Expansion

4 Questions to Ask Before Doing a National Product Rollout

4 Questions to Ask Before Doing a National Product Rollout
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As an entrepreneur, the thought of a disastrous product rollout can keep you up at night. Every year, however, companies both big and small miss the mark.

For instance, Apple launches a new iPhone with different features and services almost every year. And each year -- regardless of how effective the advertising, how timely the product debut or how efficient the distribution -- it always encounters a hiccup.

This year was no different. The release of the iPhone 6 Plus ran smoothly until customers reported that it was vulnerable to bending and the allegedly glitch-free iOS software disabled cell service. And if it can happen to Apple, it can happen to you.

Of course, national product rollouts are complicated undertakings with room for error, which is why even Apple messes them up sometimes. But a successful national rollout is achievable -- it just requires a little planning. A solid strategy is crucial to any product launch, from the initial phase to the national rollout.

Related: A Primer for Expanding Into New Markets

For example, when my company launched a lead-buying system this year, we used a strategic plan to guide our every move. During the initial rollout, we targeted a few hundred users across a limited number of U.S. regions, gradually expanding product coverage nationally. This strategy allowed us to test the software, fix glitches, create add-ons and enhance the user experience to make sure our product was in tip-top shape before the national rollout.

When crafting your plan, you have to keep three components in mind: timing, distribution and promotion. Each plays a crucial role in the success of your launch.

If your project timeline is disorganized, you risk losing credibility. If demand is higher (or lower) than expected, you’ll have distribution issues. And if your promotional efforts don’t educate the audience, build hype and effectively deliver your message, you won’t make sales.

For a successful rollout, your operation needs to be fully staffed; your marketing campaign has to educate and excite; your distribution should be set with a reliable forecast; and your key vendors, providers and third-party supporters should be prepared for fast-paced scaling.

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Once you’ve incorporated these factors into your strategy, ask yourself these four questions to determine whether you’re ready to launch:

1. Have you done enough market research?

You need to research market trends to confirm that your product is exactly what your customers want and need. Intuition can only take you so far, so use revenue projection assessment tools, such as customer segmentation and price modeling.

For example, when Microsoft launched Windows Vista in 2007, the target audience rejected the new operating system because it was rife with compatibility and performance issues. Microsoft spent $500 million on marketing, with the expectation that half the users would upgrade to the premium version. But it didn’t ask the right questions, and the rollout flopped.

2. Have you tested the market?

Market testing and pilot projects provide valuable insight into how your customers will use your product, what they’re willing to pay, what features it lacks and what bugs need to be fixed. Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad failed after the technology didn’t meet users’ high expectations. If HP had utilized a better “test, measure and iterate” cycle, the TouchPad could have been a success instead of an $885 million write-off.

3. Is your rollout timeline realistic and complete?

Every element of your product release should be carefully scheduled, and your product’s promotion and production should be aligned. Any mistakes in your rollout’s timing will hurt your budget and your reputation, so be realistic about lead times for product development, testing, quality assurance, commercialization, marketing and distribution.

4. Do you have a contingency plan?

Every rollout has issues, but planning can mitigate the risk of costly problems, so prepare to solve issues immediately, such as increasing supply if demand is higher than expected.

The best way to execute a seamless launch is to wait until you’re fully ready. The fewer kinks you have in your national rollout, the better off you’ll be. You’ve worked hard on product development; by dedicating the same energy to planning the rollout, you’ll ensure that your product captures the national excitement it deserves. 

Related: 9 Questions to Ask When Assessing a Market