Avoiding Launch DisastersBy Scott Karren | Print
There are many ways that product and technology launches can go wrong, but Scott Karren tells you how to avoid some of the most common mistakes.
We all know that new products and technologies require investments of both cash and overhead with no payback for as long as 12 months. Unfortunately, we also know that most product launches fail. What to do? Well, if you try the following suggestions, you may still have product launch failures, but you should a lot less of them.
The fundamental rule in avoiding launch disasters is to plan and prepare your launch well in advance. Give yourself as much lead-time as possible. Anything less than 90 days increases the odds of failure. What to do with that time? Use it!
Know What Customers Want.
Its failure to understand customers and markets not lack of technical competence, which causes the most damaging launch failures. No amount of repositioning and marketing can help you if you pick technology and products based on faulty market perceptions. The most common myths channel providers make are that "technical superiority equals competitive advantage," and that they "know the customers well enough."
A feature that isn't used doesn't exist. Most customers do not really care how great a technology is and the few who do care are often too small a segment to target. Technical superiority is only important when it delivers proven solution superiority. Ask yourself, if technology is paramount, why have inferior products done so well in the market? Gross generalizations about customers make us feel intelligent and in the know, but do little to help us connect to the customers' real needs. Segment the market into isolated opportunities where you can address specific business requirements and measure market share.
Prepare Your Sales People.
Failure to develop a concrete route to market is a self-inflicted disaster. Lack of preparation on the route to market can put sales into a no-win situation. No matter how good the sales people are, they will have difficulty selling the new product, if they don't know it well enough to sell it.
You should honestly assess strengths and weaknesses of the sales team. Can they learn the new product? Can they link the product to the customers' business issues? Can they discuss financial impact and ROI? If not, you need sales people who can deliver the new message.
Get the Word Out
It does you no good to be the best-kept secret in the industry. Effective marketing is vital to making the phone ring and improve the productivity of the sales team. Marketing is about an ongoing communication with the target market, not just about the next deal. Successful launch marketing positions the product, differentiates the solution and motivates action.
If no attempt is made to position the product, don't worry: your competition, the press, analysts or upset customers will be happy to do it for you, and won't that be great!?
You must position a new product or technology so that it fits a spot the customers wants to fill. You want to position your product or service as a solution to a problem, not a technology. Good product positioning is about taking a bad situation for your customer and showing how can make it better with your new launch. You should strive to demonstrate not only the value of the change, but also show your customer what's wrong with staying with his current situation.
You must also try to have a look and feel you can own. The message has to be short and actionable and the creative has to be about your customers perceptions, not your own.
If you use an ad agency, your discussions with your agency should focus on how to say your message and how to reach the customer, not what to say. Give the agency your launch objectives and product position positioning statements and let them show you how to communicate. Remember, the "how" is their job.
Finally, the message has to be consistent across the media board to be successful. Singe-shot, uncoordinated initiatives such as a one-time direct mail drop will under perform. E-mail, direct mail, seminars, advertising and promotions all must be tied together seamlessly.
Plan to Fit with The Technology Life Cycle.
Bad timing makes a launch unlucky. During the four phases of the technology life cycle, launch, growth, maturity and decline, the objectives and positioning change. During the Launch, brand equals trust. Most VARs perform the best when they help vendors launch solutions in the growth phase. Select vendors who have taken the product across the chasm and who are willing to pay for custom installations. The extra help will help you gain your customer's trust and at the launch, trust is the name of the game.
Scott Karren, the "Channel Pro," is chief executive officer of Channel Ventures, a consulting firm and channel development agency that helps companies build profitable channel businesses. Read his weblog, The Channel Professional.