Launch Excellence: Why So Elusive?
Research-driven insights into the challenges underlying a product launch
The commercial pressures, organizational complexities and risks associated with launching new products are numerous. With the majority of product launches falling well short of forecasted revenues, Huron surveyed relevant individuals across functional lines from within the pharmaceutical community to uncover the challenges behind the numbers.
In an increasingly disruptive market environment coupled with lofty shareholder expectations, the pressure on pharmaceutical and device companies to launch new products successfully is considerable. Yet optimizing the value of every launch is an elusive goal, with around two-thirds of launches failing to meet analysts’ year-one expectations, and most continuing to underperform thereafter.1
Less well-documented are the underlying challenges behind the numbers. Consequently, Huron initiated research to probe the launch process and tease-out those areas in which it was particularly difficult to excel. More than 50 individuals from within the pharmaceutical community were surveyed, with over half of the sample group involved in more than five launches in the last decade.
How did participants perceive their own levels of success?
65% of respondents viewed their last 3 launches on average as “very” or “extremely” successful, with one-third reporting “moderately” successful launches. These findings are somewhat contradictory to success rates in the literature, and may reveal that launch teams judge their own achievement in ways beyond the forecast.
Notably, respondents from affiliate operations reported higher levels of success than those working at global (83% vs. 57% respectively answered “very/extremely successful”). It is worth speculating whether this difference relates to the fact that global respondents are likely to be exposed to more markets and a greater range of challenges, therefore rendering consistent success more difficult to achieve.
This understanding of self-reported success levels provided context for the core questions around which launch tasks are typically done better or worse.
Do teams develop a sufficiently nuanced appreciation of the market?
The response here was overwhelmingly positive, with 91% “agreeing /strongly agreeing” with the statement posed. As shown in the chart below, confidence was greatest among respondents who reported higher average launch success.
These results support the view that companies typically invest appropriately in this step, but when this is not the case, it increases risk to their launch success.
Does the launch plan have the right strategic priorities?
As with developing a nuanced market understanding, defining the appropriate strategic priorities for a product launch is foundational to success. A lack of clarity or a partial approach is likely to seriously impede a successful product launch.
It is reassuring, therefore, that a significant majority of respondents “agreed/strongly agreed” with most statements tested in this section, as highlighted in the chart below:
Consensus was absent, however, on the issue of alignment between the product strategy and the broader portfolio/corporate strategy. This uncertainty appears to highlight common challenges with respect to the interplay among the current launch, in-line products, and even future launches, which can lead to sub-optimal allocation of resources across products.
Interestingly, the results again show respondents who reported higher average launch success indicating notably higher levels of agreement with these statements. The implication is that while these tasks are foundational, when not done well the risk to launch success increases.
Also of note is the finding that respondents who worked in Market Access roles were five times more likely to disagree with these statements than those who worked in Marketing. This may be a telling point if, as many posit, the influence of Market Access on the success of product launches is set to keep increasing. This is a complex and critical element of a launch strategy, and perhaps an area where some organizations need to revisit their approach to coordinating across functions and/or the level and timing of resource allocation to Market Access.
Do organizations have the processes, resources, and training to successfully execute the launch?
Overall, fewer respondents “agreed/strongly agreed” with statements in this area of investigation than did so with statements in the prior areas (64% here vs. 91% and 79% respectively).
Misjudging or underestimating timelines, resources and escalation processes can significantly impair the execution and success of a product launch, so it is telling that findings from this section highlighted the lowest average scores in the survey.
Uncovering the drivers
Digging a bit deeper reveals those areas which saw especially low levels of agreement:
- Tasks initiated soon enough (only 55% “agree/ strongly agree”)
- Process to identify and escalate risks (60%)
- Agility to adapt to changes (54%)
- Appropriate processes and training (57%)
- Sufficient bandwidth available across all functional areas (39%)
- Effective organizational build out, when needed (51%)
The trend of higher levels of agreement from those respondents reporting higher launch success continued. These differences were especially prominent in several areas, as highlighted below:
Effective processes, resources, and training to drive execution by success of launches
Differences among functional areas
Reviewing the results along functional lines reveals a marked difference between respondents in Marketing or Market Access roles compared to those in Medical Affairs, Analytics, and Clinical roles (the “Other” category in the table below). The ”Other” group was generally more positive when questioned about the effectiveness of processes, resources and training in launch execution.
Effective processes, resources and training to drive execution by functional area
There were three especially notable points of deviation among these groups:
- Tasks initiated soon enough (89% “Other” “agree/ strongly agree” vs. 44% Marketing vs. 53% Market Access)
- Clarity on what needs to be done when, and by whom (100% vs. 67% vs. 63%)
- Tools in place for efficient tracking and reporting (89% vs. 72% vs. 58%)
Some of these differences may be accounted for by the very nature of the function. That is to say marketing tends to track not just marketing tasks, but broader launch tasks. Marketing respondents may, therefore, be more sensitive to inefficiencies in broader areas such as processes, resources and training.
How well do companies apply best practices across launches?
The ability to learn from past launches and embed best practices into a repeatable model, while obviously valuable, represents an ongoing challenge for many organizations.
In your experience, how well are best practices applied across multiple launches within the same company?
As seen in the above chart, merely one quarter of respondents thought that companies excelled in this area.
These findings suggest that while many companies have good intentions, implementing best practices in a holistic fashion across multiple launches is actually difficult to achieve. It’s likely that many organizations are re-creating the wheel for at least portions of the launch process, which inevitably results in inconsistencies and inefficiencies.
Making the Elusive Less Elusive
Product launches are inherently optimistic occasions for companies, representing opportunities to market new products and generate fresh sources of revenue. Unfortunately, reality often falls short of expectations, and this research highlights a number of factors likely to contribute to under-performance. Where launches are most likely to falter is not on content but process (e.g. starting soon enough, risk escalation, agility, global/affiliate coordination). With appropriate focus, these common risks can be effectively mitigated. While launch teams usually develop a sufficient understanding of the market, and identify the right strategic priorities, some launches still underinvest here, posing risk to launch success.
Ultimately, these represent ongoing challenges for many organizations. By focusing on improvements in these areas, however, companies will be better positioned to capture that elusive launch excellence.
1.See, for example: Beyond the Storm, McKinsey & Company 2013Download Now