Over the years I have experienced two types of product launches; a “Hard Launch” and what some people have referred to as a “Soft Launch”.
A hard launch is when you set a specific date based on your market opportunity window, the ability of your team, resources, and market conditions. In a hard launch you have done your homework, you have market based data, and you have beta tested your product or service and received qualitative and quantitative feedback from the market. In a hard launch you have cross functional groups within your organization aligned and communicating regularly. If something unplanned occurs your team learns about it within days and has time to adapt verse finding out hours before the targeted launch that it will be late.
I believe in hard launches for four main reasons;
1. Sales can pre-sell based on your known buyer process and cycle
2. Execution, when hard launch dates are made, and communicated to internal and external customers…teams deliver
3. Buyers like vendor partners who do what they say they will do
4. Team members who hard launch products believe in their solution
Back when I sold big box retailers like Wal-Mart and others, if we missed a launch date you would lose more than the revenue your product would have generated. To miss a key launch date violates your trust with that buyer and you had little if any likelihood of placing other new products in the future.
Hard launch dates create a “make it happen ” environment within high performance teams. In addition hard launch plans also quickly identify weaknesses holding teams back from becoming market leaders.
In most cases in my past I led sales and marketing teams and our goals were established based on a hard launch date. In the last 25 years I have never had my sales goals reduced because a product failed to launch on time. If your known buyer’s buying cycle is six months, you need to pre-sell to insure you meet the revenue projections that product management provided senior management to get funding for the product.
If a member of one of my teams said we “need” to soft launch a product it would make my skin crawl. A soft launch means you did not thoroughly conduct market research, you are not sure you totally understand the problem you are solving and your solution may not completely solve the need. When someone says soft launch I hear them saying this product is an incremental improvement to a current solutions and is not a breakthrough product. I also hear them saying we will throw this product over the wall, into our market and see if it sticks.Team members describe a soft launch as if it were some safe and effective way to launch new products. Their approach is like someone wanting to join the polar bear club and just putting their big toe in the frozen lake to check it out, and saying; I will ease myself in. It simply does not work. I hear some discuss how a soft launch is more cost effective. Again, I have experienced the opposite in actual real as well as the opportunity costs.
So I asked some senior leaders recently why they would or would not use a soft launch and what I heard in summary in favor of a soft launch was “FUD”…
· Fear the market may not accept nor embrace your new product
· Fear if you did a hard launch and you announced a future date your competitor would beat your team to market with your idea
· Personal fear, if this draws a great deal of attention, and it does not work I may be out of a job ( particularly in these economic times)
· Not sure if their solution completely solves the unresolved problem you discovered
· Uncertainty in your teams ability to execute
· Uncertainty to the validation of the market justification data and process used to justify the ROI
Doubt (the what if’s)
· What if raw material costs go up?
· What if the market projection numbers and how we assigned goals was wrong?
· What if this new product in some way caused a negative feeling in our buyers that hurts our base business?
· What if the product turns out to be an incremental improvement and not a breakthrough product?
· What if by the time we go to market we missed the window of opportunity?
Market leaders do not wait for the perfect conditions and they lack “FUD”. Market leading organizations spend considerably more time in upfront research, doing their research in their markets and clearly understanding the unresolved market problems. The crystal clarity they gain insures the requirements for the new product or service are thorough, complete, and nail it the first time. Market leading teams have a launch strategy and plan that includes multiple steps and representatives from other cross functional areas within the team.
The next time someone recommends a “soft launch” what I want you to hear is “FUD” .Before you or your team spend any more time or money on this project you must identify what did not occur that should have. I have lived through soft launches and they never achieve targeted goals and thus ROI’s are missed. Soft launches , that put your toe in the water not only create doubt within your sales team, but customers have a 6th sense about products that are launched and just do not “feel right” so they wait. As buyers wait, your sales and marketing teams miss their key indicators and morale suffers. Soft launches are a sign you lack confidence in your product, product management, and marketing’s ability. With a soft launch sales does not pre-sell so even if your team totally nailed the solution, you now have the buying cycle before you generate the revenues and more importantly profits that meet ROI targets.
If you can’t have a hard launch plan, don’t launch it at all!
How about you, what experience have you had with “soft launches”?
How does your company launch products?
If you miss launch dates do you reduce the sales and profit key indicators?
Have you ever soft launched a product and exceeded your ROI targets? If so tell me about it.
Is there a case in which a soft launch is the best way to launch a new product or solution?