How to Launch a Product Like a Rock Star

Here’s a quick one-question quiz: What is the most important requirement for a successful product launch?

a.     A great product
b.     A market that wants a great product (Product-Market Fit)
c.     A great distribution plan to sell it
d.     A well formulated Go-To-Market Strategy
e.     All of the above

In a perfect launch, all of these components are vital to a successful launch. So by that logic, “e” would be the correct answer.

But of course, we don’t live in a world of perfect launches. Not even Samsung — which has had some amazing launches — gets it right every time. Most companies, whether start-ups or long-time players live in a world shaped by the laws of demand where low pricing can trump quality, and where targeted marketing, carefully crafted keywords, and social media engineering can build awareness, influence opinion, and generate sales.

And that means marginal products can outsell superior ones — just look at Microsoft vs. Apple. It took years for Apple to gain traction despite offering what critics consider to be a superior operating system. Then, there is 50 Shades of Grey. While many may consider it to be a cheap, trashy novel (and others are offended by its contents), it is one of the biggest selling novels of the century.

As for distribution, “smart marketing” can turn faulty launch distribution planning into buzz-worthy spin and drive more sales. How? Simply by positioning a lack of inventory (or understaffed customer service), as the result of “unprecedented demand,” and boom! A disaster is cloaked as a win. Remember the DVD (and later book) juggernaut called The Secret? It began as a small direct sales operation, with no plan for national distribution. When word of mouth grew, no retailers had the DVD to meet the demand. Getting The Secret, was, for a while, a secret. By the time national distribution was in place, demand was huge.

These are exceptions, to be sure. But I mention them to underscore just how critical item “d” on the list is. Go-To-Market Strategy planning and budgeting is just as vital to a successful launch as the product itself.

Why? Go-To Market Strategy is, in essence, the launch. It’s the beach landing and the strategy for taking the hill. It’s the complete plan to drive sales of a new product. It encompasses market analysis, pricing decisions, launch timing, channel partnerships, customer acquisition costs, building and training a sales force, distribution planning and budgets, customer service, PR, media, and establishing realistic short and long-term ROI expectations of the company.

You could have the best SaaS package on the planet, a must-have app, a killer API, or a smartphone that qualifies for MENSA, but if you don’t have your Go-To-Market Strategy for your SaaS, app, or AIP locked-up and budgeted correctly, your launch is at risk.

That’s because a product launch is a race against time fueled by finite resources. It is vital to make an impact as quickly as possible because product can be replicated and improved upon by competitors. If you are first-to-market, but the competition has more resources, stronger marketing power, superior distribution, or sales infrastructure, your primary advantage is time — you got to the market first — so use your 15 minutes of fame well.

Go-To-Market Strategies must ask and answer the crucial question: “How much money will it cost to scale the launch until incoming revenue provides sustainability?” The laws of demand and market realities dictate that the Go-To-Market Strategy for a $2 app is, in most cases, going to be very different from the strategy for selling $100,000 SaaS packages. Both have radically different sales cycles, but both must be budgeted accordingly.

For instance, selling platform licenses to entire companies, like the enterprise HR software Workday, takes much more time than it does to sell a new application for a smart phone. Even under optimum conditions, an instant sale is not possible for a complex, enterprise-based system. Buyers have to do their due diligence, understand integration issues, get sign-off, have lawyers approve the deal, and so on. So going to market means accounting for a sales force that will require a protracted sales cycle before closing a deal. And that means you will need significant funds to initiate, scale, and sustain your launch.

Conversely, you may not need a dedicated sales force to sell a $2 smartphone app or $.02 API. Of course this depends on a company’s business model. Seamless, the online restaurant food ordering and delivery service, gives users its app for free, and it’s a safe bet the company has budgeted for a sales force to locate and enlist new restaurant partners to expand its reach and increase customer usage. But your Go-To-Market Strategy budgeting is just as important when it comes to building awareness for your product, no matter how you’ve price it. In this case, a successful launch might not hinge as much on sales staffing and distribution as it will on ad-buying and buzz building. Once again, it is vital to have the ad and sales projections — and the required funds! —in place, so your product can start earning out.

There are, of course, many potential points of failure in any product launch. That’s why optimizing a Go-To-Market Strategy is so vital. And that’s why analyzing the launch in real-time needs to be part of that strategy. So that if traction is not realized, if something goes wrong with the product or its distribution, how do you react? What is the Plan B? The pivot, the counter-move? Does your strategy factor in the unexpected and is it budgeted to take those risks into consideration?

If those elements are not addressed, then your Go-To-Market Strategy is not ready, which means you’re not ready to mount your beachhead with your new product.

To go back to the question that opened this article, I hope it’s clear that the product is only half the battle. Awareness, branding, and sales conversion are significant launch drivers, as is creativity. Even if the product isn’t perfect, marketers have proven it is possible to create a demand for even the most suspect of products. We need to go no further than the Pet Rock for an example. No doubt, your business model isn’t built around a rock, but no matter what you are selling, or who is doing the selling, the most innovative marketers are armed with a well formulated Go-To-Market Strategy supported by the requisite funds, pricing flexibility and distribution channels to bring a product to market. And if they have all of the necessary components in place, then they are ready to stand and deliver. And launch.

About the Author

Brian GoodmanBrian Goodman is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Technossus, a rapidly growing enterprise-class software solutions and technology consulting firm that assists business leaders to accelerate change and deliver sustainable results. Brian has more than 16 years of strategic and operational responsibilities, with a successful record of building and expanding enterprises, from early-stage to divisions of leading international corporations across the professional services and software sectors. Recognized by OC Metro in its “40 Under 40” feature on rising stars in the business world for “breaking new ground,” Brian has become a business thought leader who is frequently quoted in the media and featured on business radio programs. He began his career in the software industry as a corporate attorney focused on private-equity financing and technology transactions, serving as senior corporate counsel at Paciolan, Inc. (acquired by Ticketmaster) and corporate counsel at internet and software company, AltaVista (acquired by Yahoo!).

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