Launching a New Product

Feb 10, 2010

In the world of the aftermarket, the next great product idea can be an impressive part of the profit pie. But in baking any pie you first have to address what ingredients you’re going to need-the necessary amounts of this and that-and only then are you ready  for that impressive launch. Then serve to the delight of many.

Too many companies fail at the new product launch because of not taking the necessary steps in its development. The essentials of the launch infrastructure include human capital, skills and experience, along with the resources such as financial outlay, equipment and manufacturing facilities.

But the factors inherent to a new product’s market success depend on the actual launch at the end of the day.

Let’s assume you have taken the initial steps of identifying what the customer base is looking for, you’ve conjured up great ideas for products that can fulfill those needs and you’ve assembled a dedicated cross-functional team that has whittled down the ideas and developed a product by using a well-implemented phase/review process.

In that case, you deserve a well-planned and well-executed launch.

Launching a new product is much like building a company. Preparation is a major key, as is planning and the execution, plus staying on top of all obstacles in your crosshairs. Target your objectives with rational forethought, and gather initial feedback.

Follow the Leader

As with any project, there is a necessary leader. This person should be chosen at the beginning of the project and in this context I’ll refer to that person as a launch leader.

This is an experienced person with qualities one would look for in a successful leader. Launch leaders often come from marketing and sales functions and combine customer service as well as distribution experience. Incorporating a combination of such qualities is most helpful, as is launch experience. This person should deal well with responsibilities and possess a high level of communication skills with other launch members.

Time constraints are of critical importance. If the team is developing a product for a specific launch date, the tight window of opportunity is clear.

The initial step is the assembly of the team. This can be a one-, two- or many-member group serving as the core cross-functional team. This group will carry out the activities of launch planning and execution. I frequently refer to this group as the “knowledge exchange group.”

The pre-launch of a product-coming up with the idea and developing it-requires a breadth of skills and experience. At a minimum, the launch team needs people who can plan and carry out the market research, supply chain management, distribution and channel planning, along with coordination measures plus training a sales and service force.

For manufacturers, in a new product launch, marketing employees are integral to making sure that a new product succeeds in the marketplace. The launch leader must make sure that the launch core teams are working on marketing issues while they design and formulate the product.

As a speed shop, you can follow their lead to ensure your company is ready with a new product that your customers want, and provide feedback to what types of future product developments will sell well for you.

The following are recommended as key functions of the supplier marketing team. The steps can streamline the rollout of a product and provide a seamless launch driven by marketing as well as design:

•  Gather direct and jobber communication on their customer mix and needs.
•  Encourage idea-generation sessions within your new product launch group.
•  Conduct market research throughout the entire development process, which includes market segmentation, testing and product use testing.
•  Forecast market and sales projections.
•  Establish launch goals.
•  Create the launch plan to include:
1. Rollout strategy
2. Channel strategy
3. Sales training plan
4. Customer service plan
5. Test marketing and customer feedback trials
6. Pricing strategy
7. Supply chain management
8. Performing a post-launch evaluation
9. Addressing product obsolescence

With any launch, there is the ongoing evaluation of goals. Key objectives, or formative metrics, that a launch team should track will include:

•  Gaining market share and market penetration.
•  Solid financial performance indicators, including sales.
•  High-quality customer satisfaction to include both business-to-business and business-to-consumer classifications.

The formative metrics should be attainable and agreed upon by team launch members. Again, this is a performance knowledge exchange pulling from experience and the fabric of teamwork communication.

Rolling it Out

With any new product launch, the aftermarket new product team has determining factors within the rollout strategy. After the rigors of designing and developing the product, and producing sufficient inventory to support the launch, it’s time for suppliers to open the doors to customers like your shop.

This phase is the rollout into the marketplace. Having a rollout strategy will enable manufacturers to define how the new product will get to market, and speed shops to best-serve their walk-in customers. There are two popular methods to consider:

•  The Hard Launch. This method is an effective method only if you have a sequence of support personnel implementing this all-at-once launch. It is the orchestration introducing your product simultaneously in all your targeted markets.

•  The Rolling Launch. Also referred to as the “soft launch,” you introduce your product into the marketplace in successive waves. This can be done regionally and expanded into additional markets as manufacturing flow and/or sales build. The rolling launch is frequently addressed with test marketing and refinement of the product.

Within the automotive aftermarket, the hard launch is usually preferred, as the marketplace is broad-based or national. With the advent of eCommerce, national advertising campaigns, and a host of other marketing and advertising mediums, the benefits of the hard approach usually produce a more favorable and workable metric.

For your speed shop, either approach might work, depending on the product you are launching and the type of customer base you serve.

But don’t just guess. The ultimate decision requires taking into consideration a number of issues. It is the entire communication efforts of all launch team members to filter their input and blend their decisions based on the following questions. As a result, they will then decide what makes the most sense for the product to achieve success in the marketplace.

•  Can your sales staff or manufacturer’s reps support the immediate sales effort?
•  How important is speed to market for the product and being in the first-mover advantage position?
•  Can you stay ahead of the competition by innovating faster that they can?
•  Can competitors easily move in after you launch your product?
•  How much of the product can you produce in time to support your launch?

Additional opportunities to consider in your launch are your ability to create a buzz about your product and the relationship with garnering publicity. This is where marketing and the Internet play vital roles.

For manufacturers, selling through an existing network of dealers may be considered a limited launch, but targeting is an advantage.

The world of Internet market penetration is becoming vogue, doable and is one of the favored methods in this economic climate. Club marketing is another avenue of opportunity, and also effective within the scope of Internet market development.

In selecting your new product launch method, keep in mind that you’ll need to know how much product differentiation you need in order to sell in different markets and how soon you can create the product inventory. If your product will be identical in every market in which you plan to launch, a hard launch could work to your advantage. If, however, you need to tailor the product or change functionality to serve customers in different markets, the rolling launch may be your best consideration.

Maintaining Momentum

Before you take that final marketing leap, I advise you to make sure you’ve covered your bases by considering the following:

Revalidate your original value proposition of your new product versus the current market and competitive situation. Sure you’ve checked into the market for competitive situations and don’t want to turn the clock back, but be sure that the need you want to fill or the problem you want to fix is still compelling. Also, make sure your competitors haven’t done anything to make your product obsolete before you open your product to the aftermarket.

Double-check your entire masses of marketing and sales collateral and support launch materials.  Be sure you’re 110-percent materials-ready. Without failure, be certain your support people, sales channels and phone banks are fully supported. Create a check-off list of materials, review with others including your sales personnel, and review it again.

Be sure the trainer has trained the trainers. Your sales and service team, internal or external channels, must have received the proper training before the product launch date. Be sure you have addressed what the customer may ask, what the jobber is apt to be questioned on and how to provide compelling answers in clear and short sentences.

Produce detailed media announcements, demo products and advertising materials. This isn’t the time to think about it, but to have already done critical thinking in the process of materials creation. Get the buzz out to the appropriate media channels.

A solid tip is to create a checklist that your new product launch team can use to coordinate and play-out the action steps necessary prior to launch.

The final step is to address you post-launch evaluation, as your product is now open for public review and appreciation resulting in sales. We don’t live in a perfect world, thus, documenting is essential.

Document all reported problems, concerns and also positive testimonies. Key in on goals being met, issues that need to be addressed and fixed. Also, keep in mind that new opportunities are likely to arise after your market launch.

Above all, this was the activity of a team of one, two or many. Word to the wise-keep the team together and lay claim to their efforts, know they made a major positive impact on the company’s growth internally and externally and continue to communicate for positive company growth.

Lastly, products have a lifecycle. Be ready to do it all over again and again. Let the fun begin.