch, but the methods used in the class are equally effective in launching other initiatives (think pricing, licensing, changes in corporate direction, etc.).
Without a doubt the most common problem with product launches in technology is a lack of organizational readiness: the product is done but Sales doesn’t know enough about it, Marketing is not ready, Finance can’t book a sale, Customer Support can’t help customers. Sound familiar?
The Launch class explores marketing execution in general, as well as operational readiness for a launch. The topics covered in the Launch class include:
- Why standardized launch checklists are insufficient
- Connecting execution with strategy
- 7 Launch Strategies
- Exercise in choosing launch strategies
- Assessing operational readiness
- Understanding organizational constraints
- Developing a launch readiness scorecard
- Enabling the sales channels
- Understanding Sales Resistance and how to address it
- Leveraging Marketecture in the development of marketing assets
BTW, if you’re wondering why Positioning is missing from Market and Launch, it’s because it’s now in the Foundations class. It is such an important core topic we elevated it and teach it to everyone, it’s not valuable just for messaging. We refer to Marketecture and Positioning throughout Market and Launch, leveraging what was learned in Foundations.
If you have any questions about the Market and Launch classes please post your comment below, visit the class pages on the Pragmatic Marketing website, or call our office at +1.480.515.1411.
I hope to see you at a Foundations, Market, and Launch class sometime soon!
I’m about to tell you something that might not be so obvious to you, but it could be the difference between a successful launch and a failure.
Carefully Consider the Implications for the Channel
When planning a product launch it’s important to carefully consider the implications for your sales channels. Glossing over this crucial detail by assuming the channel can sell anything may result in a big surprise (and not a good one). OK, I get it, the product is the coolest thing ever and you can’t imagine why the channel wouldn’t sell tons of it. I’ll tell you why; it’s when they start putting effort into selling it and the market doesn’t accept it.
The Problem of Product Avoidance
Product avoidance occurs when people within your sales channel believe a product won’t sell. Put another way, they don’t see how they (the sales people) can make money so they back off, focusing their energy on other products. They avoid selling the product believing that other products in the product portfolio give them a better chance at reaching their sales quota.
Get It Right the First Time
The first, and most important, consideration to prevent a product avoidance problem is to deliver a product the market actually values and is willing to pay for it. This is a foundational concept in what we teach at Pragmatic Marketing. Delivering a dud product guarantees product avoidance in the sales channel.
The next consideration is to ensure your sales channel understands the problems the product solves for your customers, have confidence the product actually solves those problems, and have proof.
Your sales people have a mission; to bring money into the company by delivering something of value to people who have the money. By throwing the product over the wall to your sale channel assuming they’ll figure it out may result in a #launchfail that will ensure you will lose credibility with your channel and get the attention of management (and not the good kind of attention).
Have you ever had the “Why aren’t we selling as many of these as you projected?” question?
When you attempt a fast-paced launch within a slow moving business, you’re asking for trouble.
Businesses, like people, tend to have a pace. Some businesses operate at a fast pace. Fast can be exhilarating or terrifying depending on your perspective. Some businesses operate at a slow pace. Slow can be exasperating or comforting. Consider that business cultures of technology companies that serve risk-averse markets often mirror the markets they serve (they are not all face-paced just because they are in tech). In the early, startup stages these companies can be very fast paced but over time settle into a pace reflective of their customers’ pace.
Who Sets the Pace of Your Business?
The pace of your business is set by the CEO.
Over time the people within the business settle into that pace in much the same way cars maintain the speed of other cars on a highway. Those who attempt to break away from the herd and exceed the pace are branded heretics (“It’s not the way we do things here. Slow down!”). Those who go slower than the herd are helped to overcome their deficiencies or worse their slower pace is accepted and slows the rest of herd.
How Far Can You Push?
A fast-paced business expects a fast-paced product launch; a slower-paced business not so much.
When launching a product it’s important to understand the pace of the business and plan accordingly. You may be in a position to push the boundaries somewhat, but unless you have the express approval from the top, be careful. The natural order of things will work against your well-intentioned efforts and frustrate you. While there may be individuals within your company encouraging you to pick up the pace and push harder, the business has its own inertia you have to work within.
Acknowledge Barriers to Success
As part of good product launch planning, it’s necessary to identify the barriers to success. Below are a set of questions to help you get started.
- How long does it take us to get things done?
- Where are the bottlenecks? Why?
- Which functional areas or individuals will slow us down? Why?
- Are we capable of executing within a timeframe that allows us to hit the market window?
- Have we done this before?
As you build your product launch plan list the barriers to success (risks) so others are aware of organizational shortcomings.
Making it Work
Most CEOs want better performance from their teams and encourage employees to push the boundaries. Be realistic in where you can affect change and understand the source of bottlenecks.
As Dad would say, “Pick your battles wisely.”