Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come: 5 Steps to Launching Software Services Successfully
You may realize that providing excellent software service offerings is often just as important as the software, itself. But if you’re taking the quick and dirty approach you might be setting yourself up for failure. Professional services expert Ken Lownie highlights the five crucial steps to getting your program off the ground successfully.
In my last post, I shared my thinking about the key characteristics of successful service offerings for expansion-stage software and SaaS companies. This time, I want to talk through the essential ingredients of a successful plan for launching new service offerings after they are designed and developed.
Software Service Offerings are “Real” Products
My main point boils down to this: Taking new service packages to market requires all the same steps that any product launch requires. For some reason, service packages are sometimes not perceived as “real” products, and launches of service offerings tend toward the quick and dirty approach. That often means omitting key elements of a comprehensive launch plan.
The reality is that any gap in the plan for introducing new service offerings sucks the energy out of your launch, and causes a loss of momentum that is hard to overcome after the launch.
If you have taken the time and effort to define a set of new service offerings that address your customers’ needs and have a clear value proposition, make the additional effort to address each of the items below as you hash out bringing those offerings to market. If you do, you can be sure that your new service packages will hit the market fully supported by the entire company, and that they will deliver a significant positive impact on your projects, your customers, and your profits.
5 Steps to Launching Software Services Successfully
Step 1: Complete a Soft Launch
When a new restaurant opens, a soft opening is almost always part of the plan. By initiating business with a smaller or lower-risk clientele, kinks can be worked out both in the kitchen and in the front of the house.
The same is true for new services you want to bring to market. By delivering new packaged services to a lower-risk client, you can test the delivery methodology, make adjustments to the deliverables, and train the delivery team.
Are you really ready to launch your new software service offerings? Read this first.
A soft launch may involve working with an existing customer, or collaborating with one salesperson in one region to limit the scope of the introduction. It should include every element of the new offering being tested, perhaps offered at a discount with an explicit acknowledgement that the customer will provide feedback or act as a reference.
Whatever else you incorporate into your soft launch, do not undertake it until you are ready with a completely defined offering, including task lists, template deliverables and a trained team. That way you will be doing a controlled run-through of your new package, not developing it on the fly.
Step 2: Build a Communications Plan
Service offerings should have all the communications support that a product launch receives; after all, they are “real” products!
The communications plan for a new services package should include, minimally:
- Preparation of sales sheets that describe the value proposition, a summary of the tasks and deliverables, and any optional elements of the offering.
- Development of a set of slides that can be included in the company’s standard presentation as well as slides that can be dynamically included in specific sales presentations designed for different markets.
- Inclusion of the new offering on the company web site.
- Preparation of a press release with typical executive quotes and inclusion of a customer reference attesting to the value of the services (which may have been part of the deal for one of your customers during the soft launch).
- A briefing for the company’s executives with talking points for them to use in any customer, press or investor interactions.
Step 3: Train Everybody
When it comes to launching new services packages, everybody needs training, not just the delivery team.
The sales team will need to be trained on how to present and pitch the offerings. This should be full-on sales training, not just a quick mention in a regularly scheduled forecast meeting.
When I launch new services packages, I want to have the chance to fully explain the offerings, the match between different service packages and different customer scenarios, and the pricing and discounting model. I also want to complete some role play and scenario selling exercises to make sure that the team really get it.
Beyond the sales team, I want to complete awareness training for the product and marketing teams, as well as the customer support organization. This will ensure that everyone in the company, in any customer situation, uses the same language to describe the offerings and to convey the value proposition.
And of course the delivery team does need to be trained, with role-specific training that incorporates the methodology, the tool set and standard project plan. This too needs to be accomplished with a comprehensive training event that includes role-based exercises and competency testing to confirm that the delivery team thoroughly understands how to deliver the project.
Step 4: Secure Buy-in From the Sales Team
Your new services packages are going nowhere unless the sales team believes that the services are important to the success of their customers, and important to their own financial success.
I do not want to denigrate your sales team by implying that they will only present and sell your services solutions only if they have a financial incentive to do so, but at the same time, we can probably agree that it certainly won’t hurt.
Getting the incentive right is an art. I will always fight for “dollar for dollar” commissions and quota credit for services sales to avoid the implication that services are “nice” to sell but not as important as licenses or SaaS contracts. I can live with two targets, one for licenses and SaaS and a second for services, but I want the sales person to want to include the right services package with every sale, and I want her compensation plan to communicate that same objective.
Beyond quota credit and commissions, initial contests related to the new services packages will create energy and excitement. Rewards for first sale and most sales will focus the attention of the sales team during the launch period.
Step 5: Execute with Precision
Just as in any product launch, services should be introduced with energy and fanfare on a specific day, with all the elements of the launch coming together for maximum impact.
The press release should be timed to hit at an auspicious moment, whether it coincides with a trade event, a user conference, or an earnings announcement. On the same day, the new offerings should appear on the company’s website, and the new collateral material should be included everywhere product information is made available.
The company’s executives should be primed to talk to customers, press and analysts about the offerings, and, most importantly, the sales team should start including the new offerings in every sales pitch they make.
Go the Distance
Maybe the best way to capture my main point in this post is to ask you to repeat the mantra from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams: “Go the distance.”
A successful launch requires a commitment to a complete launch plan and an energetic execution of that plan. (Ironically, the other mantra from that movie, “If you build it, they will come” could not be less appropriate in this situation; if all you do is build new service offerings, don’t expect people to just show up like Shoeless Joe Jackson).
The five components of a launch plan described above may seem like overkill; after all, these are just services packages we are talking about. But service offerings are products, and need to be thought about as products in every way, from how they are designed and delivered to how they are launched and marketed.
Anything less implicitly communicates that you are not as serious about the services you provide as you are about the software you build. And that in turn reflects a lack of commitment to your customer’s success, because without effective and targeted services, your customers will not be successful users of your solution.
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