In this guest post, Poornima Mohandas, Product Marketing Consultant, discusses why product launches often fail, and what we can do to tackle this situation.
Ever so often companies launch products but the launch doesn’t quite pan out the way leadership had envisioned it. Even the best companies have best sellers and many more products that just sat on the shelves. Remember Google’s Orkut or Picasa? Google has a graveyard list of products and so do Microsoft and Apple. The trend is more prevalent than you’d think. According to Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, out of the 30,000 new products that are launched every year, an alarming 95% of them fail.
Many times the botched product launch becomes a blame game. Engineering teams think they have delivered the best product since sliced bread and blame it on Sales and Marketing. While Sales and Marketing think the product was a dud because the campaigns and outreach didn’t resonate with prospects.
In this game of shifting blame, what’s real and what’s perception? It’s often hard to diagnose the problem when you are in the thick of it. Over the last decade of being a product marketer, I’ve been responsible for many product launches in the B2B tech space. And I’ll be honest some of those products have soared while others have been lackluster. Here are some of the top reasons I’ve seen why a launch goes south and how you can best tackle such situations.
Lack of product-market fit
A lack of product-market fit could be due to a multitude of reasons such as:
- The problem you solve is not significant enough for customers to pay
- Your product isn’t easy to use
- You are a late entrant in a cluttered space with little differentiation
- Customers don’t want to change from their current processes to adopt your product
Look for early warnings of a lack of product-market fit in your beta program. You may see this in the form of disengaged customers, poor adoption, and no one raising their hand to give you a testimonial.
How to tackle it: While it seems pretty obvious to do your market research many cycles before product development, you will be surprised to see how many companies build because they can or because a competitor has had success with a similar offering. Don’t just build something because you can, build it because as Sequoia says customer’s hair is on fire. As a product marketer, unless market research is on your charter, you may have a limited say in solving this pickle.
Your target audience is everyone
Ever so often you go to market wanting to sell your shiny new product to everyone. But budgets, ads, campaigns, events or in short, all marketing activities can only reach a limited audience—you just can’t target everyone. While you can do opportunistic sales, all your outward activities need to go after the segment of customers that need you the most.
How to tackle it: As a product marketer you can talk to the product team. Find out the product’s inherent strengths. Who is it most likely to resonate with? Then reaffirm this with market research.
The launch has no budget
You are an unknown player in a new space and you have no dedicated budget for the launch. This is a recipe for a disaster. As my teacher and author, Mark Stiving at Pragmatic Marketing said at their workshop in San Francisco, a launch isn’t a launch if it doesn’t have its own budget.
How to Tackle it: Product marketing will have to fight for a budget. Based on my experience a big bang is just not possible without a budget. Tell your leadership that:
Marketing is not aligned
The marketing team has its own set of goals which are not aligned with the product launch goals. Blog posts, prospect emails, and webinars go out into the world with not so much as a mention of the newly launched product. This is a classic case of teams working in silos, misaligned with the overall corporate strategy.
How to tackle it: The priorities and product launch goals need to be set at the top so that all the different teams from product to marketing to sales are working in unison towards one unified goal to get leads for the new product.
No push from the top
Leadership is not discussing the launch internally and giving it the spotlight it deserves. If leadership is not talking about the big launch it just won’t get the attention it deserves across the various teams to make it successful. Remember you need a lot of different teams to work in a coordinated fashion in order to make the launch successful right from engineering to product management to product marketing to marketing and customer success.
How to tackle it: Announce the product launch at the big annual user conference. Encourage senior leadership to open the next all hands by talking about the product and why you built it. This will help get the ranks excited. Encourage sales and customer success to bring up the new launch in every customer conversation. Create a sizzle video for internal and external excitement.
The sales team isn’t excited
Sales may seem engaged and excited when you did the sales training, but you aren’t seeing any pipeline numbers. Sales may not be convinced of the product for a number of reasons such as:
- It’s a hard sell
- Sales incentives for the new product are not clear/not nearly enough
- Sales always like to sell what they know best
- Sales may have a low understanding of the offering
- Lack of customer stories makes sales wonder if the product actually works
How to tackle it: The minute you sense that salespeople are not convinced, get with a few friendly reps and sales managers to get to the bottom of it. Brainstorm with them on what can be done to convince the unconvinced. Some fresh training, and gathering powerful customer stories can go a long way.
Too many distractions
How often do you have launches? If your engineering team is releasing new products every other quarter it may be too much for the GTM teams to keep up with. With more products being launched every quarter, Sales and Marketing teams rarely remember what was launched last quarter.
How to tackle it: Somebody needs to slow down the release train so that we spend enough time understanding and learning how to best market and sell the new offering. Gather and document launch ad nauseam feedback from the GTM teams and relay it back to product leadership.
The metrics are not right
You are measuring the launch on the wrong metrics and therefore the launch looks like a damp squib. While most product launches default to a revenue metric, is that always fair or reasonable especially when the product is yet to prove product market fit? A more reasonable metric may be ‘number of leads’, but is that metric fair when there is no budget?
How to tackle it: A few months before launch, brainstorm with your product manager, sales and marketing leaders on what would be reasonable metrics to monitor for launch success. Apart from the usual revenue target, consider # of case studies or # of analyst mentions as alternative metrics that also add up to product-market fit. Additionally, give the launch activities a couple of quarters to gain traction and succeed. Don’t be in a hurry to kill products. Products can take anywhere from 18-24 months to find product-market fit so patience is a virtue.
There is no launch owner
Imagine this, engineering has delivered the product and product has signed off on it, but there is no one leading the launch from the front. Once the strategy is in place, a lot of the launch is project management work and making sure all the concerned teams are executing to a deadline. Without a clear launch owner keeping everyone accountable for their deliverables –be it ads, blog posts, sales training, customer events, and webinars– a lot of things will just fall by the wayside.
How to tackle it: Assign a product marketer as a launch owner. Have daily stand-ups with a simple spreadsheet that tracks activities, owners, and deadlines. Use the daily stand-ups to unblock obstacles and drive collaboration across the marketing, sales enablement, and customer success teams. Have weekly syncs with marketing channel owners to monitor the new campaigns and decide on what tweaks are needed to optimize performance.
So what makes successful launches stand apart from those that failed to gain momentum? From my vantage point, here are a few things that I have seen work. The launch needs a big announcement from a big stage with some ka-ching attached. All teams from marketing to sales need to have an all-hands-on-deck mindset to make the launch succeed. And yes of course, customers have to find value in your product. Without customer love, the launch can only go so far.
Discovery more great content on Mind the Product
- Why do products fail?
- A case study: launching a custom product for solar roof innovator SunRoof
- Launching new products inside Shopify – Ben Sehl on The Product Experience