Launching a new product is hard, resource intense, and complex. But what about ending the life of a product? Other words for this critical process include ‘withdrawing a product from the market.’ Many people use the shorter acronym’ EOL.’
EOLing a product can be an emotional roller coaster. There are people invested in the ongoing success of a product. For some, it’s their life’s work. EOLing a product is very, very difficult for them. They will present reason after reason to keep the product on life support.
Even when the evidence is clear that it’s time to move on.
Why EOL a product?
There are two reasons why you choose to EOL a product.
One reason is that you’re getting out of the business of a particular product. It’s no longer strategic, profitable, or the product category is obsolete.
A second reason is when you’re replacing an established product with a new one. You want the old product to go away as quickly as possible and put customers on the new product. A typical example is introducing a SaaS version of an on-premise software product. The goal is to get all the on-prem customers converted to the SaaS version then EOL the on-prem version.
The Perils of EOLing a product
There are two competing forces to consider when EOLing a product. One is your leadership team. The other is your customer base.
Your executive team wants to EOL the old product as fast as possible. The quicker, the better. Rip off the bandage and move on. They want to get the old product behind them as quickly as possible. But they don’t want to lose any customers in the transition.
Your customers want your new product, assuming you have a replacement. Their point of view is across a spectrum. Some customers can’t wait to get your new product. Some are content to maintain the status quo and convert when it makes sense for them. Your customers won't like a situation where they feel that you have abandoned them, assuming there isn't a replacement product.
The problem is that all customers don’t (and won’t) want to transition to your new product at the rate your executive team wants them to.
The key to a successful product EOL is a balance between these two forces.
You Will Lose Customers - Plan for It
You will lose some customers when EOLing a product.
When you choose to exit a product category, the EOL of one product can have a domino effect on your other products. You can lose customers that have the product you want to EOL and other products from your company. The problem could damage the reputation of your company and take years to repair.
My first rule of EOLing a product is to set an expectation that some customers will leave no matter what you do. Then get a commitment on an acceptable threshold. Use the threshold as a planning guide.
Plan a Controlled EOL
Forcing customers to convert to a new product without a plan is planning for failure. The goal is to lose as few customers as possible (see rule one).
The estimated transition timelines for an EOLed product are always overly optimistic. The assumption is that every customer is as excited as you are about the new product or they are accepting of your decision to exit the product category. But they aren’t. The B2B world does everything it can to manage risk. Forcing a change from one product to another inserts risk that some customers won’t accept.
Some replacement products offer a simple transition for customers. They barely notice a change to the product. There is little perceived risk.
Other replacement products look, feel, and function differently than the EOLed product. The impact on customers is high and therefore adds unplanned risk.
Exiting from a product category creates risks for customers because they have to find an alternative.
My second rule of EOLing a product is to set an EOL timeline that is customer-focused, not company-focused. It’s OK to develop an aggressive timeline; just don’t be so tied to it that you start making stupid decisions and lose more customers than expected.
Manage Customer Expectations
Customer communication is crucial for a successful EOL. Don’t surprise customers. Spend time with your team to look at EOL transitions from a customer point of view.
How will this EOL impact them?
How will it impact our reputation?
How will our competitors leverage the EOL to their advantage?
Start customer communication as early as you can, especially with critical customers. It’s far easier to adjust to negative feedback before the EOL.
My third rule of EOLing a product is no surprises. No surprises for customers. No surprises for the customer support team. No surprises for the sales team. No surprises for the executive team. If that means delivering bad news, so be it.
Reduce Customer Risk
An overarching consideration of EOLing a product is to minimize the perception of customer risk.
Consider developing a deal with another company with an equivalent product so customers have a place to go. Or consider keeping the EOLed product alive by selling it to another organization and let them pick up the pieces.
Obsess over the path customers must take to transition to a replacement product. They will appreciate the effort to make their lives as easy as possible.
EOLing a product could be the best decision your company ever makes. Hopefully, the decision to EOL a product was the result of careful consideration and the evaluation of the risks to your business.
Plan for the worst and expect the best.
UPDATE: 31 January 2023
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