Avoiding Launch Disasters

By Scott Karren  |  Print this article Print

It is the failure to understand customers and markets—not lack of technical competence—that causes the most damaging launch failures.

New products and technologies require investments of both cash and overhead, with no payback for as long as 12 months. Even worse, most product launches fail. Below are the five most common disasters for resellers:

  • Picking the wrong technology
  • No clear route to market
  • Lack of demand and pull
  • Out of sync with market
  • Late or over budget.

    How can you avoid launch disasters? Planning and preparation are the best defenses. Give yourself as much lead time as possible. Anything less than 90 days increases the odds of failure. Use the time to implement the following launch solutions:

    Deny and control comforting mythology.It is the failure to understand customers and markets—not lack of technical competence—that causes the most damaging launch failures. No amount of repositioning and marketing can help you if you pick technology and products based on technical versus market superiority. The most common arguments are that "technical superiority equals competitive advantage" and that they "know the customers well enough."

    But a feature that is not used does not 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, how come inferior products have 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 the salespeople.Failure to develop a concrete route to market is a self-inflicted disaster. Lack of preparation on the route to market can put sales teams into a no-win situation. Salespeople have to sell, or they have to get a new job. The benefit of the doubt with existing customers only opens the door. No matter how good the salespeople are, they may have difficulty selling the new product.

    Honestly assess strengths and weaknesses of the sales team. Can they get executive access? Can they link the product to the customers' business issues? Can they discuss financial impact and ROI? Can they capture competitive accounts? During the launch, you will not change the behavior of a salesperson. Instead, you will need to build in processes and infrastructure to change the environment.

    Get the word out early.It does you no good to be the best-kept secret in the industry. Effective marketing communications and messaging are vital to making the phone ring and improving the productivity of the sales team. Marketing is about an ongoing communication with the target market, not just the next deal. Successful launch marketing positions the product, differentiates the solution and motivates action.

    If no attempt is made to position the product, do not worry. Your competition, the media, analysts or upset customers will be happy to do it for you. Think of positioning as the spot in the customer's mind you want to fill.

    It is about the solution to a problem, not a technology. Good product positioning is about taking a bad situation and making it better, demonstrating not only the value of the change but also showing the customer that it is more expensive to stay with the current situation.

    You must have a look and feel you can own. The message has to be short and actionable, and its creativity has to be about your customers' perceptions, not your own. Finally, the message has to be consistent across all of the various communication elements to be successful. Single-shot, uncoordinated initiatives such as a one-time, direct-mail drop will underperform the average for response rate. E-mail, direct mail, seminars, advertising and promotions all must be tied together seamlessly.

    Discussions with your agency should focus on how to say it and how to reach the customer, not whatto say. Give the agency your launch objectives and product positioning statements, and let them show you how to communicate. Remember, you cannot bore people into buying your product.

    Plan the fit with technology life cycle.Bad timing makes the launch unlucky. Understanding the role in the technology life cycle will help to determine not only the solution, but also the route to market. 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. During the growth phase, brand equals being the best. In the maturity phase, brand is about value and price. And in the decline phase, brand equals consistency.

    Most VARs perform the best when they help vendors launch solutions in the growth phase and ride the momentum through the maturity phase. Choose vendors who have taken the product across the chasm and who are willing to pay for custom installations.

    Since time is the one factor you cannot change, make sure you get started early: Market testing is almost impossible with less than 90 days to launch. Sales cycles in business-to-business sales are often 60 days long. Promotions and creative solutions need at least 30 days, even for the most elementary campaigns. Even after the launch date, continue the messaging and marketing for at least another 60 to 90 days. With a 90-day pre-launch and a 90-day post-launch, most channel providers can realistically do only one or two big launches a year.

    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.


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