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How to turn your product launch into a people launch

Written by: Walter Ruckes, VP, Life Sciences Division
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For pharma and med device organizations, launching a new product reached a whole new level of sophistication just as the world stopped traveling and moved to a virtual environment.

What once was centered around a significant, in-person event quickly changed as companies shuttered their doors and took to the virtual world. Lost in that unexpected disruption was the dimensional experience of real human connection.

Today, it should come as no surprise that we’re seeing not only a resurgence of in-person product launches – but also a new degree of sophistication with tools and tactics learned from virtual experiences.

This new model takes the best of both worlds, boldly creates hybrid events and produces messaging more meaningful, learning more lasting and results more immediate.

What hasn’t changed? The launch of a new product or service can fail or flourish because of the people who influence its success:

- The integrated launch team has a new perspective and approach, but these changes bring new challenges to ensure everyone is on the same page

- The marketing team needs to think patient-first, but understand the needs of all of their audiences

- The training team needs to move beyond simply sharing knowledge to a more emotional connection with the content

- And sales management and reps are under even more pressure to get things right the first time and produce results from day one

First-hand experience has resulted in a set of guidelines and ideas that will help turn your next product launch into a people launch, ensuring those most important to you have what they need to succeed.


1. Are you feeling it

Knowledge is power. And actions speak louder than words. But there is a human connection between these two truisms – and that is if you are not feeling it, it’s not going to happen. An emotional connection to your new product is a must for it to be successful. The behavioral science research bears this out. Each audience, from the first meeting of your launch team to a successful physician/patient interaction, is filled with biases that each of us bring into the situation.

And the biggest challenge facing new products is a status-quo bias. Reps like products they already know and are already successfully selling. Physicians need more than just data to make a change. Deep down we all want to make changes for the better, but we need to feel good about them. Think people-first and ensure you are backing up each data point with the emotional reasons to believe.


2. Let's face it

Nothing can replace being face-to-face when creating meaningful connections, building relationships and establishing trust to attract and retain customers. That’s why most launches are returning to some form of in-person meetings whenever possible. This is perhaps most important with your sales teams. Before they can sell your new product, they need to be “sold” on it. Then they can create those meaningful connections with customers and physicians. A recent HBR article on product launches confirms that reps selling new products spend 32% more face-to-face time with customers.


3. Are you experienced

Successful people launches don’t rely on someone explaining it – they need to experience it. This answers the challenge posed in our first point: What do you want people to Know? To Feel? And to Do? Creating purposeful experiences to help people explore a new product or service ignites more engagement and interest.

Look for opportunities to offer more experiential or “immersive” learning before, during and after your launch date. These moments provide an opportunity to demonstrate and solve a need, building on necessary tools like spec sheets, brochures and sales aids.


4. Make the connection

According to the recent research we are seeing, meeting participants value human interaction more than ever before. This is only natural after a two-year break from most group travel and large meetings and events. But if the human interaction at your event isn’t meaningful, doesn’t support growth or doesn’t produce actionable results, you may find yourself having a harder time getting the same group together for the next event.

One solution may be to mix up in-person and virtual events. This allows you to start your pre-launch learning in a virtual environment. Get everyone on the same page when they are in person. And then reinforce your messages on an ongoing basis either virtually or in smaller in-person regional events. Testing different approaches will determine what is most effective to your audiences.


5. One size does NOT fit all

A people-focused approach starts with asking yourself and your audience what matters. As market complexities and competition grow, it is vital to tailor training and messaging around needs. People don’t want to be sold to. They want to feel supported. All consumers of products are also consumers of messaging – and segmentation has never been more sophisticated.

For a successful people launch, it is important to personalize the experience by creating targeted content that not only solves a problem, but also makes an emotional connection before, during and after the launch.

- A recent study of communications campaigns, where there was some level of segmentation involved, showed a 49% increase in participation for that campaign.

- In another study of 18 recent campaigns, when the same messaging strategy was used for both launch and sustainment (before, during and after), overall audience activity increased by over 350%.


6. Content on demand

How can you help the right people with the right information at the right time? Give them easy, anytime access to valuable information, data, tools and resources to support their needs. Whenever we study the effects of relevant, frequent and meaningful program communications, we see the potential of increasing audience participation by 2x – 5x more than programs that rely on an email or posting to a website.

Salespeople prefer to sell what they know. But they can’t sell what they don’t know about. An effective strategy focuses not only on facts, but feelings:

- Patients: This is all about empathy. Where are they at on their journey? How can we help them best? Who are the caregivers who also need to hear our message?

- Physicians: What is the right message and how do I deliver it?

- Sales Team: How do I find that unique fit with each salesperson so they feel empowered and enabled to sell the new product?


7. Destination collaboration

Collaboration with colleagues is critical to success. The best launch efforts involve early and ongoing alignment between teams across the entire organization, including executives, sales leadership, the field, customer service, marketing, operations, training, events and more.

Technology is making the drive to integration easier than ever. Whether you are meeting in-person or virtually, apps and launch platforms can create a sense of community for all of those involved in a launch. Messaging, learning and progress-to-goal can all be reported consistently if everyone is getting their information from the same place. Even a small amount of fragmentation up front can lead to confusion down the road.


8. Self-driving learning

Different learning styles will appreciate and activate when given a preference. People launch learning tactics include interactive apps, digital classrooms, webinars, self-study modules and quizzes. When your audience has multiple ways to hear your message and respond to learning, you greatly increase the possibility that messages will be retained.

The only tactic that doesn’t belong is an overwhelming data-dump of information. Most learners respond best to some level of gamification to make the training journey come to life. A recent large-scale gamification program targeted at sales reps proved this out:

- Complex learning topics were broken down into lessons

- Reps completed missions at their own pace

- Highly engaged users completed 9x as many lessons as those who were less engaged

- Speed to completion of essential coursework was reduced 56% since the introduction of a gamified learning experience


9. Measure twice; launch once

The old carpenter cliché that says “measure twice, cut once” is popular for a reason. Too many costly mistakes and do-overs teach us the importance of determining measurements up front. And with the millions at stake for most drug or device launches, determining your success metrics up front is even more important.

Use these categories to ensure you are on-target:

- Operational Metrics:

These should be a part of every people launch. Are we on time and on-budget? Did we get the right information to the right audience?

- Impact Metrics:

These are the leading indicators of success, and are often found through surveys or activity tracking. Training completion, learner confidence and number or percent of our target audience reached are key ways to measure the impact of our people launch efforts.

- Results Metrics:

Oftentimes the hardest to get at, and frequently lagging indicators, results metrics are the measures that matter. New product sales, margin and market share determine success or failure when the final chapter of your product’s story is written.

Whether you are building a new house, or building a business case for your new product, determining the right measurements up front is key to your success.


The power of a successful people launch.

Over the last few years, it has become clear that if your primary focus of a product launch is the product itself, you’ll miss connecting with what we believe is the most important part of a launch: the people. Your goal should be to create an experience for everyone involved, from your launch team to the patient. People launches are successful because they:

- Establish alignment across the entire organization (both individuals and teams)

- Build confidence through relevant learning and meaningful messaging

- Empower everyone involved to collaborate and contribute to the new product’s success

- Create value by making your customers and patients the heroes of your story

- Ensure success every step along the journey with thoughtful metrics and intentional measures


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Walter Ruckes

Walter Ruckes

Vice President
Life Sciences & Healthcare

As Vice President of BI WORLDWIDE’s Life Sciences & Healthcare Group, Walter Ruckes' primary focus is to develop engagement strategies and solutions that change the behaviors of employees, salespeople, channel partners and customers. With over 25 years of experience, Walter has developed strategies and programs for teams of all kinds.