Time for Launch

Every Crew Member has a Role – Get Ready and Get Help

By Christopher W. Miller, Ph.D. & Gary C. Graziano, AIA

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Last month, we discussed the preparation to launch. Now, let’s pull the trigger. Using methods we’ve already gone over, you’ve targeted the perfect time to unveil your innovation in the right market. What’s left is to figure out what you need in terms of time, marketing support material, sales support, staff, and financial resources to do the job of launching your new product right the first time.

Set realistic marketing objectives for awareness, interest, understanding, recall and action, make sure they are measurable, and match your marketing activities and budget to them. Advertising research shows that the most effective advertising you’ll ever do is when you are launching a new company or product. This is because when you are new, nobody knows about you, so every impression you make achieves the first marketing objective of creating awareness.

After many years of hard work and investment, now — when you are about to tell all of the world that matters about your new product — is not the time to start saving your way to prosperity. That said, there’s probably never been a marketing plan devised that was fully funded, so if you have to scale back, make sure that you set expectations with your team and your management (or investors) as to the impact that not doing something could have on the rate or breadth of adoption of your new product. After all, if you were going to spend money on a marketing activity, it had to support one of your marketing objectives, and it had to have a measurable payoff or play some other key role in making your other investments more effective, otherwise, you wouldn’t have planned to do it.

Now, what about your sales and distribution channels? You can’t set sail for market without them. They’re your crew, your link to the real customer and your ticket to success. Sales and distribution can make or break your product depending on whether or not they have confidence in it, in you, and in the support they’ll receive. Good salespeople and distributors are veteran navigators of new-product markets; they know how unforgiving and relentless markets can be, and how the tide of customer interest ebbs and flows. So, they won’t sign on with just any captain, or with a ship which they do not deem seaworthy.

Just because you’ve put your heart and soul and every waking moment for the last several years into building your new product, don’t expect sales or distribution to know, understand, or care much about it. Although sales and distribution management were probably on your product development team, most of the other people in sales or distribution were not (because most companies need their sales people out selling so that they can generate revenues to support new product development). So, you’ll have to sell sales and distribution first before they will sell your product. Why? Because many of them make a fine living and have great relationships selling what they already have and plying the routes they know. As a result, they won’t pursue another course unless its promise of riches outweighs the FEAR, UNCERTAINTY, and DOUBT (FUD) they’ll have to face by heading into uncharted waters.

In fact, your new product, however good and necessary for customers, may be a threat to sales and distribution because it might cannibalize their current business or reduce their commissions or bonuses. As a result, for them, selling your new product might be the equivalent of sailing into a headwind — they’ll have to work harder just to stay in place and even harder to get ahead.

Sales’ reluctance to adopt some new products is perfectly rational and is an important part of the system of checks and balances that keeps a business on an even keel. By sticking to what they know, sales won’t embarrass themselves by being unable to answer a question about a new product. Nor will they be taking a chance on something that is NEW, UNIQUE, and DIFFERENT (NUD), which could cause FUD or some other problem with a customer who took a long time to develop and is now an important source of income for the company. Things that are NUD can create FUD for sales and cause death on the high seas for new products.

To ensure a successful launch, your sales and distribution crew will need to be briefed on your course, receive a share of the bounty, and be trained thoroughly on how to handle your new vessel. Otherwise, you could find yourself low on provisions, off your intended course, and luffing in the doldrums of customer indifference with a crew that has abandoned hope, is no longer willing to pull on the oars, and is ready to wage mutiny.

If you can handle all of your launch activities internally, and in time to meet your launch schedule, then you probably already know what to do. If not, get help from marketing consultants or advertising agencies skilled at launching products in your market. Now is not the time to be teaching some landlubber about sailing in your market; you need an “old salt” who knows what to do and can teach you what to do.

Make sure that you’re prepared and staffed to handle the storm of inquires you might receive from a successful launch campaign. Have ready the phone answering, web response, lead tracking, and lead follow up systems you need to keep up with the inquiries you’ll receive. Nothing turns a prospect into a competitor’s customer faster than poor follow-up and follow-through on a new product. After all, new products are risky enough for customers to try without having to take on the added risk of bad service.

And remember, as you head out on your adventure, your perception of the value your new product offers doesn’t matter. It’s only your customers’ perceptions that count. Your perception is often counterproductive and can get in the way of success. For your new product to be really successful, your customer and your crew (the sales and distribution channels) have to be involved throughout the process so that they perceive the benefits, own the launch, and are eager to reap the rewards of success that come from early use or sales.

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