A Better Approach for Industrial Product Launches
It’s been three months since you launched the product that was supposed to provide a big boost in this year’s sales. Early returns are soft, but you were forecasting for a six-month ramp up before you really saw the velocity numbers that made your sales projections viable. So you’re trying not to worry, but at the same time, you’re not overly optimistic.
If you’re here, chances are it’s too late. Your new product launch (NPL) is likely doomed to come up short of expectations. But, don’t dismay, the most common pitfalls are avoidable.
As you’re about to embark on a new NPL, consider four seemingly straightforward tips to ensure that your next new product launch is a success.
- Make sure your target audience actually needs your product.
- Make sure your channel partners believe they’ll make money selling it.
- Make sure your internal sales team knows how to sell the product.
- Make sure your launch plan extends six months to a year beyond the initial launch.
Let’s dive into each of these four points to help you reinvigorate your launch process and ensure you hit your sales targets with every new product from here on out.
Start With Understanding Your Audience’s Needs
This sounds obvious enough, but every launch should start with some sort of voice-of-customer (VoC) insight and information gathering. Too often, we see manufacturers that bring products to market because the engineering department felt like X product was the natural extension of what was launched previously in a product development life cycle. Or, some factory somewhere said they could make a product that included X innovation for a seemingly great price.
Engineering and R&D should be making products that customers want and need – not just products that are manufacturable. Your best engineer may be really talented and may have a good pulse on the market, but that doesn’t mean the market actually will buy his or her pet project.
Listen to the market. Listen to your sales teams and your distribution partners. What do customers say is missing from your current lineup? Start there. Then look to size that market and see how much investment is worth making to take a considerable share in relation to your current market position.
Consider How to Best Enable your Channel Partners
Channel consideration is far and away the element in most NPL processes that I see get overlooked – or placed too far down the line in new product planning. The earlier you can begin to consider the channel, the more successful your launch process will be.
Start with a distributor you feel like is a chronic underperformer. Aside from continuing to build your relationship with that distributor, and aside from making sure they have a discount or incentive structure in place that is in line with the rest of the market, what else could you do differently to make sure they push the product you’re about to launch?
Do you know how many sales reps that distributor has at each of their locations?
Do you have content about your new product that can be presented by a relatively uninitiated distributor sales rep in less than a 1-minute, 5-minute and 15-minute window?
Do you have co-branded content on your product that can be leveraged on location and electronically?
Have you structured pricing to the point where it’s attractive for your channel partners to sell the product?
Answering these questions will allow you to go one step deeper than simply saying, ‘We’re going to aggressively sell this product through our channel partners.’
Arm Your Sales Team
Working with a variety of sales teams across different segments of the industrial market, I have seen a variety of scenarios, team dynamics, and leadership structures. One common problem that always seems to stand out is poor communication to internal sales team members the value and magnitude of a new product launch.
It seems simple enough to say, ‘Here is the value proposition for this new product,’ and ‘by the way, this product needs to account for 25% of new sales volume, so we’ve created these tools – go sell the product…’ but, as you probably have learned, often times, it’s not that easy.
If your organizational structure can accommodate it, allow for as much time early in your launch process as you can that gives input to your sales executives on how the product will be brought to market. Use their insights to create a more tailored message to the market.
The more you include them in that process, the more they will understand how the messaging and the value of the new product should be communicated when it’s being sold. It’s one thing to give someone a sell sheet and send them into the field. It’s a completely different animal to have them feel like they know the product inside and out and can’t wait to crush their sales goals in the field.
Extending the Length of Time You Consider an NPL ‘Launch’
When’s the launch date?
Whenever we hear about new products being launched, one of the first questions that usually follows is when the launch will take place. Whenever that date is, we highly recommend discontinuing the practice of thinking of the launch as something that happens on a specific date. Successful launches happen over the course of months.
From the moment you have a workable product sample in your hand, consider yourself to be in ‘launch season.’ Yes, of course, there will be a specific date you’ll release product to key customers or distributors, but your launch shouldn’t stop there.
What you do in the weeks and months following your initial ‘street date’ is just as critical as what you did in the months leading up to it. Continue to promote your new product with industry media sources, continue to complete distributor training sessions, hold second rounds of internal sales training that focuses on iterative improvements based upon what was learned in the organization’s first round of opportunities.
You’ll notice that in much of what was laid out above, we hardly touched on individual tactics that help ensure a successful product launch.
You’ll likely do some mix of email, video, promotional giveaways, incentive programs, launch parties, and media events. If you’ve fallen short of your goals in past NPL launches, chances are it’s not because you chose the wrong mix of activities. The specific tactics used are not as important as committing to doing the four things listed above and continuing to iterate and adapt as you go.