Conquering the Last Mile of Product Launches

5 People that R&D Should Work With

Great engineers don’t design great products. At least not by themselves. Engineers can think of, design and develop the world’s greatest idea, but if the product falls flat in the market, then it’s not a great product. Great products require coordination of everyone involved — sales, marketing, partners, operations — to complete the last mile of product launches.

I should know. I’ve been on both sides of the equation. When I was a young mechanical engineer, I designed a bunch of products, collaborated with procurement to drive down part costs, and worked with outsourcing partners to iron out any issues during production. The end result? Some well-designed, easy to manufacture, high-margin products. According to engineering best practices, I was doing a great job!

But as a naive engineer, I didn’t realize that was just the start of the product journey. A few years later (ok, a lot of years later), I’ve been through dozens of hardware and software product launches. While some products ran into technical or operational roadblocks to market success, there was one common thread that usually dictated whether a product would take off or not.

The one key to market success was the last mile of field enablement.

Sure, it’s critical to have well-designed and targeted products. But without a market ready and primed to accept new ideas, success is very difficult. So how do you get that market ready and get your channels to help you with that last mile of new product launches? There are 5 key people that engineers should embrace to ensure their products succeed in the market:

  • Marketing: yes, Marketing looks evil, especially if you’re an engineer. However, Marketing is critical for translating engineer-speak into customer-friendly benefits. A few customers may know what a 3% increase in battery efficiency means, but all customers will know what 1 extra hour of battery life can do for them. Engineers should work with Marketing to determine the best way to position and sell all the great features they’ve been working on. Marketing can then get the ground work ready for sales enablement, sales tools, campaigns and more.
The field needs to know when they should start selling new products — as well as STOP selling products (a la Takata airbag).
  • Direct Sales: for those industries that have a direct sales force, salespeople need to know how to quickly explain the key features and benefits for new products. They also need to know when they can sell a new product, when new pricing takes place, and when they should stop selling defective (or even dangerous) products.
An example of a manufacturer line card with all the different brands a distributor sells. (Courtesy: California Lighting Sales)
  • Channel Sales: whether it’s an online store, retail stores or distributors, it’s critical for all channels to understand the key differentiators of your product versus all the other products they have in their product catalog. Because your channels usually deal with multiple line cards (including your competitors), it’s important to communicate clearly why their customers would care about your new products, why your products would be better for their specific channel, and how you’ll make their lives easier.
  • Service Partners: more complex products typically have a healthy ecosystem of service partners who install, maintain and repair products. As product ideas are being worked on, it’s important to keep service partners in the loop. They will often have ideas for features that current customers would like (and pay for), as well as ideas for making products easier to deploy and maintain. In some industries, service partners are almost like an extension of your sales team, so they need to be able to get sales enablement tools tailored for their needs.
Engineers should collaborate early on with companies that make related products. (Courtesy: Otterbox)
  • Product Partners: many products also have a network of companies who make related products, e.g., Otterbox cases for Apple iPhones or Rain-X wiper blades for Toyota vehicles. To make your products even stickier in the marketplace, you should collaborate with high-priority partners. Besides launching your new product, you’ll then have a whole network of related products that will appeal to a greater number of customers. Plus, you’ll also get more loyal partners who will want to keep developing products for your customers.

So can engineers make great products by themselves? Sure, but for every company who thinks they’ve developed the next iPhone that will take the world by storm, there are 999 others that need the sales, marketing and partners to help them overcome the last mile of new product introductions.

See how Propel helps companies manage the entire product lifecycle process — from idea to design to sale.