How to create a successful B2B new product launch strategy

(First published in B2B Marketing Magazine)

Introducing a new product or service can boost sales and market share, and fuel growth. Yet by most any study of product launch success, 60–70% of new product launches fail.

This is particularly common among mid-sized B2B companies. They don’t launch new products and services frequently enough to accumulate the necessary experience and expertise. Thus they end up making two fundamental mistakes that reduce their likelihood of a successful launch:

1. They focus so much on developing the new product, that by the time they hand it off to marketing to launch, there is not enough time to complete the work necessary get the product ready to market.

2. They assume the marketing strategy and launch strategy are one and the same and so overlook the need to develop a holistic strategy that accounts not for the requirements and roles across the entire organization—beyond marketing.

At the source of these scenarios (and their related missteps) is this: A Total Launch Strategy was not developed. Instead, the launch strategy was thought of as “something that marketing does”— after the product is complete.

The Total Launch Strategy: Essential Elements

The “Total Launch Strategy” is a holistic business strategy for introducing a new product into the marketplace, and the support required to sustain it ongoing. The “Total Launch Strategy” accounts for the roles and requirements of all functional areas across the organization, including sales, distribution and channels, legal, customer service, marketing and more.

A Total Launch Strategy includes five essential elements:
1. A cross-functional planning team
2. Foundational strategies
3. Audience specific strategies
4. Integrated operating strategies
5. Three launch phases

1. The cross-functional planning team
Who is really responsible for the product launch? (Hint: it’s not just marketing). The most successful launches employ a “whole organization” approach. The optimal Launch Team is composed of at least one member from each functional area of the business including leadership, engineering, marketing, sales, service, legal, etc.

It is imperative for this team to be assembled early—minimally, before new product development is complete—ideally, concurrent with the development of the product —not after.

This team can provide the product development team with valuable insights into the viability of the product. And it gives the launch team an opportunity to identify and address any issues and potential obstacles early on.

2. Foundational strategies
Foundational strategies include the mission and vision of the product launch; business case and objectives; brand strategy; fit within the overall product portfolio; and uncertainties and risks.

These strategies must be developed within the context of the overall business strategy and product portfolio strategy, and are important to define early. They serve to provide direction and clarity for what is needed to launch the new product (the short-term) and sustain it in the market place (the long-term).

Foundational strategies help anchor and align the myriad of viewpoints, perspectives, opinions and expectations that arise during a B2B new product launch process. Skipping the step of defining your foundational strategies will inevitably lead to unproductive confusion internally—and a sub-optimal launch externally.

3. Audience specific strategies
Audience strategies define how your product will “go-to-market” for internal and external audiences such as distributors; national accounts; key customers; union labor; suppliers and partners; installers and technical support among others.

These audience specific strategies must be coordinated and complimentary with one another, and support the Foundational Strategy.

4. Integrated operating strategies
Integrated operating strategies include the plans for every functional area of the organization – including finance, product, sales, legal, customer service, regulatory, training, IT and analytics, etc.—and of course, marketing.

These strategies are more tactical in nature and build the operational capabilities needed to deliver the high-level strategies.

5. Three launch phases
Too many launch plans are just that—“launch plans” focused on the launch phase as a moment in time. A Total Launch Strategy encompasses the three distinct phases of a new product introduction: Pre-Launch, Launch and Post-Launch.

Pre-launch is a crucial period for B2B product launches. Preparations for distributors and buyer groups, and training among sales reps, distributors, technical and field support can often require months in advance of the actual product launch.

Post-Launch is often the forgotten chapter. This plan accounts for what can and will happen after the product is in market: how to monitor and respond to feedback from employees, sales and customers, when/if to make pricing adjustments, how to respond to competitive reaction, and more. Product launches rarely go completely as planned. Anticipating and being prepared is the best way to optimize your outcome.

Keep it simple to start

Developing a Total Launch Strategy doesn’t require the creation of a 100-page single-spaced document.

The critical success factor is making sure your cross-functional team discusses and makes concrete decisions for all layers of strategy: Foundational, Audience and Operating – and considers the three phases.

The size and complexity of your Total Launch Strategy will depend on several factors including the complexity of the product, the significance of it to the business, the number of individual audiences targeted, the number of functional groups required/affected within the organization, and the time horizon of your plan.

Risks and rewards

B2B companies who follow this approach and develop a Total Launch Strategy will significantly improve their odds of successfully launching any new product or service.

The benefits are numerous and include:

  • Comprehensive: accounts for all aspects of a successful launch
  • Builds alignment: brings together all facets of the organization
  • Accelerates time to market: avoids the potholes and obstacles, quickens critical-path decision making
  • Reduces risk: increases the likelihood of success and acts as an insurance policy
  • Enhances communication: clearly isolates issues and opportunities in a format the entire organization can understand

At Avenue, our experience has shown the critical importance of developing a Total Launch Strategy for more predictable launch outcomes and successes.

The question is, given all the potential pitfalls and the payoff at stake, will leaders agree? Because once a product launch is in motion, success or failure will hinge in large part on whether or not they have developed a strong strategy.

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