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Guest Post: To Kill a Product: Why, When and How part 3/3

Note: This is the 3rd of a 3 part series of articles by guest blogger Chris Brown. If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

Part 3: How to Kill a Product

kambNo one wants to manage a dying product. No one wants to sell, support or, certainly, buy a dying product, either. The role of the product manager includes performing the kill analysis – thoughtful, thorough and completely unbiased – and making a recommendation that is best for the business.

Time to Pull the Plug

The process of discontinuing a product will vary greatly by industry and company, depending on the structural makeup of the organization, the sales channels, the customers and, of course, the product itself. But there are some basic steps.

First, the product manager needs to perform the analysis described in the earlier posts. Once the decision has been made to kill a product, the product manager should provide a timeline with the following action items:

Communication plan. Work with the Marketing and Sales teams to create a plan that includes customer notification, internal communication (including FAQs), collateral updating, branding consideration. Make sure the tone and level of communication are appropriate. If the product is purely ancillary, the communications may not need to be extensive. If the product has a deep connection to the brand, for example, but is no longer performing, or is being killed for strategic reasons that may not be apparent, a more carefully considered story may need to be crafted.

Shut down marketing. Any outbound or customer acquisition efforts should cease on the prescribed date.

Sales and Finance. Work with the Finance and Sales teams to make sure sales goals are properly adjusted to account for the lost revenue. Review final billing procedures, outstanding receivables, etc., with Finance.

Provide support to Customer Support. The Support team will also need to be ready to field concerns and questions from customers, partners etc. Provide the necessary training and documents (FAQs, email response templates, talk-tracks, etc.).

Provide direction to the Technology team. If the product requires any ongoing technology, e.g. it is Web-based, make sure Technology knows when to permanently suspend functionality, and that doing so will not impact any other services. Have a plan for warehousing code and/or data, if necessary.

Make sure it’s all legal. Confirm you are within the bounds of any contracts with customers and suppliers, and that official cancellation notification is vetted or provided by the Legal team.

When working on these steps with internal teams, the product manager needs to make it clear why, at a high-level, this decision has been made. Don’t assume everyone from sales to tech knows the history of the product, or that, if they do, that they don’t have an attachment to it. A summary of the criteria that led to the decision will provide context and buy-in, which is very important since many of these people will have to do much of the dirty work of killing the product.

Product managers must make their kill recommendations by thoroughly and objectively examining the financial, organizational and strategic factors. Recommending the discontinuation of a product one manages can be a difficult prospect. But often the manager, especially a good one, will be the first to admit a product has run its course. This creates an opportunity to focus on more important, rewarding initiatives.

–  Chris Brown

Chris is vice president of product management at Apartments.com, a division of Classified Ventures, LLC. Email him at cbrown@apartments.com or follow him @Brown784


Part 1 Why?: If it’s generating some revenue, even a little, why kill an underperforming product? Because ineffective products divert focus and resources from core and growth products, and ultimately dilute the overall value proposition of the business.

Part 2 When?: When is it time to kill a product? Part 2 offers up six areas to keep an eye on for telltale signs. It’s examining these areas that will help product managers build the case to kill or keep a product.

  1. Dheeraj

    Hi Chris,

    It has been a very interesting triad to read. I have a small query set:

    1. Does moving from version 4.0 of a product to 5.0 (which is a vastly enhanced avatar) and gradually removing support et al for the previous version amount to killing 4.0 ?

    2. (I know that there is no straight answer for this but:) If one is killing the entire product line or rechristening the new avatar, how does one salvage the brand value and bring brownie points from the previous brand to prop the new brand up ? I have asked this because often, owing to the difficulty of creating new brands, companies fall into the line extension trap and perceptions of the new product loses become muddled and difficult to manage.

    3. In case you are killing a product in one geography but continuing support in other (lesser developed) markets, what stresses does the organization go through ?

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