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Righting a new product launch that has gone off-track

There are numerous reasons for new product launches to go off track. I spoke about one last week, One Simple Question, where the product simply missed on the problem-solution fit; it didn’t address a critical problem in the minds of the customer. Another common one highlighted in the initial Startup Genome Report is premature scaling where a company builds out an aspect of the business, such as product development before achieving product-market fit.

But the most common, most challenging, least recognized and least understood is missing the mark on commercial launch and not being able to navigate from launch to scale. Ninety percent of startups fail and 90% fail at this stage of development - from product launch to achieving scale. And while this is the most challenging stage in the development of any new product, the more disruptive or innovative the technology, the more difficult it is. For established companies, I suspect the statistics are as bad or worse. There are certainly plenty of anecdotal stories such as the Edsel, the Newton, Exubera.

I have seen it over and over again throughout my decades supporting the launch of new products. And I have the scars to show for it. The most common problem is our professional sales teams treat all products as equal. What I mean is within our sales operations, all products - new and established, incremental and disruptive - are treated as if we have a proven reliable repeatable sales process. So for new product launches, our marketing and sales leadership devise a launch strategy, revenue and compensation plan, product messaging and support materials and give the sales team their marching orders. And immediately launch [pun intended] into execution mode. Execute, execute, execute … as if at scale with a proven sales model. This works if the assumptions on which we’ve based our launch strategy and tactics are accurate. This can be true for incremental products. But if the new product (or service) is disruptive, some, if not many, of our assumptions are not. Consequently to be successful we have to get really lucky.

So if we find ourselves going off track. Missing our numbers. Pressure coming down from the top. Frustration amongst the troops. What now?

First and foremost, identify the fundamental or foundational issue. Most of the time it is 1) we are operating from the wrong sales context. We are operating sales as if we are at scale (execution mode) when in fact, we are at the discovery-learning stage 2) trying to identify and codify the proven repeatable sales process required by every professional sales organization to operate and execute at scale.

The good news. Grappling with this simple yet elusive and confronting fact is the hard part. Once we’ve accepted it, we can now get down to the work-at-hand of getting our product launch back on track. But confronting this fact can be challenging both at a personal-level and operational-level. Personally we have to admit to ourselves that we are working off the wrong plan. Operationally we need to accept that we are not yet ready to scale, accept the consequences and adjust our expectations. But the really good news is having this realization and taking the necessary actions are much less painful and costly than continuing to execute from the wrong plan. Both personally and operationally.

Now for getting back on track.

  1. To address the challenge of identifying, codifying and validating the RSP (repeatable sales process) assign a special force sales team [this stage requires a unique skill set; a topic for another time].

  2. List the assumptions of the original launch plan and categorize each as validated as true, invalidate as false or still unresolved.

  3. List the additional critical unknowns required to develop the RSP.

  4. Go back to customer discovery for the answers. You have a lot more REAL data, as compared to pre-launch, buried with your customers and ground-level sales and customer support teams.

  5. Design specific, efficient experiments to test, validate and invalidate your unresolved assumptions and still critical unknowns.

  6. Iterate as needed to develop and codify your RSP.

  7. Rollout the proven RSP to your complete sales force who are now equipped to execute a scale.

And the new product launch is back on track.

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