You’ve worked months to get a product market-ready. You’ve done your homework, from ascertaining product-market fit to determining pricing strategy. Now you’re ready to push this out the door and set your sights on the next big thing, right? Not so fast!
A product launch should be a well-coordinated effort between the product, marketing and sales teams and can make or break the fate of a product you and your team have worked so hard to build. Whether you’re supporting the product launch as a product owner, marketing expert or sales leader, you play an important role in its success. Below you’ll find critical pieces of product, marketing and sales to-dos before, during and after launch.
Build a formalized product plan template
Software products typically have revenue goals and, as such, are not built solely on the whims of the product team or by popular demand. Instead, much like a new business, a new product has its genesis in a problem, a solution and a plan for financial success.
Long before code gets pushed to production, a product canvas should be drafted, teams aligned and market waters tested. If you’re still in the throes of this process, a lean canvas is a good starting point or means of alignment. A more formalized framework will also ensure that you keep the key assumptions of your product top of mind throughout the process and serve as a simple way to inform your functionally related teams of the key product information. Remember that product launch is a process and one that is made significantly easier if you are preparing for it from the beginning.
Revisit the product purpose
As Simon Sinek posits in his book Start with Why, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Your sales team will only buy in once they understand the product-market fit. Your prospects will buy in once they see how their experience will change.
A successful product typically begins with a true understanding of what the market needs. Often, that means seeing beyond the acute angle of user requests and understanding not only what a prospect is asking for, but why. For example, if an industry challenge is getting government paperwork approved faster, one might suggest hiring more government employees, whereas taking a step back may reveal a more appropriate solution to be automating the approval process or perhaps modifying or removing the process entirely. Make sure that you have talked to a wide enough variety of prospects to create future-proof solutions that address the “why” behind the market need.
Beta testing can tell you a great deal about how you’ll fare after launch. There’s enough information out there to fill volumes on beta testing, but remember this, until it can be tested at scale, the success of your product is a hypothesis. Therefore, beta testing should happen early in the process and importantly, testers must be representative of the market, not your hand-selected evangelists.
What good is a positive beta review if it does not reflect your target audience? Understand and document the personas and market share and be honest with yourself about your targets and you’ll launch confident that you’ll have a well-received product.
Align your teams
It goes without saying that you’re the industry expert, the product pundit, the market maestro. Before the product was even a story in the backlog, you knew the market personas, their needs and their desires. And, you coordinated the learning effort with the marketing team, right? And you touched base with sales to gauge their confidence they felt in selling this?
Remember that the product owner need not be solely responsible for collecting and analyzing market data, but they should have a deep understanding of a product-value proposition. If you don’t feel that all teams have the same information as you about product-market fit and the pain points being addressed with the product, that is the first place to start.
Launching a product will be many times easier if everyone knows their role and believes in the value being delivered. As the product’s primary stakeholder, it’s your job to help them help you.
Establish your KPIs
Depending on your company structure, product and marketing teams may divide some of these responsibilities differently. I believe that product success metrics should live with marketing for three main reasons:
- Marketing is more suited to make non-emotional measurements of product success.
- Marketing likely has better access to tools to measure indicators like traffic, leads created, etc.
- Self-measuring is innately inaccurate. Cross-departmental measurement of KPIs allows coworkers to push one another and come to terms with difficult outcomes.
Keep in mind that metrics to determine a product’s success should be established before its launch (consider setting SMART goals), and that revenue or user count, while an obvious measurement, will not set you up with valuable data to make additional improvements.
When determining what metrics you want to track, think back to what pain point your product is intended to solve and how you would measure that relief as a customer. Once you’ve done this, KPIs should be evident. Your KPIs should be indicative of customer satisfaction with and dependency on your product.
Make your milestones known
While product and development were busy writing up testing scenarios, you were building market authority by preemptively publishing content, right? From building out the content calendar to drafting a press release, marketing’s role in a product launch begins as soon as the product is on the roadmap. Even the most customer-solving, delightful product will fail to make a splash without proper introduction.
Make sure that the launch coordinator, whether it be the product owner or CTO knows that your involvement begins with the creation of the product roadmap. Product owners (I was one) can get very excited about product functionality and ostensible market value and forget about how much effort should go into non-development tasks.
Help me help you
As Jeffrey Gitomer summarizes in his book Little Red Book of Selling, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” Converting selling into buying and helping prospects to learn about you before you ever talk on the phone (if that is even part of the sales process) is as much a marketing effort as it is a sales effort. With prospects spending more and more time doing online research before speaking with a sales rep, it is becoming increasingly important to provide top, middle and bottom-of-the-funnel content well in advance of go-live.
Creating content and experiences to attract customers (inbound marketing) is applicable to both your company’s new clients as well as your existing clients to whom you may cross-sell new products. Establishing market rapport and industry expertise around new products shows your existing clients not only that you understand the industry, but that you’re listening to their wants and needs.
Share your expertise
The sales team is uniquely positioned to hear firsthand the problems a prospect is looking to solve and will receive this information in a very segmented and data-driven manner. A properly enabled sales team not only knows the market and its key players, but will also likely have a good idea of how well a potential product will sell into that market and how a new product can better feed prospects to existing products or vice versa. From this vantage, it is critical that a salesperson be consulted by product teams when defining functionality and by product marketing for sellability and pricing.
Your job as a salesperson, therefore, is to get involved in the process, disseminating information to product and marketing and filling in the gaps where you hold this unique expertise. It is you after all, who will be making a commission based on how well you can sell this product.
Revisit your personas
New products bring new (types) of customers. In his book Crossing the Chasm, Moore sets forth the idea that in adopting new products, there exists a chasm between the early adopters (technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (pragmatists). Assuming that your target personas will remain unchanged can be a mistake. While the new product being sold may address the needs of your target persona, these same people may be more risk-averse than previously understood. Ensure that your strategies to target these personas are revisited as needed.
Whether you’re on the product, marketing or sales team, your role in a SaaS product launch begins early and remains involved throughout the process. As key stakeholders in a product, you should insert yourself into the process at all stages, not as an extra “cook” but as an expert in your area. Product launch should be a well-coordinated effort where success is not a wish or hope, but a systematic execution with as little speculation as possible.