You have a product launch coming up – how do you get ready?
Early, says Bob Holliday, a veteran industry training professional who has been involved in training for over 30 launches. As early as 2-3 years before the anticipated launch, in fact, when budgets are beginning to be discussed.
Bob has worked his way up the training ranks with Novartis, MedImmune, Boehringer-Ingelheim, and Sanofi, and he has participated in product launches with long timelines…and very, very short ones! I asked him to share some hard-earned wisdom for colleagues who are facing their own product launch initiatives. We focused on two main subjects.
First, vendor selection. What is the best way to work with outside resources who will support a launch endeavor? Bob has settled on a two-pronged approach – select one vendor (with deep expertise in clinical knowledge and instructional design) to develop the core learning materials, and then also work with another vendor who will be responsible for the workshops and training activities for the pre-launch and launch timeframe.
Why two vendors? Well, it comes down to skill sets, and capacity. The skills needed to develop core learning modules have more to do with the steady and precise process of creating full-spectrum, approval-ready training. These materials can (ideally) be developed, iteratively and progressively, with the relative luxury of a longer time window.
On the other hand, the inevitable crunch that occurs just before launch requires a company that can move quickly, scale as needed, and turn on a dime as PI approval and marketing messaging often barely come in under the wire. Event companies, with rapid production skills, tend to shine in those panic-mode moments of overnight re-dos and tactical shape-shifting.
Bob has noticed what I have also seen over decades in the industry – event companies tend to be much better at live-meeting workshops and other launch events, but are often unable to maintain a full and well-rounded staff for the longer-term development of learning modules. On the other hand, many boutique training development companies simply do not have the capacity to execute rapidly-changing plans bumping up against a rapidly-approaching deadline. By letting each type of company focus on what they do best, the probability of success is increased.
So, having considered the vendor selection process, how much time do you need to properly plan and execute a launch? The short answer that everybody agrees on is: more than we’ve been given! However, depending on the nature of the launch (New company? New therapeutic area? New indication for existing product? Level of in-house expertise and resources?), the proper time frame might range between 9-12 months on the low end (an established company launching into a familiar area), up to 2 to 2.5 years on the high end. In Bob’s experience, very few companies budget enough time, enough money, and enough advance planning to make an outstanding launch.
(Note: if you’re launching with a co-promote partner, add even more time to the equation. And stock up on aspirin. You’re going to need it.)
This is sometimes because of a lack of company awareness of all the steps and variables leading up to launch, so I asked Bob to create a high-level chart showing the sequence of steps and events that need to occur for successful launch planning. Like an accordion, the actual timeline may be compressed or expanded, but everyone involved in launches should be pro-actively planning with this kind of framework in mind.
Because of the rotational nature of many marketing and training positions, and because there may be large periods of time between product launches, there is often a loss of corporate memory (and expertise) when a new launch sequence is initiated. Or, for new commercial companies making their initial foray into the marketplace, there may be no launch experience at all. This can lead to a compromised product launch due to poor planning and spotty execution. I met with one startup company recently whose initial product launch has resulted in very slow uptake, because the actual prescribing obstacles in the marketplace were simply not foreseen and planned for.
With the right level of time, resources, and planning, launch success can move from possible to probable. There is a great opportunity for training professionals to educate their executive leadership on just what is required to succeed.