So you want to bring a new product or service to market. You've done your homework and decided exactly what you plan to offer; now all you need to generate is sales. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But every day, countless new product and service ideas are conceived--never to be born because they're not properly brought to market. In fact, a large percentage of the calls my company's coaches receive are from small-business owners who want exactly this sort of help. And we carefully guide them through these seven important steps that will help them successfully bring their new products and services to market.

1. Study your competition. Many business marketing classes teach participants how to perform a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. You have to start by taking a serious look at your competitors. Make a list of the businesses that offer products or services similar to the one you plan to launch. Even if you think your new product or service is entirely unique and without existing competition, it's important to put yourself in your prospective customers' shoes and imagine what they might buy in lieu of what you plan to offer. Once you decide whom your competitors will be, review their marketing materials, including their ads, brochures and websites. Evaluate how your new product or service will stand up against what's already being offered, in what ways you'll excel, and which companies or their offerings pose the greatest threats to your success.

2. Target the ideal customer. To successfully launch your new product or service with minimum financial outlay, it's essential to focus exclusively on the prospects you believe are most likely to purchase from you. These may be customers who are currently buying something similar and will appreciate the additional features your new product or service provides. Your best prospects have a perceived need for what you offer, can afford to buy it and have demonstrated a willingness to do so--probably by purchasing from your competition. Bear in mind, it's always easier to fill a need than to create one.

3. Create a unique value proposition. At this stage, you should have a clear understanding of what you must offer in order to stand apart from your competition and who will want to take advantage of your offer. But do you know why customers will want to buy from you vs. the vast field of competitors out there? What benefits and features will you provide that your prospective customers will value most? The bottom line is that your product or service "bundle" should be unique and meet the needs and desires of your best prospects.

4. Define your marketing strategy and tactics. Next, choose your sales and marketing channels. Will you market online, via catalog or through dealers, for example? Generally, multichannel marketers achieve the greatest success because customers who can shop when and however they like tend to spend more and shop more often. Suppose your strategy is to market a low-cost workout device to people who can't afford gym memberships or high-priced home equipment. You might choose traditional direct marketing plus online sales as your primary channels, and employ tactics including direct-response TV spots and online ads and e-mail solicitations that link to your website.

5. Test your concept and marketing approach. With all the money it takes to bring a new product or service to market, it's foolhardy to rush headlong into the launch phase prior to testing. What should you test? It's best to examine your product or service bundle plus your marketing message and you're your marketing materials. Depending on what you plan to market and your budget, you can use formal focus groups (or simply host roundtable discussions with members of the target audience), employ online research or mall intercept studies, or distribute your product to a select group of users for testing. Only after testing is complete, should you proceed to the final creation of your marketing tools and materials.

6. Roll out your campaign. Public relations often plays a vital role in the launch of a product or service. You can use media relations tactics to place articles and win interviews, get coverage by allowing key press to review your product, hold a launch event, or use grass roots marketing to build buzz. But no matter what publicity route you choose, first make sure your product or service is completely ready and available for purchase in order to maximize returns from the coverage you receive. And your other marketing efforts should follow closely on the heels of your press roll out. Monitor the results from all media, and in the first weeks and months, be prepared to adjust your campaign to take advantage of what's working best.

7. Know your product's lifecycle. The campaign you use during the introduction and education phase of your product or service launch will need to be updated as your product or service matures. If you're monitoring your marketing results carefully, you'll begin to see diminishing returns that will indicate when it's time to revise the product or service itself, alter your media message, or even phase out this particular offering and lay the groundwork for the launch of your next great idea.