From Three Phases to Four: The Toolkit Approach to Product Launch Training

product launch

For a long time, product launch training has been conducted with an event-based model. Reps show up for a launch meeting, listen as someone lectures through slide decks, spend a few days at a nice hotel, and head back to their territories.

In many cases, these launch events are not training-focused at all. They are planned and run by marketing folks who need reps to effectively position the new product but don’t have a realistic plan to make it happen.

Product managers and sales trainers in complex, competitive industries have long known that the event-based model is not enough. Home study modules are a mainstay in pharmaceutical and medical device launches. In some extreme scenarios, a sales rep might take half a dozen or more content-packed eLearning courses over a period of weeks or months before they attend a launch event.

Just like the launch events themselves, these pre-work modules often leave a lot to be desired. They are rich with content; so rich that they include content and topics that reps don’t really need to be successful. They are not learner-focused and reps usually treat them as something they must get through one time before moving on.

By the time the launch event comes around, they will have forgotten a large percentage of what they learned in these modules.

The Three-Phased Launch Approach

Product launch training vendors have long encouraged clients to adopt a three-phase product launch model. Basic facts and foundational knowledge are introduced in the pre-work. The launch meeting builds and deepens this knowledge and provides practice opportunities. Then post-launch tools are created to help reps commit what they’ve learned to long-term memory… or at least know where to look it up.

There is a great deal to be gained in moving from a one-and-done or two-phased launch to the three-phased approach. Even just focusing on the form and content of home study modules can greatly improve the learner experience and performance outcomes. But even if the pre-work and launch meeting were stellar, or if the post-launch reinforcement tools were brilliantly designed… what will happen when your carefully crafted training materials are in the hands of regional sales affiliates?

Many organizations can’t bring every single sales rep together for a launch meeting. In these cases, account managers and regional marketing leaders might attend a launch event and be expected to take the training to their home countries and train reps. Will they follow through? Are the tools easy for them to operationalize?

Three phases are a great start, but they aren’t enough. It turns out another phase is needed to make product launches successful over the long haul.

From Three Phases to Four

product launch

Experienced product managers will tell you that even three phases are not enough. It takes planning and following to ensure that:

  • Reps actually use the reinforcement tools that were created.
  • Launch materials can easily be fit into the workflow and schedules of regional affiliates.
  • Launch materials are easy for managers to deliver to reps who did not attend the original launch meeting.
  • Feedback mechanisms are in place so affiliates can get help from the business unit and fill knowledge gaps that emerge.
  • Training materials can easily be updated as needed.

At BLP, we have introduced a fourth product launch phase with our clients. We call it Localization and Sustainability. The fourth phase focuses on making launch training as easy as possible for regional sales affiliates to use. It also makes product manager’s lives easier when the time comes to update training materials in the future.

How the Process Works

We recommend a toolkit approach to product launch training to make Localization and Sustainability easier to manage. Here’s how it works:

  • Ongoing webinars are scheduled to check in with affiliates and answer questions.
  • Launch training materials are designed to be modular and editable so they can be easily updated and expanded upon as product information changes.
  • Training activities are structured so regional affiliates can mix and match, using just the pieces of training they need for their specific situation.
  • Incentives and rewards are prepared to keep affiliates engaged for the long haul.

A product launch doesn’t truly end until a product has reached the end of its lifecycle. Product managers must continuously support their regional sales affiliates to ensure that messaging is aligned, value is accurately positioned, and marketplace changes are communicated.

A toolkit approach to product launch training makes this fourth phase a whole lot easier.

Why Product Managers Should Include Training in Their Launch Plan

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Everyone like surprises – at least good surprises like surprise birthday parties, surprise company lunches at work, finding a surprise twenty dollars in your jeans, etc. Then there are bad surprises… like when you take that first sip of coffee and it’s way too hot or when your computer crashes at work and you lose everything.

And then there’s the really bad surprise when you’re a product manager and you find out your company’s sales reps are misrepresenting the product you so carefully developed!

When sales reps don’t have the knowledge and skills they need to sell your new products, all the time and money you spent goes down the drain. So how do you avoid bad surprises when you’re creating your next product launch plan?

Training. More Training. And reinforcement, too.

Most sales reps don’t receive sufficient training on new products they are expected to sell. They rely on marketing collateral and PowerPoints to learn, which barely scratches the surface. And when sales reps don’t know how to effectively articulate the value of a new product, they wind up missing opportunities with buyers.

However, the right training can make a significant impact on the success of your launch. It has to be designed in a way that helps learners remember by teaching and reinforcing key skills and knowledge. You have to identify what you want sales reps to learn and when to introduce each learning objective in the curriculum. Then decide how and when to reinforce this knowledge.

We recommend a four-phase product launch training model:

product launch plan

Product launch plan training examples

Here are three examples of product launches where we worked with product managers to help them create and sustain a successful product launch:

1. Gamified Product Launch plan uses the power of story

Our client partnered with us to design a gamified blended learning curriculum for the launch of its innovative medical product. In addition to custom eLearning and instructor-led components, we used our Knowledge Guru platform to engage participants, reinforce knowledge and assess knowledge transfer prior to the launch events.

The Goal: Sales reps and accounts managers can effectively uncover unmet needs and convey the value proposition of the product to meet those unmet needs through the use of powerful and compelling stories.

The Results: The training curriculum has driven strong business results and has set a new organizational standard for product launch training at our client’s organization.

See the curriculum

2. Launch with innovative theme connects learning through all three phases

A life science company was about to have a global product launch with a highly complex product. The product launch training curriculum we developed used a three-part framework to drive knowledge retention long after launch. The training used a fun racing theme throughout.

The Goal: Sales reps can confidently communicate the points of differentiation that drive the value of the product based on each customer’s needs.

The Results: The client is getting ready for another global product launch, and is using the same structure and methodology because of its “proven success.”

See the curriculum

3. Global launch uses performance support, video, and games to support reps

We worked with a life science company to create a three-phased launch with easy-to-access performance support tools and engaging pre-work.

The Goal: Make sales reps both confident and competent.

The Results: Sales reps were excited by the training and launch countries invited to the pilot chose to use the materials, translating the global versions with minimal customizations.

See the curriculum

Product Launch Plan Training Template

We have created a simple worksheet that allows you to go through the process of planning a product launch curriculum using the three-phase launch model pictured above. At the end of the worksheet, we included ten characteristics of a successful product launch curriculum to help you visualize what type of learning solutions might be used in each phase.

The worksheet is available for free download here.

10 Steps to Successful Product Launch Training

We often support clients with complex products to bring to market. The product launch training can be even more complex. With so many different customer types and messages, it can be a lot to cover.

So if you want your training to drive results, it must be carefully designed and implemented. Doing one without the other is a sure way to fail.

Careful consideration must be made to identify the right goals during the design phase, get necessary buy-in and design solutions that help the right groups of learners acquire the right knowledge and skills at the right time.

Characteristics of Successful Product Launch Training

Every product launch curriculum design project is different, but certain characteristics remain consistent across most projects. Product launch curriculums that have these characteristics are much more likely to contribute to a successful product launch.

1. Performance-focused

A successful product launch curriculum will have a clear, measurable, actionable performance outcome. Also, the outcome typically focuses on a specific metric the organization desires to achieve.

2. Instructional goal(s)

In addition to a performance outcome, the curriculum should have a clear instructional goal. The goal will guide the creation of learning objectives for the various solutions in the curriculum.

3. Organized into topics

Since most product launches are complex and relate to multiple different job types, the content must be chunked into topics. Branding should be created around each topic that is consistent throughout the curriculum. This will help learners make easy connections.

4. Organized into phases

We design product launch curriculums around four main phases: pre-launch, launch, postlaunch and localization. Pre-launch materials present introductory concepts, product knowledge, and competitor information. Launch provides an opportunity for hands-on practice and a time for building some “buzz.” Post-launch focuses on reinforcement and usually includes just-in-time reference tools. We design launch training using a toolkit approach so affiliates can easily operationalize it in the localization phase and product managers can easily update the materials as product, competitor, and regulatory information changes.

5. Includes multiple learning paths

It’s highly unlikely that all of the employees who will take your product launch training have the exact same role or position. Make sure your product launch training materials are relevant and customized to each target audience: managers, sales, support and sometimes even the end user.

6. Broken into chunks

You likely have multiple topics to cover in your product launch training. Consider breaking the topics into manageable chunks, and spread them out in the different phases. Varying levels of detail should be present in each phase, but the content must all connect.

7. Blended

New product launches, especially when the product is complex, are too important to deliver through a single format. So we recommend a blended learning approach that combines eLearning, games, video, apps, instructor-led training, and performance support tools into a cohesive collection of learning solutions.

8. Supported throughout the organization

Your L&D department or an external vendor cannot create effective product launch training materials without buy-in and information from your marketing and product development departments. Sales will also want buy-in on the approaches used to train reps.

9. Helpful to on-site trainers

You will need to include “train the trainer” sessions in your curriculum so that individuals are prepared to lead the on-site activities at your product launch event. These learners will have special needs that differ from those of individual reps.

10. Measured with assessments

It is important that facilitators can accurately determine the progress learners make. You can also show learners the progress they have made throughout the curriculum with an assessment, which helps motivate them to continue. Finally, you can show stakeholders that the product launch curriculum has been effective.

Putting it all together

By executing on these ten characteristics, you can be sure that your product launch will be a success. Sales reps will go out with the confidence and competence they need to succeed.

But some of these tips can be harder to implement than others. It’s important to communicate the value that this training can provide to all stakeholders. We know it can be hard to drum up the extra resources needed to reinforce the learning, but what’s the alternative? Sales reps forgetting that customer type B has no need for product feature A and blowing a six-figure sale.

So now that we’ve covered the bases, reach out to us if you need any help planning, creating, or implementing your own product launch training.

Need help getting started? Our Product Launch Training Template will help you identify learning objectives and practice structuring a product launch curriculum.