While associations often have great product launches, managing those products over time can sometimes fall by the wayside. Ensuring there are evaluation metrics and regularly reviewing them can help organizations maintain strong-performing products and sunset weaker ones.
As organizations look to create new products that provide a long-term revenue stream, they must also consider how to manage, evaluate, and possibly sunset those products when they’ve run their course. In this final part of our series on product development, experts explain the importance of building evaluation and review into the product-development cycle.
Craig Dykstra, a senior marketing consultant at McKinley Advisors, noted that sometimes staff spend all their focus on the launch and not enough on what happens next.
“We get tired or exhausted or don’t have the time to manage a product,” Dykstra said. “We launch it out to the market, and then we just let it go for a while. I think the thing we can learn from the for-profit world is what they look at: They say, ‘We’ve released it into the marketplace; now what is our audience saying about it? What do they need?’”
Dykstra said it’s important to continuously examine products to see if they’re still working for your audience.
“I would be mindful of the fact that product management is different than project management,” Dykstra said. “What it really requires is that we continually learn from the audience that we are selling to what their needs are. We have to figure out if—and how—we need to change the product to fit that need. You learn so much from the market, so you can change, adapt, and grow the product in order to appeal to that market.”
Jennifer Blenkle, director of new product development and strategic initiatives at the American Physiological Society (APS), added that key to evaluation is figuring out what that entails.
“You have to decide: what are the evaluation standards?” Blenkle said. “Also, what do the expectations look like?”
The best time to figure out evaluation criteria is before launching. “I would say, know your goals: a six month, a one year, and a three year—what do your goals look like in those timelines?” Blenkle said. “And then how do you measure those?”
When using criteria to evaluate products, it’s ideal to use the same criteria for all products. However, if products were launched at different times or under different leadership, associations can run into the sticky issue of how to treat all product evaluation equitably.
“It’s hard to evaluate something when you didn’t have those criteria when the product was created,” Blenkle said. “How do you do that fairly, evenly, and equitably across your organization is hard, and something that has to be evaluated.”
Blenkle notes, for example, that some of the new products created during the pandemic were launched with a faster-than-usual process that got them to market quickly and that they weren’t necessarily meant to live on past the pandemic. Others, however, will continue if they still meet member needs.
“Looking specifically at what APS has done this year, I fully expect the webinar programs that we generated this year will live on,” Blenkle said. “It’s something that will be a part of our learning and engagement opportunities.”
Not all things will live on, which is why organizations must continually manage products and not just let them linger.
“Eventually that product is going to plateau, and it’s going to saturate as much of that market audience as it’s going for and it’s either going to stay steady indefinitely or it’s going to start to decline,” Dykstra said. “When it starts declining, we have to decide, ‘Can we pivot this product to grow it, or are we going to end up sunsetting it?’”
It’s also important to remember that sunsetting a product isn’t a bad thing. It gives an organization room to launch something that better meets the needs of its audience.
“Every association can start developing new products or services or pivoting current products and services right now,” Dykstra said.
This is the final post in a three-part series product development. If you missed the first two, catch up by reading about product-development basics and the importance of having a product-development process.