Today’s article is focused on how to launch new products successfully. I spoke with a Chief Product and Strategy Officer who knows a thing or two about successfully launching products. To access a guide, review the Product Launch and Messaging phase starting on page 143.
I interviewed Toby Williams, SVP, Chief Product and Strategy Officer for Ellucian. Ellucian is an ERP vertical software company that covers the higher education space globally. Powering more than 2,400 institutions, Ellucian serves 18 million students worldwide. Toby is responsible for driving product management and strategy, corporate development, and M&A.
Why this topic? Product launches fail to generate revenue when salespeople and channel partners are not involved in the messaging development during the pre-launch preparations. When messaging is developed in isolation sometimes it’s not compelling enough to get your customers to act. Stories told directly to customers by well-trained sales channels enable customers and prospects to answer the critical question of, “Why change?,” and this stimulates latent demand while leading to exceptional revenue growth.
Toby is uniquely qualified to share his expertise on the steps to launch a new product, and how the product leader develops messaging to defeat the status quo. If you would like to access the full podcast interview, click here.
Describe the launch process
We’re in the process of rebuilding the launch process and have made I think pretty good progress so far over the last six months or so. Just to give you a sense of what we go through first its launch-defined for us. We tend to define launch broadly to really account for the full product life cycle, from idea inception all the way through to market launch and then every step in between. I think importantly it is a process, it’s not a one event happening. It’s a process, it has many steps and it involves everything from idea inception then product development then also everything all the way through the go-to market motion. I think for us there’s a few key ingredients that we focus on in both developing and then executing the launch process.
For starts we have a strong project management office, and everything really centers around how we manage things as a project. Making sure that you have a project management office in place is certainly critical for us, that can partner with the product management team. Then also all the functional areas that are involved in any launch. We’ve tried to get as much input as possible from all the cross-functional leaders in terms of defining a repeatable process. One of the things that we really spend a lot of time on is not just having the project management discipline but also the repeat-ability of the process. We have a fairly broad portfolio and so for us the ability to both launch products and then manage existing products through a repeatable process that we’ve got full buy-in from all the different functional areas has been important to us.
It’s really a cornerstone of how we manage launch at Ellucian. Touching on the cross-functional nature, making sure that we’ve built the process with a ton of input from all the different contributors and stakeholders in the process. Everyone from R&D to professional services to customer success to finance and marketing and sales and everyone else that has a role to play in building, delivering, supporting or eventually selling the product. That’s been a key for us, to make sure that we’re building in all that feedback and building a process that includes all the cross-functional teams. We try to templatize as much as possible for our teams in the launch process, and that’s everything from the actual process itself to the artifacts that go along with it, the milestones that we go through.
Then also the teams themselves and how we organize the teams, we have product success teams that constitute, or that are constituted from each of the different functional areas and that work on and come together regularly with a regular meeting cadence to manage both the existing products and any new launches that we have. Then just from a big picture perspective the big milestones in our process are things like idea generation for our new product, business, case-building. Again, the new product context, the market research that we go through to identify and confirm market problems and the fact that we’re solving the market problems that we’ve identified. And then getting a ton of client feedback as well.
And then ending it from a new product perspective at least in the early stages investment approval and then going forward to build proof of concepts to alpha products and services that clients can start playing with. Then going through beta and early adopters’ cycles so we can do the appropriate client testing, get all that feedback and making sure that we’re coming to market with something that will both resonate with the market in terms of the market problems that we’re solving. But also, be a great client experience from a full solution perspective. For us, making sure that we’re looking at not just did we build a great software but are we delivering a client experience that’s best in class and that’s a pleasurable client experience for them from both the buying cycle to the implementation cycle and then the continued use of the product.
When developing messaging that defeats the status quo, what have you seen works and what’s your approach?
It’s both a great question Greg and it’s one that we spend a lot of time thinking about from an Ellucian perspective. We’re in a space where it’s an ERP product and solution focus and with ERP products as you and your listeners I’m sure know these tend to be longer buying cycles, they tend to be ten year once you have sold and implemented an ERP system and the dollars are most times significant. Generating that activity in terms of getting folks to the line, to take on the solutions is a significant task, a significant cycle for our good market teams. In my mind approaching the conversation in terms of how to defeat the status quo and developing the right messaging around that really starts with thinking about market problems. For us, thinking through either a new solution or an existing solution it starts with focusing on, what are the critical or significant market problems that the solution is solving?
All that through the customer lens. A lot of how we approach the business is really focused on what is the problem that we’re solving for the customer and doing that with a real view from the client’s seat. If you focus a product or solution on a significant market problem that clients face then it stands a solid chance of delivering a real, substantial ROI to customers. Likewise, really understanding the buyer persona and the use case or the context around how the buyer and/or user persona will use the solution will help inform how to talk about the solution. And then ease of adoption I think is also critical both in terms of the actual ease of client adoption and then being able to crisply explain the ease of adoption is important in telling the story. That’s certainly true from an ERP perspective, not always an easy thing to implement.
Once you’ve identified the significant market problem, the compelling ROI and the buyer/user persona and use case and the ease of adoption, then ready to craft a compelling message focused on inciting action from a buyer and thereby defeating the status quo. I think the other thought just in terms of being able to identify a compelling event often in our industry that can help defeat the status quo. If there’s some natural event for a buyer that triggers a need and then helping to focus on that compelling event can be an important step, and having the voice of the customer involved in that can also be really compelling in terms of telling the story, demonstrating the value from a client that has adopted a solution and doing that in their words or with their voice from a client testimonial can be powerful.
What I’m hearing from chief strategy and product officers like you are a focus around creating the why change story, and this term why change story is literally almost branded these days. Has your company come up with a why change story? What’s your general opinion on that overall concept?
Yes, highly relevant for us right now. We’re living through a shift in our market right now and so there is a focus on this from our standpoint. The most relevant why change story that we’re focused on in our business, and this is one of the biggest ones that I’ve come across in my career is related to cloud adoption. So, in the higher education ERP space most clients have on-premise solutions for ERP. Going to your last question on defeating the status quo, there are really some significant market problems and trigger events that people are seeing or experiencing in higher education right now that can compel movement by clients to move their solution set to the cloud. Some of those include for us, just to give you some examples, people from an ERP on-premise management standpoint go through hardware refresh cycles or software upgrade cycles.
My customers are struggling with the cost of supporting solutions in-house versus budget pressures. Or senior staff retiring or security concerns. It’s things like that that our clients are bringing to us in terms of the problems that they’re facing or the trigger events that they’re going through. I think from our standpoint we’ve really taken those in and could identify how we’re delivering value with both the software and the services that we’re providing that can be applicable at some of those trigger points or to some of those events that the folks are having to go through. I think that has really forced us to cycle in on the market problems, the trigger events and then to be able to really craft stories around both. To help with our marketing and our sales teams go through the dialogue with clients on those topics. It really has been a … We’re living through I think a shift that’s focusing in on the why change and helping us develop that type of story.
Toby outlines in an overview for the product launch process. Make sure to hone in on this ‘why change’ story. Make sure it’s clear. In Toby’s case the move to the cloud is potentially a once-in-a-career compelling event, and crafting the why change story around that and all the benefits of moving to the cloud is a great opportunity and one not to be missed. As a guide for your product launch, download our 10th annual workbook, How to Make Your Number in 2017. Turn to page 143 of the Product Launch and Messaging phase to evaluate your readiness for the next Product Launch.
If you would like to spend some time with me planning your product launch, come see me in Dallas at The Studio, SBI’s multimillion dollar, one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art executive briefing center. A visit to The Studio increases the probability of making your number because the sessions are built on the proven strength and stability of SBI, the industry leader in B2B sales and marketing.