Lessons learned from failed 2nd Product Launches

By | August 24, 2017

Everyone knows the difficulty in launching  a company with a new product. Just reflect on the total time and resource expended between the initial idea and the eventual happy customers.  It was likely an all company, all levels, all energy effort, and a 100% focused mission to align investors, product, marketing and sales groups around a single vision.

That focus and determination paid off and you’re out of the gates with a successful venture.  But soon the appetite for more drives innovation and growth.  Suddenly a new vertical, market or Widget #2 is “ready.”  Fortunately, this time, all the players and pieces are already in place, right?  “We have done this before!  We can just layer Widget 2 right alongside Widget 1 and this will be even bigger and grow faster!”

From our consulting experience and research, what really happens is way different.  And often, pretty ugly. Most follow-on and second Bowling Pin products (not Add-ons) suffer major set-backs or flat out fail.   While many failures are true product shortfalls, an unnecessarily high percentage of failures result from poor execution.  It starts from an overdose of hubris: “We’re rock stars that clearly know how to drive and delight new customers” vs. the humble and careful attitude from the initial startup days.  However, with ~80% of the energy and resource focused on the established business, Widget 2 receives a fraction of the attention of the cornerstone product.  It is either layered onto the existing sales and marketing engine as SKU 2 or placed in the short hands of a beta group or Tiger team to figure out how to inject the product into the existing operations.

The truth is, truly new “second” products or offerings need the same focus and resource as the first.  And of all the areas of the company where the seeds of failure get sown, we’ve learned that most often the biggest issues are sales related.  Having done dozens of these post mortems and “repair” engagements, we’ve seen two challenges consistently:

  1. Sales people hate change. Or put another way, they like a proven path to commissions. So, when trained and sent out into the new frontier or asked to integrate in Widget #2, the familiarity and confidence is not there and the sales effort for both products suffer.
  2. Product/Market research is always wrong. Despite all the efforts to understand the users pain and value proposition for Widget #2, the positioning is rarely right on target.  Thus, sub-optimized messaging, tools and training get pushed out the field and expectations are missed.

To improve your odds on the actual go-to-market launch, all you need is simply to look back on what you did with Widget 1.  Build a team and culture as humble and open-minded as you were the first time around.  In short, assign, build or contract a team optimized for learning not scale. Below are seven  “must have’s” when developing and launching that second offering:

  • Think startup. Ensure the launch team is small but with critical mass of all the core departments represented
  • Recruit intellectuals. Design the launch with members proven to be curious, open-minded and humble enough to try and iterate often
  • Meet Often. Come together weekly to review marketing and sales campaigns, on-boarding, support, etc. and know that you will be changing all the above each week
  • Separate from the Core. Where possible try and dedicate this team to thinking 100% Widget #2 and customer centric vs. operational efficiency and scale
  • Team up. To leverage the core customers and momentum of Widget 1 it is often best to team up and partner to achieve each of the objectives vs. assigning the core teams to do launch team tasks
  • Iterate till Repeatable. Again, remember your core company is an optimized machine.  Continue to refine the sales and marketing process for Widget 2 in this incubator mode until you reach a maturity level close to the core
  • Choose between Integration and Separation. Once optimized it is still worth a deep analysis of the synergy benefits of integrating both offerings into one system vs. optimizing for each and focusing on the buyer’s journey vs. your desired sellers journey.

Operate like the early days is to reclaim the momentum and humility that ran throughout the organization for Widget 1.  Resist getting over excited and confident thus pushing a sub-optimized product and sales process into an established channel or partnership model.  The mature sales team will likely reject the less-mature offering  (not in words, but in actions) and targets will be missed.

Just think back to how fun the startup phase was and how maniacal focus on prospects’ opinions and receptivity shaped things every day.  Find that mindset and operate accordingly and you can innovate and launch new offerings with far better results.

Doug Schulze – Managing Partner

Doug Schulze – Managing Partner