Launching new products, services, or segments is the lifeblood of growth for most organizations. Yet, despite its importance, the launch process is often mishandled or assigned inadequate resources.
Many of the mistakes that companies make are basic—yet frighteningly frequent and consistent across various types of businesses and industries.
Here are six common fault lines in the launch process that very company should look out for:
1. Putting Product Before Market or Customer
It sounds basic, but hands down the most common mistake in product launch starts with the product-development process. Too many companies develop a new product concept before adequately researching its attractiveness to the target buyers. Though an initial concept may be valid, it's important to confirm exactly what customers want, how the proposed product meets those needs, and whether the market is willing to pay.
Example: A former client, a switch manufacturer, discovered two months prior to a product launch that most prospects actually wanted a different configuration of ports, power, and features than engineers had anticipated. Something as simple as a focus group or one-to-one interviews with a few key prospects would have clarified the customer need and saved the company tens of thousands of dollars' worth of wasted development time and resources.
2. The Wrong Team
Venture capitalists have long recognized that a strong management team is as critical to the success of a new enterprise as a superior product; in fact, many will tell you that they'll choose superior management over superior technology any day.
A great idea with a mediocre team is likely to yield poor results, while a less robust concept can often be guided to market success through the knowledge, experience, and skills of seasoned players.
Companies launching new products should give equal care to choosing their own "launch team." Product managers, marketing directors and managers may be the logical choice by title to head the effort, but successful product launches require a rare combination of creativity, problem-solving ability, and knack for dogging the details.
Businesses should therefore build launch teams that have adequate cross-functional experience and the depth of skill required for the unique process of launch.
3. A Cookie-Cutter Approach
Companies that launch new products on a regular basis often make this mistake: In an effort to instill discipline and consistency through a uniform process, they stymie the creativity that can make the difference between a very successful launch and a mediocre one.
Common oversights include not paying enough attention to the target buyers' levels of awareness, education, or need, which may suggest changes in strategies and tactics.
Example: An IT solutions company had developed a detailed go-to-market checklist to ensure that product managers, product marketers, and marketing staff didn't let critical prelaunch activities fall through the cracks.
Over time, however, the checklist came to supplant planning and critical analysis for many minor, and even some major, product launches. Marketers were merely putting ticks against campaign elements without asking the hard questions, as a result wasting resources in many areas and under-investing in several others.
4. A Single-Dimensional or Siloed-Functional Approach
One of the first areas we explore when called in by the CMO or VP to help with the introduction of a new product is organizational alignment around the launch: Are the sales team and the channel adequately prepared and trained? Is customer service on-board? Is technical support in place? Do all these—and other—parts of the organization agree on the nature of the opportunity and what needs to be done to capture it?
By making the launch process an integrated effort, companies dramatically improve the end result.
5. The Rush to Failure
In an effort to be first to market or "achieve results quickly," many organizations rush products to launch at the expense of long-term success.
The most-commonly skipped steps include primary research, business case development, and cross-functional coordination, all of them areas critical to understanding the market and delivering on company (and customer) expectations. This tradeoff is also made when choosing marketing and sales tactics, brand positioning, pricing, operational support, and other crucial go-to-market decisions.
Too often, companies go for the quick wins that drive initial sales in order to show positive returns to upper management, Wall Street, or other external constituencies. Months later, after the initial gains have faded away, many of these same businesses are mired in struggles.
Taking the time for due diligence does not always mean loss of speed in the launch process. Critical activities can often be expedited or tightly project-managed without adding significant time to the go-to-market plan.
6. Failure to Capture Learning
Very few organizations take the time to capture the successes and failures of the launch process through a post-launch review. That missed opportunity handicaps the next effort, which often faces similar challenges.
By taking the time to clearly identify and understand lessons learned from the experience, companies can strengthen their organizations and processes—becoming more efficient, knowledgeable, and competent while setting themselves up for future (and greater) success.
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Those common fault lines may on first read appear obvious and basic, but experience has shown that all too often companies try to skip or gloss over these key areas.
The takeaway from all of this should not be to slow the process down but, rather, to move quickly without tripping over the common obstacles to long-term success.
Weaving these basic lessons together into a well-structured go-to-market road map can make the difference between success and failure.