THE MAKE-OR-BREAK WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY for product launch success is narrowing and becoming more challenging each year. This is at least partly attributable to the massive growth in digital media outlets and the constantly shrinking attention span of today’s over-stimulated customers.
It’s no surprise, then, that out of the thousands of new products launched every year, 95% will fail, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, as reported by Inc. magazine. And while poor concepts and badly designed products may account for some of these failures, often the failure is fueled by weak product launches that lack the ability to resonate with target audiences and establish a strong differentiation.
Using reverse engineering, Inspira Strategies, with insights from MarketReach, developed a four-step process to help companies overcome critical product launch hurdles. To uncover this process, we:
- Identified and extracted the core reasons clients don’t buy a new product (i.e., why a product launch typically fails)
- Arranged those reasons into their typical order of occurrence
- Looked for solutions for each element
The resulting process focuses on four hurdles B2B companies must sequentially leap to achieve product launch success.
Hurdle No. 1: No Interest
Lack of interest is the first, most important reason customers don’t buy a new product and simply ignore the offer. They learn about the new product online, receive emails about it or see it at a tradeshow, but they simply don’t seem to notice it—at least, not enough to make it a priority to examine further.
This is unsurprising. People are busy, have reduced attention spans and are bombarded daily with ads and messages. So, how do you cut through the clutter and catch their attention? The answer is simple, if counterintuitive: Stop talking about your product. Instead, start talking about the problem your product solves.
To accomplish this, you must thoroughly examine the question, “Why do our customers need our product?” Customers care about solving their problems; moreover, the more intense the problem, the more motivated they are to solve it. Urgent problems are likely keeping them up at night. If you have a solution that addresses the critical issues that keep customers awake, you’re going to more readily gain their attention.
Consider the case of VMware, a cloud computing infrastructure company founded in 1998 that, in 2019, hit $7 billion in revenue. The company started with a product-specific approach. In its early days, the core message was “run two operating systems on the same computer.” As a result, many of their clients were physics and chemistry professors—the few professionals who understood the advantage. The running joke was, “VMware isn’t for everybody; you have to be very smart.”
The clear challenge was how to grow revenue when many computer operators didn’t truly understand the value of running two operating systems on the same computer. The company’s answer was to stop talking so much about the product and its features and start talking about the problems it could solve.
VMware realized that corporate IT professionals had a big problem that the company could solve. At the time, servers were extremely expensive, difficult to maintain and vastly underused (users needed one server for each operating system). VMware began educating corporate IT professionals on how its virtualization product could allow companies to use fewer servers or power down underused hardware by shifting work to other machines. The approach was called the “one server to rule them all.”
Gradually, VMware stopped talking about multi-OS in computers and elevated its message to educate corporate IT professionals on how they could save significant dollars on operational costs. Their key insight: Most IT people looking to reduce their operations costs were not aware that VMware’s virtualization could help them, they had to be told.
The company achieved growth by building a bridge between its virtualization solution and IT professionals who had an operational-cost problem. VMware stopped talking as much about its products and features and instead addressed the problems customers face.
Questions to Consider
- Why do our clients need our product?
- Is it possible that many clients won’t know why they need our product?
- Are we talking about product details to someone with an operations, sales or cost problem?
Hurdle No. 2: No Difference
After successfully capturing your customers’ attention by focusing on their key problems, the next hurdle you face is the “no difference” hurdle. This is when customers notice your offer and understand the problem you solve … but also know of other, similar companies that claim to solve the same problem. Bombarded with sales information by competing companies, the customer eventually becomes indifferent to these offers and simply ignores them all. Or, they may choose to focus solely on price to drive purchases, bringing profit margins down further.
How can you avoid this and stay ahead of the competition? Even better, how can you make the competition irrelevant? The answer here is, rather than focusing on why you are better, create your own category with messages that express why you are first. You can achieve this by developing a unique value proposition, which works because customers focus less on what is better and more on what is new. This concept is best illustrated with an example from the consumer marketplace, although it applies equally to B2B technology companies.
In 1965, the car manufacturer Volvo was in trouble. It was small, struggling and competing against major players like GM, Ford, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota and Honda. At that time, these auto giants were expanding internationally to increase sales volume and decrease costs. Volvo knew it couldn’t compete in the general “car manufacturer” category, so it created a new category: the “safe car manufacturer.”
Volvo began promoting safety as the primary differentiator of its cars, effectively segmenting the market and making itself the No. 1 car in the “safe car” segment. In the mid-1960s, this was revolutionary. No other car manufacturer had attempted to focus on safety, nor had they focused on educating customers about the importance of safety. Volvo revealed the safety problems with existing cars and expressed the critical need to address safety. Then the automaker showed how its cars were best suited to provide safety and peace of mind.
Witnessing the success Volvo was having with its strategy, competitors tried to get into the safe-car market segment … but with little time to respond, the competition’s primary message became, “We have safe cars, too!” It was too little, too late. Volvo was already No. 1 and owned the market segment. The other car companies’ efforts only served to reinforce the Swedish automaker’s position as the market leader. Fifty years later, Volvo is still thriving and is the No. 1 choice when it comes to safe cars.
Questions to Consider
- Forget better; where are we first?
- What is our unique value proposition?
- What is the problem only we can solve?
Hurdle No. 3: Lack of Trust
With the ability to capture customer attention and make the competition less relevant, you’re at the halfway point to product-launch success. The third hurdle to jump: lack of trust. Customers may understand the problem you solve and why you’re unique, but they don’t act because they simply don’t believe in the offer. This hurdle is probably the most important. Anyone can make a promise, but no one purchases without trusting the product. Moreover, in this age of fake news and skepticism, it takes a lot of work to successfully earn the customer’s trust.
To build trust and establish credibility, B2B companies must teach. They must provide valuable information and confidently educate uninformed prospects. Show prospects that you understand their problem better than anyone and educate them about the ways your company can solve their urgent problems. Also, highlight why your company can be a resource when future problems arise. This is particularly effective because teaching forms a bond with the audience; it builds trust and establishes your credibility. VMware is a great illustration of this point, too.
When the company discovered the server opportunity, their CEO at the time, Diane Greene, didn’t start with demonstrations. Rather, she educated corporate IT professionals about their server problems. She helped bring to light an issue that IT professionals didn’t realize they had. Greene went on a quest to educate the market. She spoke on stage, published content and delivered seminars—and not about VMware products, but about customers’ server problems. She focused her efforts toward making corporate IT professionals realize that servers were expensive, challenging to maintain and vastly underused. By educating the market, she earned the trust of her customers.
Questions to Consider
- How can we educate the market about the unique problem we can solve?
- How can we change the way clients think?
- What does our market erroneously believe to be true?
Hurdle No. 4: Inaction
The last major hurdle to product-launch success is inaction. After all the efforts you’ve put forward, the last thing you want is for customers to remain passive. But how do you get clients to act and take the first steps toward you?
At this point, the education strategy addressed in Hurdle No. 3 becomes doubly useful. Along with helping build trust and establishing credibility, it also provides a user-friendly offer. By educating customers about their problem before promoting the product, you’ve made it easier for customers to take that first step. Learning something requires much less commitment by the customer—typically just a name and email address rather than a meeting or full-blown demonstration (both of which can be intimidating and uncomfortable). This strategy allows people to move at their own pace and progress gradually on their journey as they evolve from prospects into customers.
Successful software companies understand that prospective customers who visit their website may not be ready for product pitches or demonstrations. These visitors may be in the earlier stages of their buying journey, so companies offer free educational materials, videos, success stories and other resources focused on the key problems its products solve. To access these resources, visitors provide their name and email address.
This strategy allows these software companies to establish ongoing communications with early-stage buyers (and influencers), and nurture relationships by supporting them with relevant information and insights along their evolving buyer’s journey.
Questions to Consider
- Do we have a user-friendly first step for clients to take?
- Are clients forced to talk to a salesperson or book a demonstration to engage with us?
- Do we offer access to information that helps clients solve their problem?
The Path to a Successful Launch
Whether it’s a lack of resources or product launch expertise, or perhaps a concern for credibility and reputation, the last thing product professionals need is another hurdle in their race toward product launch success. Four simple—yet crucial—principles can support your company’s efforts to successfully bring products to market as well as improve your chances of being in the 5% of products that succeed.
B2B marketers looking to perform a more in-depth self-diagnosis of their product launch readiness can access a free online Product Launch Scorecard. This scorecard provides a readiness score to help B2B companies make good use of their financial resources and spend time working on the right things for their product launch: multiplying product launch results without increasing expenses.