A Launch Story

Over a series of weekly posts I want to create a story around a product launch scenario.  I thought it would be a useful exercise for me personally, but more importantly I believe it will be of value to those of you who are in various stages of launching a product.  Your comments will help drive the direction of the story and its outcome, so the more comments that come in the better. You see the thing is we didn’t have access to a class in school on how to plan and execute a launch, and there is a nearly infinite number of permutations of what can go right and what can go wrong.  Experience becomes our compass to navigate this dangerous and unforgiving territory. Even with all the planning and rationalizing of what will work great and be cool,  “No plan survives contact with the enemy” - to paraphrase Prussian Field Marshall Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke,

Widget Software and Chen

080708 Our story begins with Chen, the product marketing manager for Widget Software.  Widget Software is a $30M software company that builds enterprise scalable, open, extensible, and state-of-the-art solutions (insert your trite and meaningless adjective). Chen is responsible for the Go-To-Market (GTM) strategy and execution of a new product, the Widgetizer.  Chen is in unfamiliar territory. He has lots of experience in point activities around product marketing - positioning, presentations, demos, packaging and the like - and doesn’t consider himself technical.  He hates being called a “Demo Dolly”. Chen spends most of his time working with marketing communications (Marcom) people. He has good working knowledge of Widgetizer but relies on the Widgetizer product manager for technical information.  This is the first time Chen has been given the responsibility of developing a GTM strategy and been held accountable for the results.  The only GTM tools at his disposal are:
  • What Widget did for the last launch
  • What can be derived from how competitors have launched
  • Hit or miss information from searching online
  • Plenty of unsolicited ideas from the Sales team

Robin the Product Manager

080708a Robin is the Widgetizer product manager.  She has done an impressive job of identifying a need in the market and translating that need into requirements for the Development Team.  Robin is counting on Chen to launch Widgetizer in such a way that it generates the revenue that was projected in her business case.  This will be an important personal win for Robin. Up until now Widget Software has largely been a Development-driven organization.  Meaning that Widget developers would decide what would be built and product managers would largely be project managers.  Robin was determined to change this approach and be Market-driven. The success of Widgetizer would set the stage for the transition.  Even with a great product, Robin knows that if the market doesn’t know about it and if Widget Software isn’t operationally prepared to sell and support it, her efforts will have been in vain.

A History of Bad Launches

The CEO of Widget Software conducted an audit of previous launch efforts and found what they already knew.  Widget has done a great job of engineering products and lousy job of bringing them to market.  But the excitement of finishing a new product would quickly give way to the disappointment of missed revenue projections, followed by finger pointing and blame.  You’ve probably heard it before.  The product sucks.  The price is too high.  The sales guys are useless.  The customer’s don’t get it. There is cautious optimism for the Widgetizer launch from the management team.  The product quality is high and the early feedback from evaluators is better than expected.  With a history of  bad launches, the management team is concerned of a repeat of history.

What’s Chen’s Next Move?

If Chen can pull off a successful launch his personal capital within Widget will go up significantly and he will build a strong ally with Robin.  Robin will prove the value of being a Market-driven organization. There could be promotion or a big bonus in Chen’s future as well as Robin’s. So where does Chen start?  What should he focus on next?  What misteps could he take now that will doom the launch?
David Daniels

David Daniels


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