Introducing a new product or service can fuel growth and boost sales and market share. Yet according to almost any study of product launch success, 60–70 percent of new product launches fail.
This is particularly common among mid-sized B2B companies, which — unlike smaller companies and startups that have cultures of innovation and are very nimble, or larger enterprises that have the manpower and experience to do it best — simply do not launch new products and services often enough.
Thus, they don’t have the in-house experience or expertise to create an effective strategy, and they are likely to make two critical mistakes:
1) They focus so much on developing the new product that by the time they hand it off to marketing to launch, there is not enough time or resources to complete the work necessary to get the product ready to market.
2) They assume the marketing strategy and launch strategy are one and the same, and so overlook the need to develop a holistic strategy that accounts for the requirements and roles across the entire organization — beyond marketing.
At the source of these scenarios (and their related missteps) is this: A Total Launch Strategy was not developed. Instead, the launch strategy was thought of as “something that marketing does”— after the product is complete.
The Total Launch Strategy: Essential Elements
The “Total Launch Strategy” is a holistic business strategy for introducing a new product into the marketplace, and includes the support required to sustain it on an ongoing basis. The “Total Launch Strategy” accounts for the roles and requirements of all functional areas across the organization, including sales, distribution and channels, legal, customer service, marketing, and more.
A Total Launch Strategy includes five essential elements:
- A cross-functional planning team
- Foundational strategies
- Audience-specific strategies
- Integrated operating strategies
- Three launch phases
1) The cross-functional planning team
Who is really responsible for the product launch? (Hint: It’s not just marketing) The most successful launches employ a “whole organization” approach. The optimal Launch Team is composed of at least one member from each functional area of the business, including leadership, engineering, marketing, sales, service, legal, etc.
It is imperative for this team to be assembled early — minimally, before new product development is complete. Ideally, the team should be developed concurrently with the development of the product, and not after.
This team can provide the product development team with valuable insights into the viability of the product. And it gives the launch team an opportunity to identify and address any issues and potential obstacles early on.
2) Foundational strategies
Foundational strategies include the mission and vision of the product launch, business case and objectives, brand strategy, fit within the overall product portfolio, and uncertainties and risks.
These strategies must be developed within the context of the overall business strategy and product portfolio strategy, and are important to define early. They serve to provide direction and clarity for what is needed to launch the new product (the short term) and sustain it in the marketplace (the long term).
Foundational strategies help anchor and align the myriad viewpoints, perspectives, opinions and expectations that arise during the launch process. Skipping the step of defining your foundational strategies will inevitably lead to unproductive confusion internally — and a suboptimal launch externally.
3) Audience-specific strategies
Audience strategies define how your product will go to market for internal and external audiences such as distributors, national accounts, key customers, union laborers, suppliers and partners, installers, and technical support, among others.
These audience-specific strategies must be coordinated and complementary with one another, and must support the Foundational Strategy.
4) Integrated operating strategies
Integrated operating strategies include the plans for every functional area of the organization, including finance, product, sales, legal, customer service, regulatory, training, IT and analytics, — and, of course, marketing.
These strategies are more tactical in nature and build the operational capabilities needed to deliver the high-level strategies.
5) Three launch phases
Too many launch plans are just that — “launch plans” focused on the launch phase as a moment in time. A Total Launch Strategy encompasses the three distinct phases of a new product introduction: re-launch, launch and post-launch.
Pre-launch is a crucial period for B2B product launches. Preparations for distributors and buyer groups, and training for sales reps, distributors, and technical and field support can often require months in advance of the actual product launch.
Post-launch is often the forgotten chapter. This plan accounts for what can and will happen after the product is in market: how to monitor and respond to feedback from employees, sales and customers; when / if to make pricing adjustments; how to respond to competitive reactions; and more. Product launches rarely go completely as planned. Anticipating setbacks and being prepared is the best way to optimize your outcome.
Keep it simple to start
Developing a Total Launch Strategy doesn’t require the creation of a 100-page single-spaced document.
The critical success factor is making sure your cross-functional team discusses and makes concrete decisions for all layers of strategy — foundational, audience-specific and operating — and considers all three phases.
There is no need to create a strategic plan the length of War and Peace, but the size and complexity of your Total Launch Strategy will of course depend on the complexity of the product, how important the product is to your business, how many functional groups are involved or affected within the company, the time horizon and the audiences being targeted.
Risks and rewards
Following this approach and developing a Total Launch Strategy will significantly improve the odds of successfully launching any new product or service.
The benefits are numerous and include:
- Comprehensive planning: accounts for all aspects of a successful launch
- Increased alignment: brings together all facets of the organization
- Accelerated time to market: avoids the potholes and obstacles, quickens critical-path decision-making
- Reduced risk: increases the likelihood of success and acts as an insurance policy
- Enhanced communication: clearly isolates issues and opportunities in a format the entire organization can understand
The stakes are high for most product launches — you don’t get a second chance to relaunch. At Avenue, our experience has shown the critical importance of developing a Total Launch Strategy for more predictable and successful outcomes. more predictable outcomes and successes.
The question is, given all the potential pitfalls and the payoff at stake, will leaders agree to adopt this plan? Once a product launch is in motion, success or failure will hinge in large part on whether or not they have developed a strong strategy.