Most new products earn half their sales and profits far earlier in the product life cycle than company leaders realize. After an early window of opportunity, new products are often smothered by copycat competitors rushing to market, waning media and analyst attention, sales channel apathy, price pressures and purchasers unable to distinguish the product through all the competitive clutter.
With the correct launch, new and innovative products have great advantages early in their life cycles–competition is light, media and analyst interest is heavy, sales channel enthusiasm is passionate and buyers are energized by the novelty of the product’s promised solutions. In today’s “speed of thought” mentality, getting your product to market first is absolutely critical to your sales and profit success (think Apple’s iPad 3).
Steve Sarno, President of Impact Marketing, is a veteran of creating, implementing and measuring successful high-technology product launches. Sarno and his firm specialize in helping new and Fortune 500 companies successfully position their new products and services to maximize early sales and profits. I invited Sarno to speak to a gathering of RMR clients and prospects recently and he shared the following “11 Product Launch Do’s.”
1. Ensure a launch process is in place. A successful launch is a process, not an event. Too many companies focus all their energies on the announcement and first trade show and then wonder six months later why they missed their sales goals or disappointed early customers with lack of support. A successful launch process must include buy-in from all levels of your organization to synchronize and integrate efforts. A Launch Team should be established. A clearly written, comprehensive Launch Action Plan should then spell out individual responsibilities and overall objectives, strategy, timeframes and requirements. Knowledge sharing systems should then be devised to share best practices and adjust actions as needed.
2. Set objectives and success measurements up front. Know where you’re going and how to recognize if you’ve gotten there. Gather and analyze market intelligence, assess your current situation and then determine what you want your launch to accomplish within the market, company and with prospects, analysts and editors. Now gain consensus so all stakeholders are invested in the plan.
3. Develop a formal and comprehensive integrated Product Launch Plan. This plan should guarantee sales integration, involve all critical organizations, establish accountability with actions and timelines and ensure alignment, consensus and success. The Product Launch Plan should address the following 12 critical components:
- Structure and organize resources for success
- Define launch objectives
- Gather intelligence
- Develop launch strategy, action plan, budget and timeline
- Craft a supportive PR strategy and plan
- Effectively position the product
- Ensure product readiness
- Guarantee sales channel readiness
- Create critical marketing and sales tools
- Develop new product programs
- Track, monitor and report on execution
- Measure performance
4. Monitor and track execution. This works far better when you assign a launch team, enlist management involvement and support and consistently establish ways to easily track progress. Then regularly and frequently communicate results with the group.
5. Ensure ingredients for success. You can’t succeed without the proper tools. A professional and effective product launch normally requires a good six months to handle all the unexpected issues, delays and snafus that will arise. You also need an adequate budget, resources, systems and most importantly, healthy relationships with all team members, sales channels, analysts and editors. Repair any broken relationships before product launch because these types of issues are the greatest time-eaters.
6. Invest upfront in the right positioning. Do whatever it takes to identify your prospects, analysts and media before engaging in a launch. Make sure your beta version of the product works and goes to the right reviewers. Do your homework and establish the exact message you want to convey to the market. Remember, this message will be the banner your new product carries to the world. Invest in the right advertising, collateral materials and sales tools.
7. Have a winning public relations strategy and plan. You must capture attention by educating pundits, opinion leaders, editors and bloggers. These are the people who will be carrying your flag. Once you’ve won these people over, you gain credibility and acceptance from the marketplace. This makes the selling process far easier, maximizing the chances of hitting your goals.
8. Ensure sales channels can effectively sell right out of the blocks. Your sales channels are equally as important as analysts and editors. It’s critically important to continually educate the sales force about what the product does, not only in terms of features and functions, but in terms of its real business value to customers. You should treat the sales force just as attentively as you would prospects and customers.
9. Involve the company. Touch everyone within your organization with your zeal for the new product. Educate them, communicate the plans, goals and progress, use the launch as a way to build morale and unify the team through a common cause. Let everyone share the glory of successes along the way.
10. Disseminate best practices. Identify what’s working and what isn’t and share this information throughout your organization. Be flexible, be nimble, be willing to adjust your plan as results are tabulated. Remember that a launch is a process, not an event.
11. Accelerate the launch. There are a million excuses for why the launch can’t occur in the established time frame. Don’t succumb to them. Track and monitor the plan everyday. Anticipate bottlenecks and have elimination solutions ready to implement. Hold all contributors accountable. And finally, gain the support of top management so they will eagerly use their influence when complex issues threaten to slow the process.
With 24 years of experience here at RMR helping dozens of companies launch new products, I’ve certainly seen that Sarno’s “11 Product Launch Do’s” are right on the money. We’ve been fortunate to have worked with and assisted some of the most innovative firms in the country, including Sarno’s Impact Marketing. Doing your homework can prepare you for a successful product launch. Blastoff!