Launching a product is not where everything begins. In fact, it is a culmination of many processes, planning, and hard work. In this episode, Ben Baker interviews Dave Daniels, the founder of BrainKraft and the creator of the BrainKraft Product Launch System™, to help us gain a better understanding of what it really takes to launch a product and how to do it the right way. He breaks down the common pitfalls many people find themselves in when launching a product or service—from the planning to the marketing to the actual launch date. Join in on today’s conversation to gain some more valuable insights on properly taking your product for the world to see and have it attract the results it should get.
Welcome back to the show. Thank you for joining me. I love the fact that you come back. You guys are calling, you're reading, you send me notes, you subscribe, you share. Thank you for everything you do. You're an amazing audience, and I hope that we never disappoint. I've got Dave Daniels coming to you from BrainKraft. We're going to talk about launching a product. We're going to talk about what does it take to launch something? I'm going to bring David in because Dave is an expert at this. Dave, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Ben. Thanks for having me. We've been getting to know each other and becoming friends and sharing all kinds of tips and ideas. I really love what you're doing with the podcast thing. It's a perfect fit internally for planning and executing a product launch. Maybe we can weave that into our conversation.
Absolutely. I would love to weave that into the conversation, but before we start, let's get everybody caught up. Give us a brief history of Dave. Where did you come from, what got you into being the launch guide? It's a very specific part of any company and the fact that this is what you do, this is what you specialize in. What got you here?
First of all, I was born at a very early age. I always say that. It's a total dad joke. Early on in my career, I was a software developer. My education is in computer science and mathematics. I meandered my way through the software business side. I was a developer and I managed development teams and I jumped into the world of being a sales engineer. For those unfamiliar with that, that's the technical guru, if you will, on the sales team that the sales guy points to and says, "I don't know, Dave, what do you think?" That was my job.
I’ve been part of that conversation, Dave.It takes a lot of heavy lifting to introduce a new product into your own company, let alone into a market. Click To Tweet
"We can do that. Right, Dave?" You have to say, "I don't see why not." You can't say yes or no. I meandered through gigs as a product management and product marketing and worked my way up into the executive ranks and got to run a few companies. I started a small company. I had an opportunity, so I took advantage of it and I created this business called Launch Clinic. The name alone should be a hint. It was about how to launch products with coaching and training and so forth. It got acquired by a company that maybe some of the readers are familiar with, which is Pragmatic Marketing. That was many years ago and they acquired my little business and I came over to Pragmatic and then I spent the next decade or so filling out all things launch.
A new launch class for Pragmatic, with that I maintained a lot of blogging around launch and also product marketing. In 2020, I decided it was time to do my own thing again. I started BrainKraft and, I said, "I'm going to take the experience of working with literally thousands of product professionals over a decade. I'm going to redo it. I'm going do it the way that I would do it with all of this knowledge that I built up through the years." That became BrainKraft. That evolved into the BrainKraft Product Launch Framework and product launch course, and coaching and a growing cadre of partners who seem to like what I do and they want to use it as well.
That gives us a good history because it's important to understand where people were before they understand where they are. My question to you is, and before we get into the nitty-gritty and all of that, what's the number one thing you see that people do wrong when they launch a product or a service?
Can I have a list of half a dozen number ones?
Pick your top 4 or 5. How about that?
Let's start with number one. It astounds me that companies spend millions of dollars building a product and give launching it merely a second thought. They'll work to build the product. They'll test it. They'll churn through it. They’ll work with the engineering team and they’ll rush to get the product done. They're all excited about it and then they'll say, "It's ready. They'll just throw it over the wall to marketing and sales and expect magic to happen." By the way, that is true for not only startups who may be a little bit immature yet in their processes, but very big companies that you are familiar with and that you admire. Blue Chip companies do this every year.
That's one of my big ones. The other one, if I could add this one is, almost everything we do in a business is based on an objective, a goal. We're trying to accomplish something. To our audience, how many of you who have launched a product or are planning to launch a product could go to a whiteboard right now and write down, "These are our launch objectives. This is what a successful launch looks like to us. We have that socialized internally and our stakeholders agree with what those are. Everything we do from this point forward will be a look back onto those objectives?" We do it in our life. Few companies do that at launch when they launch a product.
This resonates with me so much. In 2018, I wrote my first book, Powerful Personal Brands. I spent months and months writing it and then editing it. Then agonizing over the cover, the font size and all the details to make sure this was right. It wasn't until we were about three weeks from launch that I sat there and said, "What am I going to do about marketing this thing?" This is somebody who's been marketing for companies for 25 years. When we get this stuff for our self, we get so focused on the minutiae. We get so focused on, “We’ve got to get this thing to the starting line,” that we forget that that's just the starting line. All that is, is getting it up and you'll turn the engine over and making sure that it's ready to run, but you're not giving it any gas to get that first mile or have a clue or even having a steering wheel on the thing.
It astounds me and I took this to myself six months later going, “You really didn't launch this thing well for a guy who markets all the time for other companies and communicates and it is all about going, ‘Where are you going? What are your goals? What are your objectives? How are we going to get you there?”’ I blew it. I'll readily admit that I blew the launch of my first book. I think it was my naiveté of not knowing what I was doing, being totally outside of my element in terms of creating the book itself. I got so focused on the minutiae that I forgot it's nice that you have this thing. “How are you going to market? How are you going to get people excited about it? How are you going to let the world know that they need this and that it's here?” How do you help companies with that?
The BrainKraft Product Launch Framework is really what I tell folks, it’s like guardrails. It gives you a structure that you can follow that helps you to understand that launching a product isn't that the product is ready. It goes much further than that. There's a lot of planning that goes into it. If you're in a fairly good-sized business, and you have let's say dozens or even hundreds of salespeople, and you're a $100 million, $200 million business or bigger. It takes a lot of heavy lifting to introduce a new product into your own company, let alone into a market. If you're launching a brand-new product into a market you've never served, you have more risks than you can possibly imagine. I don't care how good the product is, and maybe it's great and people want it, but a lot of products fail because companies rush into a market thinking, "I built it and they will come," and they don't come. This isn't Kevin Costner in the Field of Dreams.
Those customers are not going to be coming out of the cornfields to play ball. It takes work. Think about your salespeople. I have maybe a pretty odd career path than a lot of people who wound up in marketing. It's because I spent a good bit of time in sales as a sales engineer. I have a great appreciation and a deep understanding of how hard it is to be a sales rep. If you've got a good product and it's selling like hotcakes, no one cares, but that's not how most salespeople have to do. They have to earn that commission. I have deep empathy for what it takes to convince a sales team that this product should be part of their calculus for hitting their numbers.
Let's say a product marketing manager might have a number that I'm trying to hit with the product, whether it's a top-line or a margin number, and I can't go out and sell it myself. I’ve got a Salesforce or a partner channel I’ve got to use. If they don't agree that this is a good thing for them, it doesn't matter how good a product it is. I think to that extent, the preparation of getting your organization ready, and there are three aspects to that preparation. It's not just the company and that's big enough as it is, but it's also your partners, and it's also the market. What are you doing to prepare the market? The auto companies do a good job, at least most of them do.
They do a good job of softening up the market. They leak the spy shots of the new cars coming out. People start creating a little buzz around, “What is Tesla doing? What is GM doing with their new battery-powered cars?” Before you know it, there's enough buzz going on that people are interested in what's happening and they get vested in it. By the time the product is ready, then they're ready to go out and buy one. They've reached that level of excitement. Most companies don't do a good job of that, but if you had to invest billions of dollars into a factory, and another billion to design it and get to the first prototype, you better believe you want to make sure the market is ready for your product.
Not only that, but you also have to have a budget put aside for that marketing and sales team to go out there and create that excitement. It's interesting you talked about a bunch of things. You talked about having a vested salesforce. I've been on the sales side, I've been on the marketing side, and we've all sat there and gotten stuff thrown at us from a marketing department that never talked to the sales department, never went out and talked with the customer, but just created stuff in a vacuum and give it to salespeople and say, “Go out and sell this.” The salespeople just roll their eyes and say, “How? This doesn’t mean anything. It has absolutely no bearing on reality. How am I supposed to go out there?”
If the sales team isn't vested in this, if they don't understand how they're going to sell this, why this is good not only for the customer but good for them, how they're going to make their commissions and how they're going to be successful, they're going to let it die on the grapevine. They're going to sit there and concentrate on the tried-and-true product that is already out there, that customers are already buying and the people already want, and they're not going to introduce the new stuff because they're not sure whether it's going to be around in six months or not.
It's too much of a risk for them. For those of you who are reading and don't understand this, I'll lay it out really simple for you. Your salespeople have to hit a quota. Their job is to bring money into the company. If they are not bringing money into the company, they're of no use to the company. They get an opportunity to try their skills somewhere else. It's very simple, every sales rep knows this. For the most part, most companies pay their sales reps with a base salary and then a variable commission based on their performance. The rest of the company, you don't have to worry about that. If the product doesn't sell well, it's no big deal. They don't let you go. They just say, "Maybe the next version or the next round will be better."
That brings me to something that you do extremely well that I think would add a tremendous amount of value to companies that are launching big products. They could be game-changing products, fulfillment of the strategy entering into new markets, and that is use an internal podcast for your sales enablement activities. Here's where I'm going with this. Days past, I would use webinars. I would try to get my salespeople together, I would visit offices, I would do all the things that many, a lot of people reading here do. I would be frustrated because people wouldn't get on the webinars. We didn't record them because the quality wasn't that good at the time anyway, and we had to figure out where to stick it so they could get to it and there was no good way to do that. We have all of that now.A lot of products fail because companies rushed into a market thinking that people will come and they don't. Click To Tweet
Rather than doing a webinar, do it as a podcast. Think of the power that you could have in short little snippets of 15 to 20 minutes, maybe even 30 minutes, if it's compelling. Talking up the launch, what's the status? What are we going to be doing next? Educating your sales team on the markets you're going after and why you're going after. Maybe have interviews of representative buyers on the podcast so they could get an idea of what it's like. Maybe you have some early adopter customers. Bring them on, talk to them and interview them. Maybe some early wins that some of the sales team are getting and talk about what they went through in the trials and tribulations to close the deal. All of that builds energy, excitement and knowledge. All you have to do is put them internally. You're the expert. You've mentioned, store them on SoundCloud and make a private channel.
You can start them on SoundCloud or something like that, pick some type of hosting system and make it internal. Make it behind a closed door, through behind a password-protected or whatever. The nice thing about a podcast is people can listen to it on their drive. They can listen to it when they start flying again. In the hotel, at home, on a walk, whatever, it's asynchronous. That's the one thing about webinars is that you sit there and say, “I've got 8,000 salespeople. I want to get them all on the webinar at the same time, because we all want to hear it out at the same time.” You're never going to get all 8,000. It's impossible. Even if they do, how many of them have turned off their microphones, turned off their video and they're going there and doing sales calls at the same time that they're supposed to be listening to your material? They know that they have to be on this webinar at X hour at X time, and that's totally inconvenient for them. Their avatar shows up, so obviously they're there and listening.
That's it. For a lot of salespeople, their schedules are a little crazy, particularly if they travel or when they did travel. As a result to that, when they're on a flight, maybe they could listen to a couple of podcasts. When they're on the bus heading over to the car rental place, they could listen to a podcast. It's more convenient for them and that's what makes it work so well. I was on a hard schedule on a day. I've got salespeople in Germany, I've got salespeople in the Netherlands, I've got salespeople in Singapore. I can't get them on the call at the same time. It’s impossible.
Not just your salespeople, your customer experience team, your customer service team, your ops team, there are all sorts of different teams that are part of a launch. It behooves you to get everybody on the same page weeks, if not months before the launch, to let people know what's coming up. What are the challenges that you're facing? What do you need to overcome? What are the things that you need from different departments? What do you need from different offices? How do we bring all this stuff together? What needs to happen in terms of promotional marketing materials? What happens in terms of printing materials? What's new and innovative that you guys are going to use and enable to get this in front of the customers? There are so many different things that are part of a launch that it's not just a sales team, it's not just the marketing team. It’s the product development team, it's the operations teams that are going to build this thing, the customer experience teams. Everybody needs to know what's going on.
The way you've described that articulates very clearly what I'm trying to get to, there are a lot of moving parts and those moving parts have to move as a machine. All of those gears interlock. If you get one cog in the machine, the whole machine fails. You've got to make sure that finance has what they need, that legal has what they need, that compliance has what they need, that sales has what they need. I could go on and on a laundry list. If you get into regulated businesses and manufacturing and things like medical devices, the complexities grow but that's normal in their world, but it's still complex.
I’ve got to say one thing you asked me about, what are some of my top things? I gave you two. I'm going to give you one more because your discussion sparked it in my mind. One concept I talk about in the BrainKraft Product Launch Framework is advantages and obstacles. They're in there for a very specific reason. One is that most organizations inflate their advantages and they overlook or discount the obstacles. You'll hear things like, "That's a great problem to have." That's a great problem to have until your customers are angry with you because you can't deliver products and they want a refund. Tell me about the problem. It's understanding what you are good at. What is your expertise? What would people value about the product and your organization? That puts you into the advantages column.
What are some of the obstacles? Do you have access to these customers? Have you sold to them before? Do you know them well enough to empathize with them about the problem you solve for them? Can you deliver products to them? Can you support them? Do you have the authority to conduct business with them? Do they view you as being authoritative enough that they'll allow you to play in their sandbox with them? Those are all examples of obstacles that are often overlooked, “Get this thing out the door. Let's get it in the hands of sales. They can sell anything to anybody. They're amazing.”
Except when they have to call on a buyer they've never called on and talk about a problem they're unfamiliar with, and they don't know how those companies buy something, what's their process, and what they care about. What motivates them to buy, what's their buying process look like, and what's their buying criteria? What are their hot buttons? What do they care about? What you're talking about that you think is cool, they may not care at all about. One market segment might say, "That's really awesome." Another market might say, "Whatever."
It's funny when you say that. Many years ago, I worked for Xerox. When I first talked to Xerox training, they talked about your customer needs. What they talked about, the speeds and feeds. It was all about features and benefits, but it was assumed benefits. Not the benefit to that actual particular customer understanding what their business is, what their problems truly are and how you could fix a problem that's causing them grief in a way that's not going to break their bank.
Xerox was a very engineering-oriented business at the time. They were very successful, but they would reverse engineer the benefits from the features in the product. They would create benefits that didn't exist in the minds of the buyers.
I remember we had one customer that had a problem where they always said, "Our paper tolerances need to be better because our machines are always jamming on us. We're buying these $35,000 photocopiers because that's what we can afford, but they're always jamming on us." One of the guys I know went up to his tech, told the tech in the demo to open the tolerances right up to some unrealistic thing that you'll never see it in a real-world situation. The guy tore 15 or 20 pieces of paper, put them in the auto feeder, hit that and they all work perfectly, but they work perfectly in ideal situations. They'll never work in life, but he sold them the photocopier and that doesn't work now.
We need to train our salespeople on how to listen better, how to be more empathetic, how to sit there and be better problem solvers. They can only do that when they understand what's happening. What does this product do? What does it not do? What are the shortcomings? We as companies are so willing to overlook the shortcomings of our product, instead of saying, “This product is great at doing this, but if you do this, our product probably is not the best thing for you.”
“Not a good fit. Thank you so much for your time.”
I think that there are too many companies out there that have the attitude. If somebody has got a Visa card in a heartbeat, they're our customer. We need to get beyond that.
One sales VP I used to work for said, "You the hold the pen, I'll move the paper, sign the contract." “You're breathing, right? You're a prospect. You can fog a mirror. We can make this work.” Those days are very much long gone. Buyers have access to way too much information, which is wonderful for us as buyers. It's easy to figure out if the product is for crap or not. Because you do a couple of searches, you can figure that out quickly. It's hard to hide those things. I think that’s the real message here. You can't hide a product that has poor performance, poor quality, or insufficient capability.
Do you find that enough companies have cross-development teams? They go out there and they bring the team together. Somebody from customer service, somebody from sales, somebody from marketing, somebody from ops, somebody from project management, together early on in the process and through the process to make sure that the different departments are being recognized and listened to as the product is being developed? Do you find that that's just a fantasy that should happen?
It's one of those things that if you ask people, they'll go, "I probably should have done that but I didn't have enough time." I like to tell our customers that a product launch, particularly one that's a new product in a new market, is likely to be the most cross-functional activity your company will ever undertake. You should cast a very wide net because virtually everybody's going to be affected in some way. The obvious ones are marketing and sales but don't forget legal and finance. What about all the other teams? Marketing, channel marketing, sales ops, customer success teams, customer support, the net has to be cast pretty wide. You don't want to cast thousands, you don't want to process by committee, but you certainly want to have what I like to call an inner and outer circle on that team. That inner circle are the ones that are absolutely critical to the success of the product launch. Without them, the launch is going to be a failure.
You have concentric circles around that. There are people that you need on a regular basis outside that ring, and then there are people on one more ring outside of that, that I like to think of as like my SMEs, my Subject Matter Experts. They're not a part of the regular team, but I need to pull Ben in because he has a particular level of skill around a certain important thing to us. We need his insight but he's not there for the regular meetings. We have the concept of a launch director, somebody who's driving the bus and somebody who has to make the hard decisions. Unfortunately in most companies, that's not a full-time position because they don't launch products very frequently.You can't hide a product that has poor performance or poor quality, or insufficient capability. Click To Tweet
In tech, we tend to do that a lot, but in other businesses like building supply and that kind of thing, you might launch a product every couple of years. You're not going to hire somebody to sit in the corner and say, "Ben, you are our launch director, you’re a full-time position." "Great. What products are we going to launch?" "We don't have anything in the queue right now. Perhaps in a year or two, we'll have something for you." They lose that muscle memory. They don't know how to do it. Conceptually, they do. They look at, "How does Apple do it? Let's just do it like Apple does it," or pick a company, Tesla, whoever is getting a lot of attention and that's who they'll turn to and go, "We need to launch like them," but they have no idea how to do it.
They don't see the inner workings.
They don’t see the sausage making going on.
They have no idea who's behind the curtain pulling the levers.
It's big and complex.
That's where I can see somebody like you adding a lot of value because you've been down this road a hundred if not hundreds of times. Instead of being that person on staff, somebody sitting in a desk, in an office somewhere with your feet up smoking a cigar and say, "Come get me when you need me." You're somebody that people can bring in on an as-needed basis who can ramp up quickly with that process already in mind and on paper that can be augmented to make sense for that actual product or service or whatever that they're doing based on the timeline.
How do people even find out that somebody like you exists? Early enough in the process because let's face it, not enough people spend enough time early on strategically figuring out what their launch. By the time they figure out they need to launch, they're probably six months into a process that they should have already been there. How do you get them to understand that this is something that has to happen on day one?
You can’t. It's like anybody who has a problem that doesn't believe they have a problem. They have to experience the problem before they can reach that point. Our best customers come from two camps. One camp is, a senior executive gets hired into a growing but immature company and looks around and goes, "We've got to put some process around this because this is going to be a train wreck." They've been there, they experienced it. The other one is, an owner or CEO of a company that says, "This is not working for me. This is a problem, we need to fix this. It's evident to me that the team I have is perfectly competent in what they do, but when it comes to launching a product, we need somebody who can guide us into developing a process that works for us that we can document and follow and we can improve over time." I've stopped trying to convince somebody. When I see a train wreck and they don't see the train wreck, there's no point trying to convince them that there's going to be a train wreck. They have to experience it. I think that's true of everything in life. Our little kids, "Don't touch that candle, you're going to burn your fingers." We teach them, but what do they do? They go up and they go, "Wah," because their fingers are burned. Sorry you had to learn that way, but that's the way it is in life.
I think that as the economy has changed, it makes far more sense for organizations to be looking outside of their organization for experts.
They're more comfortable with that now. We're a year into working remotely and figuring out how to collaborate. A lot of businesses can't do this. If I got a factory and I've got machines, I need humans there. We're more comfortable with doing what we're doing as a Zoom session, we see each other, we're comfortable with it, our cat walks across the desk, a dog barks in the background, kids are hungry. It's one of those things that we've grown to accept as okay. I don't have to be thinking about, "Dave has to get on an airplane and fly to YVR, to Vancouver, for a one-day meeting and then fly home which is cross-country for me." I could cross the continent for me.
We can get on the phone and get on Zoom and magically we're talking to each other. We can share experiences and ideas and I can do a little exploration. Here's what I tell prospective clients, I keep it super simple, "First meeting is free. If you genuinely have a problem and you want to talk through it with somebody who can give you some advice and counsel, by all means, schedule some time with me. I'll hop on a call with you for an hour." After an hour, if I don't feel like I can add any value, like my features aren't a match for your problem, if you will, I'll say, "I'm not your guy." If you're uncomfortable with it, you can say, "I don't think it's a good fit," and we can move on. I'm happy with that.
Dave, we can sit here and talk for an hour, but I’ve got to let you go. I have to ask you one last question before I let you go, because it's what I ask everybody. When you leave a meeting, and you get in your car and drive away, or you turn off the Zoom camera, or whatever we're going to do these days, what's the one thing you want people to think about you when you're not in the room?
The one thing I want them to think about is, "No matter what, that's a guy I can count on."
I think that that's important now because if you're going to be the one helping them get from zero to success, they need to know they can count on you. I know that people can. Dave, you have been an absolutely wonderful guest. Thank you.
I am so happy to be here. You gave me an opportunity to chat and talk about things that I care about, and hopefully, it'll have some impact on some of your readers, but I am deeply thankful for your invite. Maybe we can do it again sometime.
Take care. I'll talk to you soon.
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