Will Russell is CEO of Russell Marketing, specializing in e-commerce launch marketing, which has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs validate their ideas and execute successful launches. His new book is, “Launch in 5: Take Your Idea from Lightbulb Moment to Profitable Business in Record Time“.
Russell recently spoke with YoungUpstarts and shared his insights on what it takes to launch and maintain a successful e-commerce business.
Describe your professional background and how you came to advise entrepreneurs in e-commerce launch marketing.
My career started in media marketing, launching new websites and campaigns for media brands. Following that, I spent a couple of years in the nonprofit marketing world, acquiring attendees for national, nonprofit events.
It was only when I began working with entrepreneurs, following my nonprofit stint, that I noticed the similarities between each stage of my career path. Each involved a version of “launch marketing” and the various industries followed similar strategies and processes for success. With that alignment crystallized, I was able to develop my own system, the “Five-Step High-Profit Launch System,” using consistent concepts, strategies, and systems that could be applied to almost any launch in any industry. This system is the core of my launch marketing business, Russell Marketing, helping entrepreneurs take new products and ideas to market successfully.
Now that the world of e-commerce has made it possible for entrepreneurs to launch without first securing large investments, where do the risks lie in putting out a new product or service?
The most common risk I see is the risk entrepreneurs take in developing and investing a business idea before validating that it’s an idea with market fit (that consumers want to buy at the price you need to sell it for profitability). We could save a lot of heartache, time, and money if every entrepreneur correctly validated that their idea had good market fit.
A more recent risk we’re seeing is the fluctuation in manufacturing and shipping costs. Many entrepreneurs don’t factor this in sufficiently when building out their business plan and projections. The last few years have been wild for supply chains. It’s so important that entrepreneurs think about the full lifecycle of their product development (and add in budget buffers) when considering what’s financially viable for them.
How should creators or entrepreneurs think about proving that the market wants their product before investing time and money in a marketing campaign or manufacturing?
Before going much further beyond the idea stage, it’s important to verify that there are indeed buyers out there. It’s equally important not to only collect this kind of feedback from family and friends, but also from strangers. After all, it’s usually strangers, not your close network, that will be brutally honest with you.
This can be done in several ways — such as Preorder Campaigns or Reservation Campaigns. For the former, you’re collecting full payment for a future purchase (the customer is “preordering”). You then use those funds to develop the product and bring it to market. For the latter, you’re collecting a deposit or reservation for a future purchase. This is unlikely to allow you to collect the full funds needed to move into manufacturing, but it does give you a clear understanding of buyer intent (will they accept the price point you’re putting out there).
Can you describe your system for determining early in the process if a launch is a “go” or a “no-go?”
In the Five-Step High-Profit Launch System, “Validation” is the first step. It gives us the data to determine whether the product idea is a “go” or a “no-go,” and whether we recommend to the entrepreneur that they continue pursuing the idea or make revisions to their offer (such as changing the messaging, adjusting the price point, or going back to the drawing board with the product itself).
Most of our Validations use the Reservation Campaign strategy I just referred to. We usually run Meta and Google advertising campaigns to draw attention to the product idea, drive these interested users to a web page, and collect ~1% of the product price, or a flat $5 deposit, from those who want to become future customers.
Once the campaign has been run (usually no more than a month), we can compare the results with our benchmarks.
Why is it important to build an audience before you launch and how do you go about it?
Building an audience before launching is important because it helps to create a base of potential customers who are already familiar with your product or service. This can help to increase the chances of success for your launch, as you’ll have a group of people who are already interested in what you have to offer.
To build an audience before launching, most entrepreneurs will look to paid advertising channels, such as Meta or Google. Paid advertising like this is a quicker way to grow. For those without the budget to make use of these platforms, they can focus on creating content that’s relevant to the product or service and engaging with communities that contain the target audience.
Ultimately, the goal is to acquire prospective customers into a community, such as an email list or Facebook Group.
Can you share some ways to convert an online audience into customers?
Once a prospective customer has signed up and expressed interest in a future offer, there will be three key factors in them converting:
1) Are their objections and questions resolved?
People that express interest, but choose not to convert into a customer, will do so because they have objections. An objection could be something clear, such as the price, or something more subjective, such as whether the product is right for them and their lifestyle.
In launch marketing, an entrepreneur should try and identify — and resolve — as many objections as possible before launch day.
2) Are they incentivized to act now and not later?
People want what others have, so the more demand an entrepreneur can create for their launch, the more the launch will continue to grow. Think of it as similar to dropping a rock in a pond. The stone dropping is the first phase of traction. The ripples created then grow and expand. You need the rock to create the ripples.
It’s imperative to encourage people to act sooner rather than later. These earliest customers will be your rock. Most entrepreneurs will use incentives such as discounts or limited time offers.
3) Why should they trust that the brand/creator will deliver the product they promise?
In the current e-commerce world, it’s not only about what a product is that leads to customers. It’s also about who is behind the product. Glamorous marketing campaigns only go so far. If the potential customers don’t trust that the brand will deliver the product, no amount of marketing will get folks to buy.
We see success here when entrepreneurs are transparent with their community and build personal relationships with their prospects. In general, especially for new products and brands, the more open, transparent, and visible the founder, the better the conversion rate of prospects into customers.
Can an entrepreneur recover from a failed launch, and if so, how?
At this stage of a launch, if an entrepreneur has been following a recipe like the Five-Step High-Profit Launch System, they’re long past the time when they can preemptively resolve sales objections and customer concerns. In many cases the best option is to start over, as painful as that sounds.
That said, starting over isn’t the only way. If an entrepreneur finds themselves in this scenario and are committed to keep moving forward, they should focus on the following:
1) Respond honestly to rebuild trust.
A lack of conversion means a lack of trust — what was promised wasn’t delivered. That trust needs to be rebuilt.
2) Re-prioritize launch plans by understanding what, if anything, did work in the misfire.
If a launch goal was to sell 10,000 units of your new product and launch day flopped, it’s important to reset expectations, otherwise the disappointment will simply continue.
3) Lean on other brands.
Another way to rebuild trust with potential customers is to piggy-back on the credibility of another brand. Creating a unique offer that another brand can present to its community via its own marketing channels can potentially get you through this difficult time.
4) Move forward like a Stoic.
What does a Stoic do with failure? They make the most of it. Marcus Aurelius wrote: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Too many times I’ve seen entrepreneurs continue down the same path after a launch failure, exhausting themselves physically, emotionally, and financially. Rather than dwelling on what’s happened, doubling down on what hasn’t worked, and digging a deeper hole, take time to stop, pause, and objectively reflect. Fail forward, as many folks say, and turn this bump in the road into your new path of success.
To learn more about Will Russell and his Five-Step High-Profit Launch System, visit https://www.launchin5book.com.