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Pound Takes » Blog Archive » Use feedback to launch without risk
Ideas on Engineering Breakthrough Applications

Use feedback to launch without risk

Reading Don’t launch this morning on On Startups inspired me to share a strategy for launching new products. This strategy fits extremely well with products and services that employ agile development teams, as they embrace feedback and change. Re-launching your product every two months is not something many businesses or development teams can stomach.

I should clarify one important thing upfront, we are referring to the marketing event of launching a product, which typically includes some combination of PR, advertising and events. Unfortunately, a lot of new businesses and product teams seem to focus on the product launch as one of their first major milestones. Read the Don’t Launch article to see all the problems this mentality can create. The focus of this article is a strategy for reducing risk and leveraging feedback when launching a product.

The good news is that this strategy will bring about a launch event much quicker. What will be tough for many to swallow is that the launch will be small, underwhelming, and managed with an analytical mindset, rather than a marketing one.

Here’s how to do it: Launch one customer at a time, or to a handful of customers at a time.
By doing this, you can follow up, react, tweak and over serve these new customers. Then, do something with that feedback to improve the product. This is not a beta launch, but a controlled and focused rollout to a select customer or batch of customers that you will focus all of your resources on.

Use google Ad Words, targeted invites or a trade show to introduce and sign up a few new customers at a time -  1 to 100 - depending on the price point and service requirements of the product. You can even be honest with them and tell them this is not a fully complete product.

Sign them up and make it terribly easy for them to provide feedback. Give them the tools and attention to tell you what they like and don’t like. Don’t forget automatic feedback that can be captured in traffic and analytics tools.

OK, this is the part that is hard for most teams to follow through on.

Whenever you get feedback, or enough time passes without receiving any, follow up with the customer(s). If they ask for help, something extra or an additional service you hadn’t considered including in the product, give it to them. Give them more than they ask for if you can (Careful: this does not apply to features. Giving everyone every feature they ask for in without filter can quickly kill a product). Use the interaction as a chance to delight them and humanize your product/service. They won’t forget it, and they’ll feel more compelled to answer the surveys you send them to collect more feedback.

Once a predetermined amount of time has passed, and enough intelligence has been gathered, take the time to review it, debate it, analyze your options and refine your product (or create new ones). Change our price. Remove a feature. Rename things. Improve things. Whatever the data and feedback tell you is the next logical step in developing the product. Embrace the 80/20 rule here, and don’t enter a longer cycle than needed to introduce the changes you feel will have the most impact.

You’ll want to do two things with the new product that comes about from your learning during the previous launch:

  • introduce it to the early customers who help shaped it to gauge their response and demonstrate that you are listening.
  • repeat your previous product launch with the new intelligence and more mature product to a new set of customers.

Regarding the second one, you may or may not have wanted to stop the search engine marketing or other method of signing up the initial batch of customers (if something is bringing you more of the right customers, don’t stop it!). If you have, starting it again will provide a clear and easy way to compare the data sets. If you maintained these campaigns or the advertising you used is still bringing new customers in, try and create an isolated set of campaigns or other advertising that will allow you to compare the results of the newer product attributes and refinements you’ve made. Asking the new customers to enter a promo code when signing up is one of the easiest ways.

Repeat this process as often as you can without blurring the lines between launches. Each release should bring you more and/or better customers. If they aren’t, then you misread the feedback.

Launching a product to a single or small batch of customers will really allow you to maximize the value of that customer, both in loyalty and feedback. Contrast this to a single PR-driven launch, where your resources are tapped and typically misappropriated to solving problems and reaching out to unsatisfied customers.

Repeat these targeted launches for as long as you are learning and growing your customer base. As often as every month, and no longer than every six months. One day, the PR and explosive adoption event
might land on your doorstep. Hopefully, your controlled launches and learning will allow you to be intelligent and flexible enough to keep up with the challenges that come with scale.

It’s a lot easier to deal with scale and fitting your product to the market if you don’t have to do them simultaneously, which is what a big launch event does to you.

If you are going to release a new product, I recommend researching customer development.

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