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How to Wreck a Good Product in 90 Days or Less

Why settle for success when you can guarantee failure?

The purpose of this article is to tell you how to take a perfectly good (or even a great) product that you've potentially spent years and millions of dollars creating - and thoroughly and efficiently ruin it in the shortest amount of time possible.

"Why would I want to do that?," you might ask.  Honestly, I don't know why.  But there must be a good reason because I see it happen with shocking regularity.

For those of you who have read my article "Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?," that article was written to help products succeed in the marketplace.  I'd advise you to ignore that article, as it's advice runs contrary to the purpose of this article - achieving market failure.

So, You've Developed a Great Product....
My frame of reference tends to be software - but the principals apply just as well to hardware, any "high tech" product, even consumer packaged goods.  Perhaps you or your company has created the next great SaaS or Cloud software product.  Or maybe it's the most amazing Ketchup the world has ever tasted.  The concept remains the same.

No matter the industry, we're talking about scenarios where you've invested a lot of time and money to create a product, and now it's time to think about bringing it to market and hope that you sell a lot of it.

A Product Launch
Bringing a new product to market is a marketing and sales process (not an event) called a Product Launch.  It is one of the most critical parts of a go-to-market strategy.

Very few of them are successful - only 3% of them.  I didn't make that number up - it's in an April 2011 article in the Harvard Business Review.  And 3% is optimistic - it's based on Consumer Packaged Goods vendors like Proctor & Gamble - companies that do marketing better than any other industry "period."  If anyone can pull off a successful product launch, it's a company like P&G.

If these heavily marketing-driven companies only achieve product launch success 3% of the time, the track record for Software - with its notoriously incompetent, sloppy, shoot from the hip, metrics-free, measurement-free and methodology-free marketing approach is at best 1%. Most software succeeds despite marketing, not because of it.

Take a Moment and Reflect
You're an entrepreneur and you've spent a year or more developing a product.  Probably hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.  You're betting your future and the future of a lot of people on this investment.

Or you're a bigwig executive at some corporation and you've spent millions and millions of dollars of shareholder money to develop a new product (or major enhancement to an existing product).  You've made serious commitments to the C-levels and the board.

I am officially telling you that your odds of success are approximately 1 in 100.  Perhaps a 1 in 10 chance of "just scraping by".

Your product will not live up to expectations.  You will lose a lot of money on the product.  You'll quite possibly lose your company or job, or suffer a significant career setback.  Other people in the organization will be impacted.

How to Succeed?
Now is where I shift the tone of this article and tell you how to succeed, right?  Umm, no.  My goal is to deliver on the promise I made in the title - how to pretty much eliminate any chance of success and how to reduce the odds of "just scraping by" from 10% to perhaps 1%.

In writing this article, I am reflecting back on 25 years of life in the software industry.  I'm digging up some memorable disasters, stripping out anything that was done right, and distilling all of that badness into a small number of actionable things that you can do to guarantee product failure.

Product Failure
Note that I didn't say "product launch failure" - I said "product failure."  If the product launch process is unsuccessful, the product will fail.  That's the way it works.

I'm not making that up.  Check around - Google the term "product launch definition."  Pragmatic Marketing - a champion of bringing real, grown-up, measurable and effective marketing to the software industry defines it as "the process of bringing a product to market in such a way that it generates sales velocity." No sales velocity = no success.

Note: Avoid browsing the Pragmatic Marketing website. It is chock-full of "best practices," and other such things that are focused on maximizing success.

What do I mean by "product failure" - the product doesn't sell. Sales of the product don't meet expectations. The commitments made to investors, the board, C-levels are broken.  Money that is spent on staffing up in anticipation of a successful product is wasted.

Predicting Failure
There are two major predictors of whether a product will be successful in the marketplace:

1) Does the product do something important?

2) Is there a strong plan to "bring the product to market"?

If the answer to either one of these answers is "NO," then you've succeeded in creating a plan for failure.

Six-Point Plan for Recovery
Congratulations. Rather than leaving failure to chance, you've planned for it - nearly guaranteed it.

That gives you extra time to plan for the "post-failure recovery plan," which is important.  Although I'm quite critical of the typical level of marketing maturity in the software industry, I can say without a doubt that software marketeers are some of the best "recovery planners" in the business.

From what I've observed, a six-point plan is optimal. These tasks should be followed in order - if done well, you may only need to go as far as item #2,#3 or #4.

Recovery Plan:

1) Start talking about external factors - the economy, the competition, etc.

2) If at all possible, get promoted ahead of the "crash and burn"

3) Backpedal on goals and commitments and otherwise reset expectations that were "too aggressive and unrealistic" - get the board and the C-suite to own the mistake

4) Blame the sales department for lack of execution and get the head of sales sacked

5) Shift the focus to product development because the product isn't good enough (this rarely works, but it will buy you some time)

6)  Try to re-launch the product (truly a last-ditch "Hail Mary" maneuver)

Moving Forward
Hopefully I've convinced you that the path to destroying a perfectly good product lies in sabotaging the product launch. That way you maximize the damage to the company and to yourself.

Simply creating a bad product is an inferior option - there's a strong likelihood that the product will get canceled and thus the damage minimized. Or the product might be a sales success even though the product itself is weak (the first three releases of products for one particular software vendor are often cited).

My next article, scheduled for release tomorrow, will provide a detailed template on how to architect a "crash and burn" product launch - as well as a checklist for you to follow, so you can make sure you've gotten everything wrong.

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis has established himself as a successful software marketing and technology expert. His various strategy, marketing and technology articles are read nearly 50,000 times a month. He is currently Director for Global Marketing Operations for Dell Software Group.

Hollis has developed substantial expertise in middleware, SaaS, Cloud, data management and distributed application technologies, with over 20 years experience in marketing, technical, product management, product marketing and business development roles at leading companies in such as Pervasive, Aruna (acquired by Progress Software), Sybase (now SAP), webMethods (now Software AG), M7 Corporation (acquired by BEA/Oracle), OnDisplay (acquired by Vignette) and KIVA Software (acquired by Netscape). He has established himself as an industry expert, having authored a large number of technology white papers, as well as published media articles and book contributions.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on creating great software: Software Marketing 2013.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

Additional information is available at HollisTibbetts.com

All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.