Episode 46

How to ensure a successful product launch?

Category :  Sales & Distribution

Thanks to all our listeners for the phenomenal positive feedback that you gave us for Season 1 of the Counterpoint Podcast. We are now back with Season 2. Companies launch new products and services frequently with the intention of offering customers new experiences while increasing their own market share. Unfortunately, there is a big risk - no one can guarantee the success of a new product. In this episode of the Counterpoint Podcast, we will examine the mystery behind new product failures, identify the core conflict underlying them and discuss steps to enable the success of every new product or service you launch.  

Shubham Agarwal Have you ever wondered if fantastic innovations like Google Lens didn’t see the light of the day and its parent company, Google itself, was finding it hard to get funding in its initial years because no one believed in the model? Still, today we can’t even think about a life without a Google search. Or take Blockbuster and Netflix, they both were DVD renting companies, and Blockbuster wanted to buy Netflix at one point, but come today, Blockbuster is history. And Netflix. It is where it is today.

So why do some products fail while others become a rage in society?

In this episode of The counterpoint podcast, we’re going to go deep into understanding the whole process of creating a tool or a product and hashing out the real problem.

For the discussion, we have Malik Rafi with us. He’s a senior consultant with the Vector Consulting Group, an experience of more than ten years in transforming customer management processes leading to the loyalty of consumers and sales enhancements. He is our go-to guy for anything to do with customer process transformations using technology as an enabler. But strangely, he is a tech lover and a tech-averse guy simultaneously – quite a paradox, isn’t it? We will discover more about this strange paradoxical viewpoint during the discussion.

So let’s welcome him. Hi, Malik. Welcome to the Counterpoint Podcast. How are you?

Malik Rafi Hi Shubham.
Shubham Agarwal So Malik, to start the discussion, I want to understand if Vector also invests in tools and technology that could enhance its clients’ business performance.
Malik Rafi Yeah. So many listeners need to learn that Vector develops many products and services for our clients, tailor-made to the needs of the client. In fact, we’ve launched multiple apps and portals to hack into the client’s growth and ensure that the users are hooked on to the product. In fact, we’ve launched many loyalty programmes using industry-leading apps, and we’ve had a lot of users. By and by users, I mean people who are relevant to the client, such as plumbers, contractors, masons, architects, this kind of relevant audience; we’ve launched these tools, and they’ve grown exponentially. And they’ve given fantastic results to clients in terms of user engagement in terms of loyalty from the users, in terms of feedback coming to the client, and the data visible to the client. So the power of live data coming directly from the users is immense. Imagine you have live data on what the plumber or contractor sells to customers. And you can make decisions on that, marketing decisions, product placement decisions. So it’s incredible what people can do with that data.
Shubham Agarwal That’s great to know. As I said in the intro, I also want to understand why a product succeeds or fails. Is it the marketing and publicity done for the product, or is it anything else?
Malik Rafi Let us take the example of a tool you know, an organisation built to help ease the order placement process by the distributors and its partners. And this would not just make it easier for the distributors but also fasten the process, and you know, give better reaction time, thereby reducing the lead time it takes for the company to process and dispatch the orders. Now, on the face of it, the tool sounds like a breakthrough into the conventional ways of managing supply chains. And the initial feedback from the distributors was also highly positive, as I’ve heard, but when the rubber hit the road, it left everyone wondering what went wrong. So what problem was the organisation trying to solve? Let us first try to find that with this tool.
Shubham Agarwal This sounds interesting. What was the first step that you took to solve the mystery?
Malik Rafi This was a very interesting case presented to us by one of our clients. They wanted us they know about our product, province, and the kind of products we’ve launched for other clients. So they wanted us to understand why. And a product that they had launched about four or five years back with a lot of hoopla, needed to be fixed with their distributors and customers. So this is a significant client in the chemical industry. And they have two businesses, key accounts and channel business; key accounts are the big players, the people, the big industries who buy their product and the channel businesses, small and medium scale industries. So they wanted to foray into and get direct customer data without any intermediary through this tool. They wanted to avoid any distributor placing orders on them. They just wanted the distributors to be service agents. They wanted the distributors to focus on what they’re supposed to focus on and not on collecting orders, not on processing orders. So they launched this tool with a lot of hallah and excitement about four or five years back, and people didn’t use it. And they launched incentives. They tried to influence their customers by having training sessions and making user interface changes. And at the end of the day, there was some increase in usage, and then it fell flat. So the client called us to understand why this is happening. And this was a very interesting case for your listeners and us.
Shubham Agarwal So, when the client called you, what was the problem statement they gave you? Like, what did they say?
Malik Rafi Yeah, the problem statement was very simple. We have launched this tool; we spent crores of rupees, and people are not using it; please help us understand why.
Shubham Agarwal Okay
Malik Rafi That was the problem statement.
Shubham Agarwal And what did you do next? How would you approach the entire thing?
Malik Rafi So we told them your product is crap. You have to make a new one. No, we didn’t tell them that. So, this is where it gets interesting. So we have a scientific thinking approach that’s very different from how other people think. So we use the basic, the fundamental first principle thinking of science to try and understand why a problem is happening, go into the causality and try and find the root cause of the problem. And then, we come up with solutions based on the root cause and not based on the symptoms. Okay, so the symptoms. So suppose you are the client, and I asked you what problems you are facing while you know you’re launching this product. So you, you would come up and tell me, and the client came up and told us that people need help understanding the tools flow? See, it’s very simple; people are not using it because they need to put in their efforts. There, and the tool is so simple, they can look at the price data, see how much they’re going to get the material and have live information about certificates that they were generating, quality certificates that they used to generate. So the client assumed that we solved so many things for the customers, and they should be using it. So the kinds of reasons they were giving were the very first, very high-level reasons. So what we did is we went and talked to the people who are using.
Shubham Agarwal Distributors, users, yeah.
Malik Rafi The users that the tool was intended for.
Shubham Agarwal And what did they say?
Malik Rafi Interestingly, the distributors were forced to use the tool because there was no other way to place orders with the company. So the distributor usage was near 100%. Right. But the customers who were not using it, customers who are attached to the distributors or the key account customers. So we didn’t want to understand the usage from distributors; we tried to understand it from the end users, the end intended customers. So we started the conversation, and similar reasons were coming up; sir, this isn’t easy to understand, and the user interface is not easy. But we realised that there were some use some customers who were using it. And these are the corner cases, and these are the black swans, okay? So to say. So we talked to the black swans, and the black swans were like, this product is very simple to use; please come, we will show you, and you can, you can punch an order on your own. And you can understand
Shubham Agarwal That’s very interesting that there were such polarised views from the same category of people.
Malik Rafi Yeah, so that’s where things get interesting. Whenever there is a paradox in science, people say that this is when we can make a breakthrough.
Shubham Agarwal Yeah.
Malik Rafi So this was a paradox for us. So we went and talked to those customers. And we realised that the portal was very easy. The user interface was fantastic. The speed of execution of the order was fantastic. And people should have adopted this in hordes when the tool was launched. Right? So this is where we had a new mystery that came up. So the user interface is great, the tool’s speed is great, and people will discover functionality in the tool very quickly. People who use apps will realise that there is a term called functionality discovery, which is what button does what you should not give a user manual for apps. Imagine if you have to use an app with a user manual that comes with it; please click this, and then this will happen, and then that will happen. So people are not going to use it. So that tool was very good. Right? So we created a hypothesis. The first hypothesis was the tool’s user interface could have been better. That hypothesis got nullified; okay, that got invalidated. Then we generated another hypothesis that the tool is great, but people have some inertia; people need to get a push, and when the push comes to shout, people start using it. So we realised that if something that can be given, if a sweetener can be given to the end user, maybe they can, you know, discover the tool and start using it, then they’ll be adopted. But interestingly, the client had tried a sweetener three or four years back, and they had launched a very lucrative incentive. And incentives are sometimes beneficial as tools for breaking inertia to adopt a product that worked for them; their usage figures jumped twice or thrice and then fell flat again. So we realised that the incentive did not work for a deeper reason. Now our second hypothesis is also got nullified. Now we were left with no hypothesis. So we had now, in the absence of a hypothesis, the best thing to do is go and become the user and understand from a user’s perspective what is missing. Right? So what we did is we went to a user, we went to their office, we sat in their warehouse, we went opened their computer and started punching orders. Okay? And then we realised that it’s not just about punching the order or getting the information; it’s about a whole lot of other questions that need to be answered before an order can be placed in the first place. For example, how much quantity am I going to get? If I place an order of 100 metric tonnes? For example? Am I going to get 150 160? How much am I going to get? I don’t know. And there has been a history that when I order 100, I only get part of the quantity. Sometimes I get half; I get 70%.
Shubham Agarwal Oh, so people pump up the quantities likewise. And then place the order.
Malik Rafi Yeah, people used to pump up quantities or just to get fed up and realise that, boss, anyways, I don’t know how much I’m going to get. So let me talk to the person with the best information, the salesperson or the distributor. So they would talk to the distributor and WhatsApp, and email is frictionless. You can message you can call up anytime. So that’s what people were doing. And the tool needed to be helping them get an answer to this question. The second question was, When will I get this delivery? Okay, these are hardcore dhandha-type questions.
Shubham Agarwal Yeah, yeah.
Malik Rafi That my factory is going to stop. If I don’t get this delivery, When will I get it? I need that information in the tool.
Shubham Agarwal Things that matter, you know, yeah.
Malik Rafi Yeah. Things that matter, things that make a user tick, okay? Things that make the users’ business tick. So in management jargon, there is a philosophy called design thinking, okay. It talks about a user’s human experience, go and study the user, become the user, try and understand how the user feels and behaves near a product, how we touch is, taste a product, I mean, depends on the product, and then figure out how to improve it, iterate it, come up with a prototype, iterate, iterate, iterate, and come back with a better version of the product or a completely new product that solves a significant need of the customer. So we realised that this tool that they launched was fantastic. But it was not solving a substantial need of the customer. The hardcore questions still needed to be answered. And they were getting answers from their traditional sources, the distributors or the salespeople. So then we realised that this is not going to stick; the users are not going to use it no matter how great you make the product, no matter how great you make the user experience, it’s not going to be used. So we tried to play a game with the client; when we made a presentation, we played a game and showed them two products. We showed them four or five examples on each screen. There were two products.
Shubham Agarwal Okay. Can you give us an example? Like any two products that you showed?
Malik Rafi Yeah. So for example, for example, cab-sharing services like Uber or Ola versus yellow taxis. So rate between 1 to 10; which service, how much would you rate uber or ola versus a Yellow Taxi? Right now, I’m not talking about people’s bad experiences with Uber and Ola. But
Shubham Agarwal Generally speaking,
Malik Rafi in general, generally speaking
Shubham Agarwal Yeah. It would be lopsided towards the Olas and Ubers, yeah.
Malik Rafi So it was highly lopsided towards Ola and Uber because it solved a significant need. What is the need for a traveller? I need a cab now, and I don’t have to wait on the road or the chauraha to find a cab.
Shubham Agarwal and the quality of cars. All of those things
Malik Rafi Regarding the quality of the cars and the price transparency, my Yellow Taxi guy, I would like to know how much he will charge me. Yesterday, he charged me 500. Today, he can charge me 1000. Depends on his mood depends on the traffic conditions. God knows, right? So these are the fundamental problems that these tools are solving. And that’s why there is this high adoption right now, a counter-example. And one interesting example would be if you want to buy men’s shirts online versus men’s shirts offline, men’s shirts. I’m not talking about women. I need to become an expert in that area. Right. So men’s shirts online. Men’s shirts online versus men’s shirts offline.
Shubham Agarwal I prefer the offline one, but I need to know what the audience says.
Malik Rafi Yeah. So the audience needed to be more focused towards men’s shirts offline. Right. Okay. And, one thing very interesting when you see lopsided feedback, it’s not as if there is a 90 19-20 difference. Okay. So the difference is huge in terms of the rating people gave to men’s shirts online versus offline. So the rating that was coming for offline was like the experience of buying a shirt online versus offline. Offline would be like a rating of 8 or 9, and online would be a rating of, say, three or four. So the Delta between the two ratings was massive. That was the other insight. Okay.
Shubham Agarwal Substantial. Yeah.
Malik Rafi So, this is one thing we realised over the years over a long period of launching products even if your product is solving a significant need, it has to solve it in a manner wherein the user sees a significant delta over the previous version or the or the other alternatives only then will the user switch there has to be a significant delta.
Shubham Agarwal Oh, so are you saying this it is like an effect, like a Delta effect that we can say has to have so
Malik Rafi Yeah, so we gave it a term we called a Delta effect. And we realised that this Delta has to be at least four or five points rating points over the previous version, over the older version, or the other alternate. And that is when people switch; otherwise, people will be there, and there’s a lot of inertia people move back. Okay. So, returning to this client’s problem neither was the tool solving any significant need. And obviously, there was no delta. In fact, the Delta was negative because the existing tools a user had at his or her disposal were much easier.
Shubham Agarwal Yeah, WhatsApp calling or emails are much more accessible than
Malik Rafi Yeah, you can call people, find out things, understand what is going on in the business environment, call up people and understand where my vehicle is and how much I will get against my order. And these are questions that were being answered for them. So they did not need to use the tool. So we came, returned to the client, and gave them this presentation. And obviously, there was this heated discussion between the client, the IT team and the sales team because the IT team thought this is our baby, and how can you challenge our baby the sales team was like, You don’t understand our users, this is not being of any use. And then we realised that people came together when
Shubham Agarwal Many emotions are attached when you have given it so much time.
Malik Rafi Yeah, there were a lot of emotions. But one interesting thing came out of that meeting: once emotions calm down, people realise this is a big problem. And both the teams came together and realised, boss, we have to do something about it. And obviously, we presented a directional
Shubham Agarwal Which is the power of the Yeah, which is the power of what you presented the clients with, you know.
Malik Rafi Yeah. So people understand if you can articulate the problem clearly with the root cause and the effect that will come out of this cause. And, an interesting thing, one more interesting thing happened, we were asked to find out why the tool was not being used. And we came up with a directional solution that had nothing to do with the tool.
Shubham Agarwal Let’s talk a little about how did you propose the solution then?
Malik Rafi So we realised that there were problems in the supply chain. Okay. There were problems like, we there were problems like material allocation, the logic of material allocation to customers, and the logic of pricing to customers. Should you keep it stable? Should you not keep it steady? How much to price? The sense of delivery? When to dispatch, the visibility of delivery these were hardcore supply chain problem impacting a user’s business or experience with the company. And the tool was just another layer of information right now. So if you’re able to solve
Shubham Agarwal Oh, there were problems in the supply chain, which was why the information the user wanted was unavailable on the tool, and therefore the tool was unsuccessful. Correct. So we were asked why the tool was not being used. And we returned and told them; they needed to fix your supply.
Shubham Agarwal Wow. Okay.
Malik Rafi That was interesting; that was an interesting meeting that we had with the client. And they appreciated our straightforward approach. And I think they are doing a pilot right now; as far as I know, they decided to do a pilot in a market based on our recommendations without the tool because they realised the tool is not going to be of any use with these problems right now. So they’re going to improve the availability of their product, stable pricing, delivering information to customers, they want to see if the sales are going to jump. And if they can see those effects, they may incorporate the recommendations in their tool.
Shubham Agarwal Yeah, this was a great example of how you know you tackled a problem where the tool used was the issue, but you found out that the genuine concern was somewhere else. So for everyone listening, if they are developing a new product or solution, what is the approach you recommend then in that case?
Malik Rafi Yeah, it would help if you started with the problem. It enables you to understand what problems the user is facing. And you also must realise that people are very smart. The common man and common sense are very smart people who have found ways of living their lives. People are living their life right now with the existing tools. And if you’re not solving a significant problem, or you don’t have a problem statement that you want to solve, and you are just launching a tool, it will only work if the tool’s user interface is great. So that is a learning that we’ve taken across all clients. Whenever we launch a product, we’ve, in fact, a very, you would be interested to know, we’ve rejected clients, or we’ve rejected a lot of recommendations from clients whose boss let us digitise this. So we go back and tell them that this will not help; you have to solve the root problem.
Shubham Agarwal While the entire world is gung-ho about digitisation, that is probably the solution everyone thinks is the ultimate solution. Again, this is a counterpoint, like our podcast, that you don’t need to go over what the world is doing but look at the real problem and what you are trying to solve.
Malik Rafi Yeah, I’m sorry, technology killed me again; my laptop went mute. Yeah, so you’re right. We have nothing against digitisation as long as it solves significant problems. And as long as it is making people’s lives easy, it is allowing people to, you know, live a stress-free life; that is what our motto is, right? The stress of delivering. So whenever there is a need for a digital tool or an app, or a portal, we go all out and try and solve the problem. And if you see our apps, or if you see at our website that we’ve created, or any tool for that matter for clients, they’re very simple. You will not see any snazzy user interface. It’s very simple to use. But the logic the algorithms used are very, very advanced. So that the user has the best experience and the problem is getting solved. That is what is important. And there are a lot of examples in the real world like this. For example, Zerodha, okay. It’s a great example of a bootstrap start-up. I don’t know; it’s a billion-dollar-plus start-up now. And they’ve not been funded by anyone. And they spend zero rupees on marketing. It’s all word-of-mouth marketing. And if you look at their apps or look at their website.
Shubham Agarwal They work wonderfully, yeah.
Malik Rafi There’s no snazzy, no, no snazzy user interface, it’s solving a very simple problem, and it is solving it very well. Right? You want to get information on stocks or mutual funds, and you want to invest in them without wasting time or money. And they’re solving that problem for you.
Shubham Agarwal Right.
Malik Rafi So these are the examples, these are the products or services that, no matter what the marketing gyaan is, these are the products or services that will sell that will, that will grow.
Shubham Agarwal Lovely, I think, great discussion and great insight that you know comes out of this discussion is that you got to look at the root cause and the real problem that you’re trying to solve, and only then proceed with a, don’t start with a solution in your head probably.
Malik Rafi Yeah, that is one lesson. And the second lesson is, don’t go for perfection. When you’re launching a product or a service, start with a good enough. Obviously, you need to know the problem very well. But on day one, you’re not going to get a great product; you should start with a good enough product, get user feedback, prototype, change the prototype chain and come up with a better product, a better version, as many times as possible. It would help if you were not afraid to make mistakes. That is the second takeaway.
Shubham Agarwal Lovely, that’s a great lesson again, don’t aim for perfection and don’t fear failures. In fact, celebrate failures, like you always say; thanks a lot, Malik. That was a great discussion. And thank you for giving us time.
Malik Rafi Thank you. I hope I gave you some airtime in your podcast.
Shubham Agarwal You did. Thank you so much. Great. So for all the listeners, if you have any doubts or questions regarding the topic that we discussed today, you can write to us on our social media handles so you can also write to us directly on our website. The link is in the details. Thank you. Until next time, bye bye.

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