How to Launch a Product Online

Michele Nichols is the President of Launch Team Inc. - We talk online product launches in this episode of the Marketing Science Podcast.

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How are Life Science and Clinical Diagnostics firms reacting to the crisis?

Like all industries we work in, it has required a pivot, but really faring quite well. Almost everyone we work with is deemed essential, and so while there's been a shift everywhere in how they work and how they get things done, they are open and they're busy.

How are businesses approaching online product launches under current circumstances?

We had a lot of product launches that were scheduled for a launch event at the trade shows. However, when all of the trade shows were cancelled, you could postpone the launch, but if you wait until the end of the year, you won't meet your targets.

So virtual events have been important for us, and they could be as simple as a webinar or a video.

You could run a virtual event with several different live tracks but you'd need quite a bit of manpower in order to manage that and make sure everything's working well from a technical stand point.

Managing Risk

However, as soon as you pre-record those presentations, you can de-risk the whole situation. Just by pre-recording the video, a virtual poster or a presentation and then taking questions at the end. It’s very possible to do it, but it needn't be so complicated or so daunting just for the average marketer.

There is that trade-off between authenticity and a real polished performance as well, so if you do the pre-recorded one, you can get it completely polished, but I think we were talking the other day about you won't necessarily have your dog come in and bark in the background or the kids running in which gives it the authentic look.

How should companies proceed with their product launch?

I've seen a lot of product managers holding themselves to the same plan and deadlines they were before. However, I think companies need to step back and redefine expectations

That can mean changing the message to a target customer, and it can mean a full market pivot to aligning themselves with an emerging need that really didn't exist before. A rethink, it's going back to your customer persona and understanding, is this still my buyer and how are they feeling right now?

Brand messages around supply chain resilience and around minimizing risk are going to be far more effective than a more performance-driven message that would have worked three months ago. So that's simply re-messaging and re-thinking the customer for an existing product. Some of these products or technologies can pivot and work in a totally different market. For instance, we had some medical device sales that was re-bundled for telemedicine and teleradiology - And that launch window was about a week and a half.

What are the greatest marketing challenges that you're finding amongst scientific enterprises?

The challenge is the same across the board. Traffic and leads are up. We saw at the very onset of the pandemic, a hiccup of anywhere from 5-20% in traffic drop, and then it immediately came back and is still growing. The challenge is really in connecting with those leads at point of need. Just because they have sought you out doesn't mean they're ready to talk. So extending that buyer journey till their point of need is the challenge at hand.

We're dealing with engineers and scientists who inherently get content. They're just strained for time and don't know how to walk that line between educational content and marketing.

One of the key things that we find is that lots of clients struggle with resources as well as the digital marketing knowledge gap and skills. Creating good quality content is a challenge.

What does the modern marketing manager look like at a Scientific business?

We work with a lot of VPs of sales and marketing or product managers who have come from the engineering background. And that's wholly appropriate for their organization. It just leaves a sales and marketing core competency gap.

Which skills do you need to advise, fill and plug?

Building and knowing how to measure the quality of a marketing team, the outcomes, and so when we can teach a data-driven approach, that's something they can really easily engage in.

Do you recommend businesses hire for creativity or analytical thinking in their marketing roles?

Businesses tend to build up the analytical and the customer service in-house and can pretty effectively outsource the creative, the content generation. And I find they really enjoy that process. They really enjoy being engaged in the creative process as long as they're not driving it.

How are firms pivoting their marketing budgets?

An organisation’s first priority has had to be internal communication and some crisis communications. A lot of them are using this time to attack some key infrastructure projects. We're seeing a lot of CRM and infrastructure build-out, moving into automation, giving their sales team some sales tools which will allow them to scale up later this year. Many are rethinking product launch because they have to, and recognizing that they can't carry forward the plan they had; the drivers have all changed.

We've been toying with the idea of how we communicate better internally as a company using Microsoft Teams. You get people commenting, mixed up between channels, teams, conversations, replies etc. That happens throughout all industries. My housemate is a teacher. They're having exactly the same teething issues, not knowing where to respond.

Which internal communications tools are you finding most of your clients are using and where they're getting some big win?

Isn't it funny we are seeing it with the teachers too, just like we're seeing it in the companies we work with. We've had these tools all along, never really embraced them, and now we're all in!

We're seeing a lot of businesses building out from their CRM as well. We're starting to use HubSpot for internal communications, launching employee portals, and bringing more of their organization into the CRM.

We've used all of them: Hubspot, Trello, Basecamp, Teams, Slack, Salesforce Chatter. They're all fantastic tools, but I think you get to a stage where you've just got to pick one, and make sure that everybody buys in.

It's not so much about the tool, as how you use it and how you commit to it as an organisation

For a time, the battle was between sales and IT in choosing tools, and we almost lost track of the C in CRM for “customer”.

So now we're starting to see service teams using it. We're integrating with accounting and their ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning), so it can give you a much fuller picture of the customer. As we move into serving employees, we have to take on the same approach. It's got to be multichannel, multi-stakeholder. So whatever that tool is, be it HubSpot or something else, can we do a mass integration so that we can have escalating communications?

The plant is suddenly closed today for deep cleaning; how do we get that message out to the right people? How do we move beyond a phone tree, really?

How would you align your sales, marketing, operations, finance, service?

Alignment has always been a problem in sales and marketing, especially when it's an engineering-driven company, and we need to pull in engineering, product development.

Customer focus is the first place to start. I think and truly hope as we come out of this that companies will choose a higher vision, find that they will grow by aligning their philosophy, their value system with their customer base. But the easiest, most straightforward place to start is aligning around a deep understanding of the customer and what they need, building customer empathy in the organization.

Imagine a customer rings up and any customer-facing rep would know exactly who they're talking to. They'd know the exact customer history, any problems they've had in the past, any billing issues… everything. They’d have the 360 degree customer view with everything in there.

The challenges, tend to be training the people within the company to use it. You might have somebody who has been used to emailing people all their life, how would you shift them away from the more old-school ways of thinking and onto seeing the benefits of the single unified customer view using sort the 21st century tools available?

How can you increase adoption of the new technology within the business?

You've got to create some expectations that are across the board without exceptions. And if that means extra support and training, that's really important. Ultimately, you need to move toward the behaviors you expect from your team and ensure they are tied to their compensation. Certainly in sales, which is usually your first step, paying commissions right out of CRM reports ensures you have clean data. As you can expand that into other audiences, how do we measure against expectation, and tie it to comp, that'll really drive change.

I can see how that works for sales. How would it work for operations? Do you have any examples of how it would work for finance or any other department?

In customer service, their daily usage, tracking their activities, whatever tasks you expect of them or pattern of behavior, you can measure that in the CRM.

Which marketing channels are becoming less effective? Where do you see clients might be allocating better use of their time, energy and effort?

Really nothing new, it's just come to a head. We've been saying for a while that we need to rethink how we approach trade shows. They're still an important part of your marketing plan, but not the only part. We've said that we need to get beyond email, certainly shift from print advertising. Those publications are sitting in my desk in my office where I have not been in weeks, and those trade publications have done a really good job at moving toward lead gen.

We all need to rethink and broaden our marketing spend. It's a good time to sit back and retire some tactics that have declined in value over the last several years. The kind of behaviors that are winning right now are certainly virtual demo. Social media is driving an awful lot of leads. Technical content supports that buyer journey.

How do businesses implement social selling?

It forms part of a multi-touch point campaign, especially for those companies who have really embraced account-based marketing.

They're connecting through LinkedIn, supporting it with the right kind of content that's educational and non-salesy. There has been a lot of success in plain old human connection in the last two months. I think people are wanting to know each other more authentically in business, and that's the best and sometimes only platform for that right now.

How would you conduct a virtual demo in the current circumstances where people can't travel?

It's been important for a while. It's a great way for a company to grow their revenue, but it's the only way right now. I think the tools will get much better and faster for richer demos in augmented reality and virtual tours.

Right now, the submit a sample process for testing and then to conduct that testing via existing tools as simple as FaceTime or Zoom to demonstrate a piece of equipment on their particular challenge. I've seen companies set up whiteboard rooms so that engineer to engineer they can sketch solutions, and that moves the sales process along. There's a physicality to that even though it's virtual that's appealing.

I've seen real success with development kits when that's a possibility where we can ship a sample and let the customer play with it to do their own demo.

How would you describe appetite for risk in Marketing?

I think all of our appetites for risk have shrunk significantly coming from a place of scarcity right now. However, we've got to be very conscious to remove the fear of failure, and the easiest way to do that is have multiple experiments running.

Ask about Digital Marketing

You can race your marketing tactics against each other so that you remove that fear of being wrong or being judged for that. Everything is measurable, and so if you can conduct an experiment with multiple hypotheses, you'll see results and then can re-optimize to shift effort towards what's working best.

Which tools do you use when A/B testing?

We A/B test everything whether we're doing it manually or automated. Running emails in a split list and gauging one factor at a time, subject lines, pre-header text, first name variables etc..

With Social Ads, we'll run two platforms - LinkedIn versus Facebook per se. Then reallocate budget according to results.

Which Social Platform works best for you?

Almost every persona we work with, LinkedIn performs better, but we have some exceptions.

For instance, veterinary diagnostics positions are readily found on Facebook, it's the best way to get them. Most of the platforms, though, you are less intrusive and at point of need when you're in LinkedIn.

How do you identify and target key customer personas?

If businesses have existing customers in that market, we can start there and use that data, interviews when possible, and certainly the demographic data.

If it's an entirely new market, we're starting from demographics and then testing it with some interviews once we firm up what the persona is.

You're really looking for a generalization. You're taking this entire audience who you believe is a good fit customer who values what you sell and generalizing them into a single person.

  • Who are they?
  • How do they make decisions?
  • How do they think about money?
  • What's their home life and educational background?

We've had two companies in the same space selling the same kind of technology, and one's customer persona, same title, same age, was raised internationally and did their master's in the United States. The other was Midwest-born and raised and working. The messages resonate differently with each one.

We just finished one buyer persona, everyone in the company agreed on a title, position and background etc. We had all agreed – However, he's never going to make the actual decision to take this risk. So we had to go up a level, to change the whole marketing strategy.

What other key customer stakeholders do we have?

I don't buy the mentality that you start at the top and force it down, that you sell to the C-level or nothing. I don't think that gives people in an organization enough credit. Start with the persona. See who's likely to make that decision, and then really understand what will drive them to do something different.

Ask about online events
Discuss strategy on virtual conferences and online exhibitions

There's a great book, "The Challenger Sale" and it had an accompanying book called "The Challenger Customer" which talked about the hidden influencers within any purchasing department that are likely to throw up some challenges and issues without you even knowing about them.

It's the black swan that you don't even know about that you need to be addressing their needs as well.

What does the workplace look like over the next 3-5 years?

Good question, I wish I knew the answer. I know that my team will stay virtual through the fall. I am intending to go to key conferences late this year and next, but my intent there is different. It is not lead gen. It’s for networking and connection.

We will go back to working in person, but I think we all need to be cognizant and build skills in how we build real relationships remotely. It's how people want to interact. I think we want that deep sense of connection and community and we need places where that is real. I hope it brings a better depth to social media, to virtual events beyond small talk. I think that is one good thing that could come of this.

Teams will become more efficient. You won't have to necessarily hire a team in the same area. You won't be restricted by geography, so you'll be able to draw upon a national or even a global workforce which is always good. As people get better at communicating and collaborating over vast distances, it can only be a good thing. Ultimately there'll be fewer air miles travelled, fewer commutes, that sort of stuff. I think there'll probably be fewer trade shows, but when you do go to a trade show, there's a real emphasis on the relationships.

I'm hearing already some companies who have key remote employees who say they feel much more connected to their colleagues than they did three months ago.

I think we’ll learn to treat and embrace remote employees an awful lot more.

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Posted by Frank Barker

Having spent his younger years playing Rugby in the sunny climes of Spain and Australia, Frank graduated from Loughborough University with a BSc in International Business before settling back in rainy Manchester. Frank has helped numerous Science, Engineering and Healthcare companies to create marketing strategies that engage with niche audiences. Having started his career in Sales, he now runs the Marketing department for AZoNetwork. He specialises in data management for sales teams, equipping them with the most actionable, real-time marketing insights from the first touch point through to revenue generating opportunity. A sportsman at heart, Frank still enjoys lacing up the boots for his beloved Macclesfield 1st XV Rugby or pulling on the whites to represent the more serious Macclesfield 3rd XI Cricket team.    

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