For many B2B companies, full-scale product launches are not something they do frequently. So when it’s time to introduce their newest innovation to the world, the planning phase can be a little overwhelming.
While there’s much to prepare for related to a product launch, I’ve noticed three areas of discussion that seem to pop up most frequently:
1. When and how do we educate our sales channel about the new product?
This can be a tricky question to answer for some companies. If you tell a non-exclusive rep or dealer too early, you may be concerned word will get to a competitor and they’ll have enough time to act. Educate them too late, and they may not be properly equipped to support the product release.
In our experience, it’s important to consider a few factors when deciding how to onboard your sales force: 1) exclusivity (or lack thereof); 2) complexity of product sales message; 3) expectations for sales channel participation.
For example, if you have exclusivity for your product category within your sales channel, a technical product and really need your salesforce on board to be successful, then it’s important to plan ahead. Build up to the product launch with informative webinars or training sessions, release the marketing materials ahead of time and ensure appropriate demo units or stock are in place before you begin spending your marketing dollars educating your prospect base.
If you’re less dependent on your distributors and/or have any concern about word getting out prematurely, you’re probably safe to educate the channel closer to the product release.
Bottom line: the product release date is really just the starting line of a product launch — make sure you’re thinking about how to train and equip your channel so that they can support the product well over the long run.
2. How much should we spend to support this launch?
Another tricky question. We’ve all heard the “one-to-three percent of projected sales” approach, which is a good place to start. However, if you have low expectations for the first year but expect the product to build momentum over time, one percent of first-year sales might not be enough to properly equip your sales force, let alone drive demand. You’re likely better off investing more in the first year to launch the product effectively, with less budget devoted to the product in subsequent years.
On the flip side, maybe you’re introducing a product the market is in desperate need of, and a little education will go a long way, meaning a lower up-front investment is necessary.
When working on your budget, consider factors like how important the product launch is to your overall company sales goals, how long this product will be a driver for your sales team and how difficult you anticipate the selling process to be.
If budget is a concern, consider rolling out marketing activities in phases. For example, start by tackling the foundational needs such as collateral and website updates. After assessing progress, then focus on a pilot demand generation program. Pending success, broaden the roll-out.
3. But what if… the price is too high or we have reliability issues or…?
With any product launch, there are uncertainties. After all, the product is NEW. While a company can certainly do its best with market research, quality testing and other legwork, it’s still hard to prepare for the unknown.
However, it’s important to at least try. When VantagePoint helps our clients with product launch plans, we like to include a “Roadblocks & Countermeasures” section, in which we identify potential issues and then prepare appropriate actions to address those issues. This way, there’s a plan in place for identifying and addressing issues as early as possible — before they escalate.
Regardless of how overwhelming the process may seem or how many questions pop up along the way, the single-most important thing you can do as a marketer to prepare for the product launch is to document a strategic plan. Planning ahead will help ensure the right people know about your product, your resources are allocated wisely and that the launch won’t lose momentum prematurely.