What I Learned from My Biggest Product Failure

What I Learned From My Biggest Product Failure

When you look at someone’s online profile, you’re usually seeing the best version of them. It’s the same on LinkedIn. I'm no exception. Use my profile as an example. I’m showing the world everything that I’ve done in business that I’m proud of and even my profile photo was chosen because I finally recognized cutting the face off the person next to me in my previous profile photo didn't look the most professional when I was launching my new company. Add the good lighting and the skills of a professional photographer and you may not know I haven’t slept in 3.5 years since having kids!

But as proud as I am about my success stories, they don’t tell the full picture. I signed projects I had to later cut. I hired people that I later had to let go. There were years I didn’t hit my sales goal with certain portfolios. You don’t see these on my resume, but they are there - I’ve learned from them and they’ve helped shape me. They are all a big part of my experience. There is one particular project that significantly impacted the way I develop and market content and continues to impact how I work now that is worth sharing.

The specifics of this particular project do not need to be shared. It should be enough to say that this project was not rushed; it had been in development for some time. It had a very experienced team working on it. It had a reputable author team. The writing was great. The scholarship was current. It had everything going for it.

We launched it. It failed.

So, what happened?

For this post, I am putting aside those factors that are out of control of the development team. We are all well aware of the market conditions and external forces that can impact a year; enrollments are up or down, rep turnover is high, key territories are open part of the year, etc. There are things that the product team can control and there are things we cannot. For this particular project I had some misses on what I could control, and my key takeaways from this are below:

Never hesitate to ask each other the tough questions

My biggest failure on this project was that I simply wasn’t as involved as I should have been pre-launch. The project had been in development for a long time before I became the Managing Director and was already in the process of starting to turn over to production when I started the new role. With the number of new responsibilities I was taking on and learning in this new capacity, I didn’t dig in nearly deep enough on this particular project. I didn’t ask enough questions so therefore wasn’t able to critically listen to the responses to see the red flags that should have been raised. As a leader I should have been the one raising them. I didn’t want my new team to think I didn’t trust them, or that I didn’t think their work was good enough, or step on toes after they had been working on this project for so long. These were my mistakes. I have since come to realize that you aren’t doing anyone any favors if you shy away from asking the tough questions or hesitate to give constructive criticism to anyone on the team. As the saying goes, even Tiger Woods needs a swing coach. Everyone benefits when they are on a team that is asking each other the kinds of questions that ensure the product is ready to launch.

Never hesitate to ask people to show/share their work

If I would have asked to see this project’s target tracking list, I would have uncovered some red flags. I didn’t. If I would have read more of the reviews, I would have had a lot of follow-up questions about how the team was interpreting the responses. I didn’t read enough. I went to the meetings when reviews and target strategies were discussed, but I didn’t get into the weeds enough to be able to ask the tough questions that were needed. Had I done this, perhaps it would have been more successful. I can’t know for certain, but I know this to be true - if market development efforts aren’t wide enough and deep enough, you aren’t ready. If I would have looked I would have seen we weren’t there.

After this project, my approach changed. I met with my team at the start of each project to make sure we could all see the activity happening in a very transparent and easy way - who was involved, how often, what was the result and what was the plan going forward. The team wound up creating a consistent market development approach that we could scale across the board that would benefit future projects. I came to realize, everyone benefits by having eyes on their work and receiving feedback for how to make it better.

Always ensure market development is WIDE enough….

The idea of market development is simple - developing your market while you’re developing your product. The disciplined nature of how to effectively market develop, however, varies widely. As I said above, if you aren’t wide enough and deep enough in your efforts, you aren’t ready. You have to have a wide enough number of potential targets in your funnel that you engage with throughout the product development process. You have to have enough planned activities to continue the momentum throughout the development life cycle. Those that you’re actively engaging throughout the process should have a vote on the selection committee or have the autonomy to make their own adoption decision. Each company will have a different expectation for how wide their funnel needs to be - engaging with potential customers whose enrollment represents 5X your goal? 6X? Whatever the goal you’re striving towards, the plans you have in place should ensure you’ve got enough people involved in your process.

...AND deep enough.

Regardless of how many people you have in your funnel, though, you need to also ensure that your efforts with each of them is deep enough. You may have gotten 200 of your top targets involved at some point in your market development efforts, but one review with one potential customer over the development of your product doesn’t make them very likely to adopt it. You need multiple, strategic engagements with strong follow-ups throughout the process with key people you need to come on board.


So, while you may just see detailed information on my biggest wins on LinkedIn, I have learned a lot from the misses as well; this one in particular. I use all of these experiences to help shape how I work with clients who are are in the process of developing and launching products so they don't feel the sting of a miss as I did on this project.

Whether you are launching a revision or a first-to-market program, could your team benefit from an experienced consultant asking the team the types of questions that help ensure they are ready to launch? Would your project benefit from a detailed market development plan with strategic flows of customer engagement throughout? Do you need some more people on the team to make all of this happen? Contact us. We are happy to help.