Sunsetting a Product: What You Need to Know For Your B2B
Making the decision to sunset a product can be difficult. When your efforts to improve user engagement fail, killing a feature or the entire product might be what you need.
But first, you need to consider multiple teams and stakeholders, customers, and the overall impact it has on your business.
If you’re not quite sure where to start, we’ve put together a guide to assist you through the process.
- Never make gut-feel decisions when deciding to shelve a product.
- Address changes and trends in usage for MAUs, WAUs, and overall adoption.
- Take a look at your revenue — is your team able to still sell the product?
- Investigate support and development efforts on the existing platform.
- Talk to your customers! Quantitative and qualitative insights both matter.
- Make sure you understand “what” and “why,” you may be sunsetting the wrong product (or feature).
- Consider the impact on your customers, team, and set a communication plan in place.
Before taking the drastic decision and sunset your product entirely, have a look at deleting features first. If you’re not sure when the right time for killing a feature is, check out Vazgen’s advice.
If killing features won’t be enough, let’s look at how you should make the decision to sunsetting the entire product.
Make evidence-based decisions when sunsetting a product
In order to support sunsetting a product, the first thing you need to look at is data.
This has to be an evidence-based decision and not a ‘gut-feel’ decision. Make sure you can gather and support it with the proper research behind it.
This is not about opinions, but about facts. Below are different types of data you should check.
What usually triggers shelving a product are changes in usage. There should be a clear descent in numbers of your MAUs (Monthly Active Users), WAUs (Weekly Active Users), and overall adoption.
This is your first indicator that something is happening and you must look closer attention and what the root cause might be.
Continuously tracking feature engagement is a good way of identifying issues in advance. Use Userpilot to tag and track engagement with your most important features.
Assess the team’s customer acquisitions, renewals, and churn rates. This will give you an idea of whether you’re spending more time and resources trying to sell the product than actually making any ROI.
If there’s a clear downward curve on sales, this is another key indicator. Not only are your users not actively engaging, but your team is having a hard time selling the product.
Look at the number of tickets that are being generated in regards to the product itself.
For the most part, if all the product is generating are complaints and negative feedback, that’s another indicator that the product is not being well-received and there are some serious issues to address.
And speaking of issues, your development team will be able to give you a deeper understanding of those being raised.
At this point you know there’s been a downward curve in sales, you’re not generating revenue, there’s a lot of support tickets being raised… so what’s it costing your development team?
Asses Product-Market Fit before sunsetting a product
Numbers and data are important — but talking to customers and gathering feedback can provide you with a new page on your product’s sunsetting story.
Is it that there’s no product-marketing fit, or that you’ve spent too much time working on the wrong things?
This is your chance to get down to the root of the problem. The clear step here is to talk to your customers and find out more about how your product helps them solve a problem or reach a particular outcome.
A great place to get started is to ask: what would your customers do if your product no longer existed?
Ask about their frustrations, what they like and dislike about your product, and most importantly, how they’re reaching their outcomes if at all.
Make sure you understand the ‘’what’’ and ‘’why’’
I know I sound repetitive when I say “always ask why” — but it’s such an important question to ask. Even when it feels like you shouldn’t be asking it… ask it.
I once worked at a company where they were rebuilding the product they were sunsetting using new technology. They had spent the last 3 years rewriting the app (which had never seen the light of day or had passed any usability testing,) while the old app still generated some revenue and was not being looked at.
So here I stroll along in week 2 of my employment and ask…. but why?
The old app worked just fine.
Sure, it was a little clunky, but it worked and it was generating revenue. It was being actively sold. So why were they rewriting it, without any testing or complaints about the old tech, when they could just invest that time in the current app and fix the necessary bugs.
If needed, they could slowly rewrite parts of the app in a more stable new language (the joke here is they were trying to rewrite it in Angular, lol.)
I remember the CEO looking at me with the realization of what was happening. He was sunsetting the wrong product.
He immediately shut down the new development and put the entire team’s focus on fixing the outstanding tech debt with the original product.
I often thought of apologizing. Three years of hard work from everyone and I’m there for two weeks, and cause the project to be shut down. But refocusing helped, and by 2022 they hit $10 Million in revenue.*
* I would never want to take away from the hard work the team has put into the product’s success. While I may not have been responsible for the company’s growth thereafter, I’d like to think refocusing had a bit of impact!
Sunsetting a product doesn’t mean killing it completely
And that little story takes us to our next point: sunsetting a product doesn’t mean retiring it entirely, it could mean enhancing it.
Much like the product I worked on previously, it could mean rewriting it with new technology.
It could also mean investing in your infrastructure and ensuring that whatever language you choose to rewrite it in, it is stable, scalable, and maintainable.
This is where you work with your CTO and development team to understand the risks and advantages of making such a move.
Don’t just do it because things could “look” better, do it because it brings a real benefit to the customer’s journey with your product.
When sunsetting the product is the way -Communicating end-of-life
Whether you choose to sunset a product and retire it indefinitely, or whether you choose to go via the enhancement route, make sure you have a communication strategy for both internal and external users.
Coordinate with your teams so you can all get the full picture of how the team and customers are impacted, what and how they need to communicate the changes, and set a plan that makes sense for everyone.
Impact on customers
Consider customers in the various stages of their customer journey.
They could just be signing on, they could be onboarding, active, or considering leaving.
Sunsetting a product might even be an opportunity to potentially re-engage users that have left in the past because of some fault you are now addressing.
Make sure your words are clear, concise, and action-oriented.
A few things you might want to consider:
- What do the changes mean for customers that are currently using the product?
- Is there a transitioning period, access to a beta, or is it a hard switch?
- Will they have access to download data, or will the transfer be seamless?
- Have you set a cut-off date?
- Will there be a period of time in which the old platform is still available?
- Will there be any impact on usage or access in between the transitional period?
- Is there any sort of compensation for customers, or any incentives you want to provide for transitioning early?
Above all, I always recommend that transitions are done in stages.
Have a beta program where people are able to get used to the new UX/UI and familiarize themselves with the changes.
If completely shelving a product for good, always provide time and space for people to export their data and prepare for internal impact in their own companies.
If you are at all able to provide or recommend alternatives, it might be a good idea to do so. (Remember, you’re still building relationships at the end of the day!)
Impact on your team
Your product marketing team will be able to smooth things over and suggest the correct positioning for the transition or shut down, and also assist with training the rest of your team so they’re prepared to talk to customers and set the right expectations.
Don’t underestimate the impact that sunsetting a product will have on your internal teams.
They’re on the front lines after all, and they have to be prepared to deal with any potential fallouts, just as much as they need to be ready to support the upcoming changes.
The best way to set expectations is with a roadmap. And yes, there is such a thing as a sunsetting roadmap!
Make sure you strategically map out what needs to be done as you’re going through this process, but most importantly, share this information with everyone.
Update and communicate often, and make yourself available for questions and feedback.
Sunsetting a product can be as difficult and overwhelming as creating one, but with the right focus and direction, you can make sure you’re ready to support and transition those impacted with as much ease as possible.
If you are in the data collection phase, get a Userpilot demo! We can help track feature engagement and even help you improve it.