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How to make a product launch succeed
Launching a new product, either inside a new company or in existing companies is challenging. To be successful product launches require work across different departments from product and R&D to marketing and sales. Launching a new product isn’t as simple as just having a great product and thinking ‘if we build it they will come’.
Instead, successful product launches require market research, knowledge of the target buyer, good marketing and most importantly education both inside and outside the company.
The number of product launches that fail is staggering. According to Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen, 95% of new product launches fail. This number is debatable because the professor seems to group all new products together from tech through to new food items. But the fact that a majority of product launches fail isn’t up for debate.
The reasons for these failures vary, but the best way to make a new product succeed is to take the time to plan.
We will walk you through what you need to know about launching a new product and how to make that launch successful. Importantly, the focus here will not be on the product itself. Instead, we will address the marketing, communication and business strategy around a product launch.
Do your homework:
Who is your customer? What’s their pain?
In business strategy, product-market fit is the holy grail. While we all aim for this, it can be elusive at times. Plenty of companies have succeeded when the product-market fit isn’t exactly right.
In fact, product-market fit takes time and is generally found with a test and learn approach that refines messages over time. Regardless, the first step on your journey to product-market fit is to know your target buyer.
This is true for product launches as well because, in effect, a product launch is like the launch of a new business. You need to position that product so it’s clear who it helps, with what problem, how it does it and how it’s unique.
Once you answer those questions and you have a clear sense of your target buyer and their problem, then you can move forward. But this homework informs all of the messaging for your product launch. It’s like the foundation on which your product launch either stands or falls. So, you need to take the time to get this piece right before you move on.
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Can your product scale?
Harvard Business Review argues that one of the major reasons that product launches fail is that the companies aren’t ready to scale. As an example, we needn’t look further than the Mosquito Magnet.
The Mosquito Magnet was launched by American Biophysics in 2000 and focused on using carbon dioxide to attract and catch mosquitoes. After they launched, the US was gripped by the West Nile Virus scare. The virus was transmitted by mosquitoes so demand for this new product exploded. The company was unable to meet that demand and when it tried to scale up by moving to China it faced quality issues. Eventually, the company, which at its height had $70 million in revenue, was sold for the paltry sum of $6 million.
This is a cautionary tale for companies who are launching a new product. Scaling isn’t just about the technology and its ability to scale. If you are, for example, a B2B enterprise software company, can you scale your sales team quickly?
Bring your team with you: training
Launching a new product requires all customer-facing teams to be fully conversant in the offer as well as the position. In B2B sales particularly, companies often have complex products with complex different features.
In order for a salesperson to sell that right feature set to the right buyer, they must fully understand the product. At the same time, their understanding needs to go much further than just the product.
Companies spend huge amounts on market research, positioning and messaging. The final approved message will have been tested and tweaked for success.
If the customer team doesn’t use this marketing message, it will make it impossible to measure if the message works. And, more importantly, if the customer-facing team doesn’t use the right message, it will hurt your sales and could cause the product launch to fail.
Training is critical for product launches but all training regimes aren’t created equal. These are the criteria that you should use to find the right training for a new product launch.
Is the training bespoke?
By definition, your new product is, well, new. This means that any training for your team needs to be new as well. Off the shelf, training won’t teach your team about your product’s unique features. It also can’t train on your unique messaging and position either.
Instead, you need a bespoke training package. A custom training package makes sure that your team learns about your unique offer. Importantly, not all training software offers are truly bespoke, so this is an important question to ask.
Does the training package continue past the initial onboard phase?
One and done training simply doesn’t work. You can’t expect an employee to take a few days long seminar and then retain that information for the long term!
Research has looked at how university students learn and why cramming before an exam doesn’t work. This “Spacing Effect” explains why cramming before an exam can help you pass, but it doesn’t help you retain information in the long term.
The spacing effect was first described by Hermann Ebbinghaus in his work entitled, Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. As far back as 1885, Ebbinghaus realised that human beings forget up to 80% of the information that we learn in a given day. However, if that information was taught over several weeks, that information was more likely to be stored in our long term memory.
His work has been backed up by recent studies that look at the optimal spacing of information to ensure the greatest chance of long term retention of the information.
The consensus seems to be that training should last over several weeks and then should be refreshed intermittently. What this means for companies training customer-facing teams, is that the training needs to be long lasting and continued. The best training offers are built to follow best practices like these.
Is it built with an understanding of behavioural science?
In order to teach people new skills, you need to know a little bit about how our brains work. To be clear, we aren’t saying you need a room full of PhDs just to train your team. Instead, you need to look for providers whose training offer is built with behavioural science in mind.
Following the COVID-19 global pandemic, there has been a lot of focus on how to make online learning work for children. These findings should influence how business training is delivered as well.
One of the first articles looking into behavioural science and education was published in mid-2020. The research, entitled Scaling up behavioural science interventions in online education, was undertaken at Princeton University by René F. Kizilcec, Justin Reich, and others.
The high-level takeaway from this research is that behavioural science must underpin how we look at online education. They also found that the best behavioural science interventions worked in an interactive way, meaning they were long-lasting and adapted based on feedback.
As an example, they found that social accountability actually drove engagement much more than design changes. They also looked in detail at what they call “Value-relevance” interventions. These interventions were based on asking students to explain their values and goals and then relate those back to the training throughout the courses. These interventions significantly decreased the course dropout rate (one of their key metrics).
What the growing body of academic research means for businesses, is that behavioural science is a key element to successful training and to changing behaviour, which leads neatly into the next point.
Change internal behaviour and change management
Changing the behaviour of your internal team is a critical aspect of a successful launch. Even if you’re a relatively new company, your team will already have developed habits (some of their bad habits) of working.
This can be as simple as word choice, using the old internal product name, instead of the marketing-approved name. But it can also take the form of behaviour that is a huge risk for the company.
As an example, changes in your product offer can change the regulatory requirements and bad habits can then result in big fines. At times, these fines can actually be existential threats to smaller companies. For example, GDPR fines can tally up to €20 Million or 4% of revenue, whichever is greater.
Changing behaviour requires a unique mix of ongoing training and behavioural science. The power of behavioural science to change behaviour is a hot topic both inside and outside of academia.
On the academic side, researchers like G.M Walton and T.D. Wilson has looked into how these behavioural science interventions can change thinking and behaviour. The ultimate goal for the researchers was to understand if these changes in thinking and behaviour could address deep socio-economic divides.
Their work, entitled Wise interventions: Psychological remedies for social and personal problems, looks at how behavioural science interventions can be used to change how people think about themselves and others. It moves on to examine how behavioural science interventions can help people change their thinking over the long term.
What this research means for businesses is that behavioural science interventions can help change your employees’ behaviour and how they think. And, it can help make those changes in behaviour and thinking permanent.
Now, this isn’t magic or some sort of panacea. Behavioural science is an academic discipline. Training regimes built by teams with a background in behavioural science can help drive these changes. But behavioural science alone isn’t a magic wand that fixes everything.
To change employee behaviour and then guide a team through a big internal change, you need lots of small interventions. Training can’t just be a seminar and a few days of training. By the time you get to training, you will have invested significantly in the development of the product and the marketing strategy. You can’t afford to fall at the last hurdle of training your team.
Our experience has shown that to be successful you need digital experiences spaced out over time to ensure success. The spacing of the training is critical. We often have to do intensive training at the beginning of a launch but in order for that training to stick, there needs to be intermittent training over the subsequent months. Importantly, changing behaviour isn’t just a one and done training, it’s a long term commitment and engagement to drive change.
When to start thinking about training for a successful product launch
As Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of the Le Petit Prince, wrote ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish’. A successful product launch requires a detailed and successful plan. Ideally, you should start thinking about the training and change management aspects at the same time as you draw up the product roadmap.
However, this is almost never the case for companies. Generally, the training and change management only comes up a few weeks before the launch. While it isn’t ideal, it’s okay. Launching a new product is a lot of work. First, you need to take the time to make sure that the product development is on track and that the marketing and positioning is right. But once that work is progressing, it makes sense to think about how to train your team and make sure your launch is a success.
At BAD we work with customers launching new products who need to change their team’s behaviours and train them on the messaging and product. We’d be happy to speak with you about your product launch to help you plan for the training of your team.
Traps to avoid when launching a new product
Finally, let’s look at some traps that you need to avoid to ensure a successful product launch.
Letting the product or R&D team run the show
It’s a new product launch, so the product team should be in charge, right? No. Of course, the product team has a critical role to play but their focus needs to be on developing and delivering the product on schedule.
Marketing equally needs to be focused on the positioning and marketing strategy, but they aren’t in charge. Either the launch is run by the CEO or CTO or by someone who reports directly to them.
As we discussed above, successful product launches require a great product, strong positioning, great marketing and a team that is 100% on message and fully trained on the product. If the product team runs the launch, then the focus could be too much on their needs and not all the aspects of the launch.
Assuming that a product demo is enough training
If one point has come through in this article it should be that training is critical to product launches. Too often, training consists of a few new product demos, release notes and a new PowerPoint designed by marketing. This approach doesn’t work.
Just like you need a plan for marketing and product, you also need a plan to train the team and change their current behaviour!
Not knowing who your buyer is
This is one of the biggest reasons why product launches fail. Some companies essentially create a solution in search of a problem. We like to call this an ‘if we build it they will come’ attitude. The challenge here is that a product is built without ever thinking about the target buyer and what problem it solves.
This approach occurs often in small tech companies where the focus is too much on the product and not enough on the market.
Letting marketing run the show
We talk about the dangers of letting the product or development team run the show, but it’s a problem if marketing is in charge too. Marketing may disregard the features and simply focus on messaging that sounds good or that they think will resonate with the buyer. You can’t afford to let marketing get too far ahead of the product and what it actually does.
Forgetting about training & change management
Sometimes training and changing internal behaviour just isn’t a focus of the product launch. The problem is that your customer-facing team will all use different messages, so you won’t be able to control the message and see what works or doesn’t.
Your launch could fail because the customer-facing team doesn’t know the product or use the right message. Training needs to be baked into your product launch plan.
Launching a new product: conclusion
Launching a new product successfully is one of the biggest challenges that companies face. This article has looked at some of the things you need to think about to make the launch a success. The goal isn’t to answer all your questions but instead to raise awareness and provide questions to ask internally and externally.
At BAD we work with companies of all different sizes who face the same challenges: how to train on a new product and make sure the customer-facing teams are on message (and compliant). We’d love to speak with you about your launch to help you plan your training strategy.