You probably think about product launches the same way I do. They’re insanely exciting. Terrifying, yes, but exciting.
Part of the reason for the terror is this: We’ve heard of the product launch horror stories. We don’t want it to happen to us. There are risks in running a business, and during product launch those risks seem especially high.
After having launched several products — some successful, and some not-so-much — I want to share with you what I’ve learned. In this article, I want to explain some of the organizational pitfalls that can compromise a product launch.
If you can spot these pitfalls and avoid them, you’ll be well on your way to an amazing and successful product launch.
1. Not scheduling effectively
Making your product launch successful means mapping everything out to the last detail. Dates, times, personnel, teams, tasks, functions, roles, projects — everything needs to be remembered, acted on, and capably managed.
This is tough to do. There are a lot of moving parts to a product launch. It’s especially challenging for a growing business that is still feeling the difficulty of management and personnel issues.
There’s no easy one-size-fits-all to the complete management of a product launch. Here are three things that I find to be essential.
- If you are the business owner or manager, block out time each day to focus exclusively on the product launch. Use this time to do only launch scheduling issues, management, and anything else that will push the project forward.
- Use Gantt Charts. Gantt charts are an indispensable project management tool, and they help the process of a product launch to flow a lot smoother.
- Put your most capable manager to work on the project. If you have trouble managing timelines, get some help. Bring someone to work on the project who is a master of project management. You’ll be glad you did.
2. Forgetting about marketing
To neglect marketing is to forget about a whole purpose of the launch. Unfortunately, this is one of the most common shortcomings in a product launch.
The point of a new product is to earn revenue and to build the business. The only way that can happen is through capable marketing.
One KISSmetrics article puts it this way: “Companies often make the mistake of getting the marketing team involved very late in the product development phase.”
I agree. Marketing is a day one priority. Don’t start development without it.
- Marketing strategization should go hand-in-hand with the development of your new product. Begin brainstorming your marketing approach at the same time that you begin planning your new product.
- Don’t tack on marketing as an afterthought. If you begin your marketing planning within weeks of the product launch, you’re headed towards disaster.
- The key to marketing success is the USP — the unique selling proposition. Develop your project with your USP in mind. A product cannot exist apart from a USP. Marketing cannot go forward without a USP. The USP is your key to product launch and marketing success.
3. Nobody knows how to sell it
Along with marketing, it’s important to be able to sell the product.
Not selling and not marketing are two companion sins. If you don’t market the product well, then you won’t sell it well.
- Select the sales channel for the new product.
- Educate your sales personnel on the new product.
- Communicate with your existing customers about the product launch.
- Identify how the new product will mesh with existing products and sales cycles.
4. Not being ready for fast growth
One of two things can happen in a product launch. First, the product can completely fail. Second, the product can absolutely explode your company into a wild new phase of expansion.
Be ready for both.
Harvard Business Review explains that this is the number one flaw of product launches: “The company can’t support fast growth.”
Fast growth, of course, seems like a great problem to have. The real problem, however, is that if the company can’t adapt to the growth, then the company won’t grow!
Develop a growth plan. In the event that the company does take off, what will happen? Sketch out the steps so you aren’t caught flat-footed.
5. Not sticking to your launch date.
A deadline is a deadline. Stick with it.
A deadline is important, but you don’t want to let your adherence to a deadline slay your product launch. Launching successfully doesn’t require that you stick to your deadline or die. However, a deadline does help to streamline the process and allow you to maintain momentum.
- Set your deadline realistically. As eager as you are to launch, don’t push yourself unrealistically with an unreasonable launch date.
- Adhering to a launch date is a management issue. This goes back to the importance of highly successful management. If you are managing the entire project successfully, then you can meet your deadlines.
6. Not strategizing for how the product fits into the rest of the company’s products and services
Adding a new product is like welcoming a new family member. Think about how Apple has slowly built out their product line. They started with computers, defined themselves with iPods, created a landmark smartphone, and are expanding into wearable technology.
Every product launch and device fits well within the Apple product suite. They have successfully strategized each product.
It’s an important issue. If a new product doesn’t fit the business, then it negatively affects the entire business. As you plan for your product and strategize your launch, make sure that there is a nice fit with the rest of the company’s products.
- Consider how the new product sales may enhance or erode other product lines.
- Identify a way to reach existing customers with information about the new product.
- Think long and hard to make sure that there are no rude surprises surrounding your existing pipeline of sales.
7. Measuring the right metrics
Product launch time is metric measurement time. As you’re pushing for launch date, cue up your analytics so you can get the most accurate picture of how successful (or not) your launch efforts are.
- Choose what you’ll measure. I’m assuming that you’re already measuring revenue. Great. But what else should you measure? I can’t answer this question for every situation, but it’s worth taking some time to measure a few additional benchmarks. Pick some KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that will give you accurate measurements.
- Look at your metrics after launch. Take some time, post-launch, to see how the launch went. Use this information to boost the success of your next.
8. Not being patient enough
Patience is a tough attribute. When you’re in business, you need to realize that there is a place to be impatient. At the same time, there are some of those areas in which patience is necessary.
How do you strike the right balance? Clayton Christensen strikes the right balance: “For truly disruptive innovations, this typically means being patient for growth but impatient for profits!”
Profits are essential, and will prove the success of your product launch. On the other hand, be patient for the product’s growth. It might take some time to take off. That’s okay.
9. Not listening to beta users, early adopters, and active users.
Listening. You’ve got to listen.
No doubt you’re familiar with the product launch feedback loop. It goes like this:
The only way that the feedback loop works is if you start listening to the people who have something to say. When you launch a product without listening, the launch takes place within a vacuum. The things that people are saying are lost in a black hole. You lose out on valuable feedback.
- Develop a plan for getting information from beta users. Invite their feedback and draw actionable items from it.
- Take the information seriously. The people who are using your product are the ones who know best its usage, its strengths, and its shortcomings.
10. Leaving the right people out
Product launch involves a lot of moving parts. Everyone from the assistants to the executives needs to be on board, involved, and in action.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the process can be complicated by not having the right people in play.
For example, you realize that you’re short a developer or two. You have to push the product to launch date in just a couple weeks, but the development tasks are insurmountable. What do you do? To get another developer in the process would require weeks of getting him or her up to speed.
This is an example of leaving the right people out. Do the movers and shakers know what’s going on? More importantly, do they have a say in what’s going on? If someone influential is left out of the process, they may not be as passionate or proactive about the launch. A limping launch is almost worse than no launch at all.
Have a company meeting to announce the entire product launch plan. Allow for questions, feedback, and input.
You may realize during this time that you left out some crucial people who need to be part of the process. Let the in on the planning, and give them a task to do.
There is such a thing as having too many people involved in product launch. You want to keep the teams agile, adaptable, and highly functional. At the same time, the right people need to be in place. With capable management, you can involve a lot of people, each contributing in the area in which they are most valuable.
Meanwhile, get the buy in of the most important people in your organization. Product launch requires a lot of firepower, and you want to be as aggressive as possible in getting everyone in on the process.
If you’re ready to ramp up your business to the next level, it’s time to unleash a great product launch. A successful launch is possible, provided you know and avoid the pitfalls.
Instead of just focusing on the risks, focus on the success. A single product launch could revolutionize your business and make your fortune.
What is your product launch experience? Mistakes you’ve made? Successes you’ve enjoyed?