A few years ago I had the opportunity to work on an ambitious project with a well known training company. It was an exciting gig. Our job was to introduce our client’s new product to the training company’s existing customers. Similar to an affiliate marketing launch – but done internally, to their own existing customers.
A lot was at stake. Our client had successfully found the “holy grail” in marketing partners. Their partner in this project, a publicly traded education company and well known brand, was interested in providing my client’s new online tools and training to their existing students. My team’s job was to create and manage the “product launch” to a list of about 10,000 active customers, leveraging education as the mechanism of introduction.
Our team actually created the second generation of my clients software product – taking a solid concept originally deployed on Ruby, enhancing it, giving it a facelift, and redeploying it using a CMS. It was a major upgrade and well received by the market. Now, it was time to bring the product to market, and the first launch was to an existing community who’s members all needed this toolset.
Getting a company to roll-out another company’s product to its own customer list a big deal. There is a lot at stake, including the company’s reputation, revenue dilution, and customer satisfaction.
When our client came to us looking for our help, we weren’t looking for work. We had just completed out best year ever, had a quarter’s worth of work queued up for the next month, and we were all looking forward to taking some time off and being with the family over the Christmas holidays. But the client was persistent. They persisted for days, in spite of my telling them “no thanks” 3 times, playing to my ego and pleading their case with amazing effectiveness (pinash, actually.) It didn’t hurt that they also bought me lunch at my favorite restaurant, offered me gifts and promised a fabulous vacation after the launch.
Whatever my objection to taking the work, they had already anticipated it, armed with an effective counter. I felt like a teenager at a new car dealership being asked which muscle car I’d like to drive home today. How could I say no? I’d look like a fool for passing up a great opportunity to work with a prestigious brand, and close the year way ahead of expectations.
My spidey senses were tingling, with my gut was telling me it wasn’t a good fit. The timing was aggressive, the demand for outstanding performance high, and the pressure could not only ruin the holidays, it could also result in a bad outcome for everyone unless everything worked absolutely perfect.
Being a student of great sales tactics – knowing all the gambits, you would think my client’s ability to effectively play my emotions would be limited. It wasn’t and I capitulated.
We accepted the project based on a few simple ground rules to keep our sanity and make sure we delivered:
We’d run the launch from our HQ. We wouldn’t have the time to cross town for project updates, and I’d need to bring my entire team if we did. We were putting 4 internal people on the launch.
The deliverables would be well defined, with no room for any scope creep or content changes once approved.
We’d be responsible for managing the launch using our own project management system so that process didn’t get in the way of progress.
We’d launch using an online learning platform that my firm had was familiar with so we wouldn’t trip over unfamiliar technology.
If the client missed any deliverables, the project could slip significantly, and if it did, we wouldn’t be responsible.
The client agreed. I gulped. We were off.
What followed was an abject lesson in how to fail on purpose, and a new term I learned called “non-negotiables.”
Product launches aren’t anything new. For the last 3-5 years, internet marketers have used this technique to introduce new products and services to their own contact lists, as well as the lists of their marketing partners. The formula is pretty simple.
Invite the list to a free training series that provides high value to the marketplace
Leverage education to demonstrate how the marketplace can independently solve their own problem
Demonstrate the effort required to solve the problem correctly
Show them a way to solve the problem better, faster, cheaper using your product or service (Give them the big easy button)
It’s a great way to explain a complex solution, demonstrate your own value thru training and education, and connect to a client’s real needs.
It’s also not easy. Doing it effectively requires man-weeks of planning, copywriting, storyboarding, filming, editing, and deployment effort. That was one reason I insisted on our platform, our timeline, & no scope creep. There was no time to learn new tools, and zero room for any mistakes.
As the project unfolded, a theme quickly developed. I’m not sure if it was Freud at work, but it was clear that what I was about to recommend as a messaging strategy for my client, and their students, (that simplicity is the key) was also what I would recommend so we could launch on time.
The goal: create a minimum viable product (or MVP in project speak). Then roll out constant enhancements every couple of weeks to the members to delight and surprise their members over and over again.
How? Focus on delivering the essential few steps, processes, ideas required to deliver an MVP for each part of the program, regardless of the full functionality available.
When we first met my client’s marketing partner, (the one with 10K customers,) we did a quick exercise to understand the audience. The goal – define the “customer” in personal, relevant terms. Develop a real “persona” or avatar (not the blue humanoid kind of Avatar. A meta-data set of demographics, psychographics and buying behaviors that clearly identifies the customers wants, needs, desires, fears, pain and significant problem our client could solve).
The data from these exercises can be informing, surprising, even down-right spooky. For example, our client’s marketing partner learned that their customers spend up to $60K on advanced training, only to fail and take action. The reason? They were vapor-locked, paralyzed by a lethal combination of fear and overwhelm, and couldn’t overcome the inertia of inaction to get started. Think about that. They were clearly invested, committed, and at risk, but would fail to take action.
This, oddly enough, was the same time my wife Desiree and I were already trying to become practitioners of simplicity at home. When trying to teach our kids about what really matters (and keep it simple so a 4 and 8 year old could understand it) we distilled our family values to the essential few things – tell the truth, don’t hurt anyone, and keep your commitments. Like raising kids, the more we worked on this project, the more it became clear to me how really important it was to consistently focus on the essential few.
To teach any sport, art, skill every great coach starts with the essential few steps, concepts or skills. A quick review of the fastest growing franchises will reveal that they all grow fast because they focus their teams on the essential few. Walmart is successful because its uncomplicated. So was McDonalds, Taco Bell, Chipotle. Every fast growth enterprise I could think of shared this one single value: focus most of our efforts on the essential few. While any group can learn a lot over time, we can’t learn a lot all at once and put it all into practice at the same time.
In this case, the essential few was replaced by the many extras. My clients approach – create an overwhelming value proposition that a prospect couldn’t say no too (a great strategy, by the way, especially when the product is completed, there is time to develop the platform, and all the pieces are in place.)
But for a company that only weeks ago finished their product, and was committed to a launch mere days from the date we started, it was the strategy that nearly caused massive failure across the board.
While we did run the launch from our office, nothing else listed in my “non-negotiable” list remained a constant.
The product’s features changed.
The marketing copy changed.
The goto market changed.
New bonuses, add-ons and features continued right up to launch day.
Work had to be done, re-done, and re-set.
All of this stole time from the team, the client, and the project deliverables. By failing to say “no” to those items that were not part of the original scope (because being of service was my “Love Language”), and saying yes to every “small accommodation” we pleased no one.
My team became over-worked, during a time when they should have been taking time off.
The client grew frustrated with a slipping deadline, forgetting it was their requests (and at times demands) that pushed the project out.
The project suffered from a lack of focus, and while it launched on time, wasn’t anywhere near what the client or I thought would be the deliverable.
Because we failed to focus first on the essential few items that had to be done.
Some would simply label this outcome as the result of poor time management. Steven Covey, the brilliant author of 7 Habits for Highly Effective People would say you can’t manage time. It marches on regardless of what you do. It can’t be added to or subtracted from. All you can manage is priority, and what you give focus and priority to is what changes.