IN THIS CHAPTER
- Accounting for important launch elements, including first impressions
- Establishing quantifiable launch goals
- Determining what type of launch to execute
- Writing a launch plan and comparing it with your goals
- Making sure your launch team and milestones are in place
Your team members have been hard at work developing a great product based on the
winning strategy and customer needs you provided them. Now comes the exciting part
where you get to show customers and the rest of the world what you’ve been working on
and give them a chance to purchase the product.
Launching your product is just as important as developing a great product. If you don’t do the launch effectively , customers won’t be aware of your solution and may have a bad impression of your product, and you may not hit your revenue and profitability goals. As such, planning early is critical. When you’re in the qualify phase (or even as early as
partway through the develop phase), you want to be planning the launch of your product
so that when the product is ready for sale you will be ready to effectively execute a launcht hat meets your goals. (Head to Chapter 3 for more on the phases of the product life cycle.)
The Product Management LifeCycle Toolkit (included as a free download with this
book; see the Introduction, page 4, for details) contains a launch plan template and a
sample launch plan completed for a fictional product called EarBud. Use these tools to
make sure you’ve thought through all the most important questions and aspects of
your launch and to help communicate to others the details, budget, and resource
commitments needed for the launch.
Unlocking the Do’s and Don’ts of a
Successful Product Launch
It’s simple: Make a great first impression by planning the launch early . Sure, many factors go into a successful product launch, but if you follow the rule of early planning, you get off to a great start. Read on to find out the importance of a positive first impression, the impact of a negative first impression, and the elements of a successful launch.
Understanding the importance of first impressions
We can’t state strongly enough how important making a good first impression as part of
your launch is. Here’s what making a good first impression can do for your product:
- It sets the competitive stage. If you’re entering a crowded market, a good impression gives you a chance to be considered against the competitive alternatives. If you’re entering a new market, a positive impression gives you the chance to set the standard against which all new products will be judged.
- It gives you a positive presence online and bolsters affirmative word-of-mouth responses. Customers rely on word-of -mouth, social media buzz, and information on the Internet more than ever before.
- It allows for positive press coverage and stellar product reviews. The press and customers love to tell others about products they love.
Conversely , a bad first impression can really damage your product’s image and your
bottom line. Here’s what happens when you create a bad first impression:
- It puts a bad taste in customers’ mouths. By launching a product that isn’t ready for the market, you’re opening the door to a whole host of problems that customers may encounter with a not-ready product. Customers are demanding. Giving them a bad experience will taint your brand, and they may never be willing to try your product — or even your company — a second time.
- It creates a poor online presence. A bad impression could live on forever via negative postings on the web.
- Sales often stall. If the first experience that customers have with your product gives them a bad impression word may get out to other potential customers who will choose not to buy your product, and you may not be able to meet your revenue projections.
Detailing the elements of a successful product
The elements of a successful product launch are many:
- Planning: Follow a plan to make sure all elements of your launch are in place.
- Communication: Communicate with all the parties internal and external so that awareness of your product is broad.
- Timing: Planning launches typically requires three to six months. The sequence of events is staggered depending on how close they are to the customer: internal departments first, partners and press next, and finally customers and the general public. Your aim is a seamless meshing of internal operations readiness, sales and marketing readiness, and product readiness.
- Effective marketing program mix: Have you chosen the right mix of activities, such as online advertising combined with product reviews and a social media campaign? Creating the correct marketing program mix generates the sales results that you’ve agreed to with your company .
- Compelling messaging: What messages are going to motivate customers to buy your product? Do you need to deliver those messages in a particular order to be more effective? Have you tested them with potential customers?
- Budget to achieve goals: If you have big sales goals, your marketing and launch budget need to give you the ability to reach customers with appropriate marketing tools.
- Message reach: Make sure the marketing activities you put in place reach the customers that you want, and avoid spending money reaching those that aren’t your target market.
- Product readiness: Your product must be ready at the quality level that customers expect. If it isn’t, you’ve wasted a lot of money attracting people to a product that either isn’t available or disappoints customers.
Keeping these in mind can help make sure you do everything possible to run a very
successful launch and have the best possible chance of achieving your revenue goals.
Setting Launch Goals
Getting clear on what you’re trying to achieve with your launch is important. Y our launch
goals guide all the other elements of your plan, such as how much you’re going to spend,
what marketing programs you’ll be running, where and whether you want to get exposure through public relations, and what type of launch you’ll want to run.
Choose goals you can measure. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do upfront analysis
to determine whether your plans will meet your goals. For example, if your goal is to
generate 1,000 leads, you can analyze how much exposure your launch activities will
give you and estimate whether it’s enough activity to get to the goal. Of course, using
concrete numbers also means you can measure after the fact whether you achieved
You may simply have one goal, or you could have multiple goals, depending on what you
are trying to achieve with your launch. Here are some examples of different types of goals:
- Identify 700 well-qualified leads, 3 percent of which purchase the products, generating 21 unit sales and $600,000 in revenue.
- Get to market with a minimum viable product (MVP), which has minimal features and functionality , to get customer feedback and quickly improve the product.
Releasing products with an MVP goal is a common strategy in start-ups as well
as companies bringing new products to market by using Lean startup and Agile
development methodologies. Chapters 8 and 12 have explanations of Agile and Lean
- Become the de facto perceived market leader by getting 12 positive reviews and mentions in a targeted list of publications and websites.
- Within 3 months, get 20,000 subscribers to sign up, use the service, and refer at least one friend.
- Have 90 percent or more customers indicate that they’d recommend the product to a colleague or friend.
Checking Out Different Launch Types
The range of launch possibilities varies from an app update every couple of weeks to a full-scale launch every year or two. Read on to see the advantages and disadvantages for
different types of launches and what will work best for your product.
Launches under Agile or very frequent releases
Some products don’t need any formal launch marketing activities. For example, if your
product is web-based and you release new features to customers online once a month, you may need to do very little other than notifying your customers with a pop-up about what the new features are. This kind of launch strategy is common with teams doing Agile development. If the new version of the product contains major features, you may want to update your website and marketing materials to include the new features as well. The downside of this kind of approach is that launches are usually so small that getting any kind of press coverage or generating much excitement is difficult because everything you do is a minor launch.
Make sure that your launch cadence takes into account how quickly your
customers want to have to learn and get used to new features. If you change your
product too often, even if the new features provide value, your customers may become
overwhelmed and unhappy . This point is particularly true if the new features change
how users perform any of the most important and critical tasks that they routinely do
with your product. If your customers have to re-learn how to do basic tasks, they may
become frustrated and turn to a different product. A strategy for combating this
feature-release fatigue — and helping you generate excitement, buzz, and awareness
about your product — is to hold off releasing smaller iterations of your product when
their development is complete. Instead, combine a larger set of features into one
major release. A company that uses this technique well is Salesforce.com. Although
the company does fully Agile development, it saves up the features and does bigger
releases less often so its customers aren’t inundated constantly with new features and
the company can get websites and analysts to write about the new versions of its
Easy does it: The soft launch
The first type of launch is a soft launch. A soft launch is when the product is launched
without a lot of corresponding launch activities to generate widespread awareness.
Sometimes companies do this type of launch if their product isn’t fully ready and they want to deploy to a limited set of customers who may have special agreements to delay payment until the product is deemed final. Start-ups often use soft launches because they don’t have the financial and marketing resources to do much more. They may have a need to get the product out quickly , capture some customers and revenues, and then use results to go to venture capitalists for additional funding to expand their sales and marketing efforts.
The other reason for doing a soft launch is that a company wants to get the product into
customers’ hands rapidly to get some quick feedback and improve the product. For
products that are a brand-new type of offering, this type of early feedback may be
necessary in order to make course corrections to get to a version 2.0 or 3.0 that truly
meets market needs.
The downside to soft launches (when a product is fully ready and the company’s goal is to maximize revenues) is that, more often than not, they generate little or no revenue.
Because a soft launch doesn’t have the momentum of a big push behind it with the
corresponding marketing and PR activities, the launch often creates little or no press
coverage, and the company finds itself weeks later wondering why it was unable to
generate more interest in the product and why it missed its revenue targets. Once the
product is launched, the company can’t go back and re-launch it because it has been
available and is old news. So they must create extensive and expensive marketing
programs to attempt to make up for the lack of awareness created by the soft launch.
A small effort: The minimal launch
A minimal launch is something you want to consider when you have a small launch budget and few resources to work on the launch. Your product may not be that important to your company’s strategy and overall success, or you may be coming up with a minor revision and only want to make your existing customers aware so that they upgrade.
Companies also often use minimal launches because they’ve failed to plan early enough
and then have to scramble for a minimal launch because they’ve run out of time. Another scenario is that companies mistakenly think they need only a minimal launch to meet their goals. This happens because of unrealistic expectations about how important their product is to the market and the assumption that the product will sell itself .
Minimal launches can be very effective if you use your resources wisely . For example,
instead of trying to do a horizontal launch to make the entire industry aware of the
product, a company may want to target a specific vertical market, such as the insurance or health care industries, with a combination of email blasts, PR, and seminars. If the product is a good solution in that vertical, it may provide the company with the revenues necessary to expand the marketing campaigns later on.
Minimal launches can have the same downsides as soft launches (see the
preceding section). When a company has minimally launched the product, it may have
to spend an extraordinary amount of money to build the revenue momentum it needs,
if it can at all.
Going all-in: The full scale launch
A full-scale launch is designed to maximize awareness, generate as many leads and sales as possible, and let the industry know who your company is and why you matter . Y ou spend more money on a full-scale launch, but, spent right, each dollar is much more effective because your marketing programs build on each other and provide synergy . For example, imagine you place dozens of product announcements in publications, follow them up with advertising that reaches the same readers, receive excellent product reviews, and then send your target customers a direct-mail piece. Each one of these exposures to the potential customer creates additional awareness and credibility and builds on the others, ultimately enticing your prospects to act and buy your product.
Full-scale launches can be broadly horizontal in nature or can target one or
multiple verticals. The choice depends on your product and chosen marketing
A full-scale launch gives your product the best chance of success, though most companies are afraid to spend the money to execute one. Even though they may have spent millions of dollars developing a product that is going to change their customers’ lives, when it comes down to spending a few hundred thousand dollars they aren’t realistic that this amount may be required to generate the millions in revenue their plans call for .
Choosing a launch type: Key considerations
An excellent strategy for planning is to use a full-scale launch as the starting point. If
you’re budget, resource, or time constrained, scale back the plan and use a subset of the
programs listed in Figure 14-1 (and even more options listed in Chapter 15 ) to run a more minimal launch. This gives you the best chance of success, ensures you don’t forget to consider all the options, and allows you to make educated trade-offs about how you’re going to reach your goals. Use Figure 14-1 to look at the trade-offs in results and Figure 14-2 for relative costs for each kind of launch.
Guerrilla marketing activities are things the employees and friends of the company
do to promote the company . They can include wearing product t-shirts at an event,
writing blogs, posting on Twitter , and liking and sharing the company blog article
about the release on LinkedIn. All these activities cost little or nothing. They often
have minimal impact as well, but when you don’t have a lot of budget, you get very
creative. Guerrilla marketing activities have such a low impact on full-scale launches,
it’s as though they never happened.
Running a Smooth Product Launch
You have a solid plan designed to realistically meet your goals. The critical thing now is
executing a flawless launch so that things go as planned (though you can adjust the plan
where/if necessary) and the company and launch team give you the support and
cooperation that you need.
Some companies have groups that are dedicated to running product launches, while others have specific launch processes with clear roles, responsibilities, and timelines. However , some have none of this infrastructure in place, so you may have to step up to create and implement it for this and future launches. Don’t be afraid to define some best practices and a simple process that states who does what and when. Doing so will reduce future stress and position you as a knowledgeable leader who has the company’s best interests at heart.
The team will likely welcome a simple process that minimizes failure, fire drills, and bumps in the road.
Building your launch squad
Make sure you identify who will be on the launch squad from each of the respective
departments, including operations, marketing, support, engineering, public relations,
quality assurance, international, and any other pertinent groups. While sales can be part of your launch squad, they are often not in the office. It’s easier to keep sales informed or ask them for specific participation as you need it. Meet with squad members at least three months prior to launch to have a kickoff , walk through the plan, and set expectations of what you need from them. If you meet resistance, this point is the time to address it and make sure you have full commitment.
Let your company and a broader audience of stakeholders and executives know
who is on the launch squad so that the squad members feel happy to be included and
publicly committed to the success of the launch. Acknowledge the role of each squad
member and the specialty skills they bring as being critical to the plan and show that
you have confidence in the team to deliver .
Tracking milestones and ensuring accountability
Build out a chart of milestones and a table with key activities, such as collateral and
website content being completed, showing who is responsible for them. Include due dates so that you can track progress on a weekly basis. Hold launch squad meetings as often as necessary so you can hold the team accountable and make sure nothing is slipping through the cracks.
Make sure you communicate the status in a brief report to a wider audience, such as your executives and channel partners, so they’re aware of the effects of how the plan is being executed. For example, if the launch slips, let them know so they can plan how they need to respond in their area. Share any bad or challenging news with them, and highlight positive happenings — giving your squad credit, of course!
Arming your sales team and other key stakeholders
A highly effective tool during the early part of your launch is a product launch one-pager
like the one shown in Figure 14-3 . This short, simple document gives your sales team and other key readers the critical, need-to-know information. Creating this document and making it readily available can save you dozens of hours answering questions and
explaining (and re-explaining) the product details.
Early on in the launch process, create 25-, 50-, 100-, 150-, and 250-word
descriptions of your product. You’ll need descriptions with various word lengths for
web, brochures, ads, and partner sites. Getting them all done at once saves a lot of
time later on.
As you approach launch, you want to train your salespeople so they know who the product is for (that is, the personas; see Chapter 5 ), what’s in it for each of the people in the buying cycle, why it will be compelling and easy to sell, and what’s in it for them. ( Tip:Make sure salespeople see how they can meet their goals and make their quota and
commissions easily!) Train the support staff and, if your product is replacing an existing
one, let the appropriate people know the end-of -life plans for the retiring product. (Chapter 16 has details on end-of -life planning.) And train and inform anyone else who will be critical to keeping your product launch engine running smoothly as the launch starts and progresses.
Creating a Product Launch Plan
Your launch will tell your company and stakeholders what you are planning and how it
impacts them. The process of creating it will help you think about the different aspects of the launch so that you are well-prepared to execute on the plan.
Recognizing the importance of the launch plan
As with all things in life, spending some time upfront planning your launch will likely pay
off with great success. If you have an idea of what your goals are and have a well-thought through plan, you’re at least headed in the right direction.
In our consulting practice, we can’t believe how many companies spend lots of money
developing the next killer product yet devote little or no time determining how to launch it and get the revenue and profit engine going. They simply assume customers will flock to the product. Instead of simply relying on assumptions, make sure you’re ahead of the game so that your sweat and labor building that great product don’t go to waste.
Your planning for launch happens during the develop and qualify phases (which we discuss in Chapters 12 and 13 ). T o make sure you cover all the key questions, use the launch plan template included in the Product Management LifeCycle T oolkit (included as a free download with this book; see the Introduction, page 4, for details). Note: Be sure to revisit documents you’ve already developed, such as the market strategy document; they already contain some of the elements that would typically be in a standalone launch plan (such as the total available market, market segmentation, positioning, and unique selling proposition). You can update them now based on any changes in the market and/or product and include them in the launch plan if others in your company need to know about and/or approve them.
Filling out the launch plan template
The launch plan template includes a brief back story to the launch. Most of the launch plan is a long list of launch activities and reasons for each of them. The better you can tell the overall launch story and how all the pieces fit together , the better you can defend your launch plan.
Summarize the goals of your campaign: company messages, product audience, goals for
the launch, and how you’ll measure the launch success. Identify key features of the
product you’re launching here, including features, functions, and system requirements.
Y ou can take some of these items from the market strategy document.
Include a brief description of the product (two to three paragraphs) that describes what
the product is, the main features and benefits it provides and how it solves customer
problems. This is a synthesis of the information that you created in the market needs
document along with the solution as defined in the product description document.
Who is your target customer? Who are the product personas? What are your target market segments? What business segments are you targeting? Identify here the differentiating factors for your products and the important customer needs they’re satisfying. Identify customer value and total cost of ownership issues.
What are your key messages for the product? For your company? This information comes from the messaging platform that you created as part of the market strategy document discussed in Chapter 10 .
Critical success factors
Include the specific criteria that indicate that the launch has been a success. Include
concrete and measurable goals such as revenue targets, number of press
articles/mentions, number of partners carrying the product, channel availability , and
competitive perception in the marketplace.
Critical dates and milestones
List all critical dates and milestones including product availability , finalizing product name, budget, positioning, and press activities.
Internal commitments and owners
List all necessary commitments you need from individuals or groups in your company
required for success and call out who owns each.
What key marketing vehicles will work best for you given your budgetary constraints and
your target audience? Following are some components that product managers need to
- Collateral materials: What types of materials, such as product fact sheets, brochures, and so on, do you need to support the launch? Are corresponding company materials required? Do company-wide collateral pieces need to be updated?
- Press event/conference: Do you want to hold a press event/conference for your product? Which key press members do you need to invite? You can decide on the specific press you want to target based on your key messages.
- Trade show or event: Do you want to have a presence at a trade show or event where your target audience will be in attendance? What does that presence look like — a booth,a suite, or one-on-one meetings with customers? Who from your company do they meet with?
- Press releases: Send out quotes from premier customers/beta customers to target publications.
- Publications: Create key articles to target publications. Either submit articles written by someone in the company or be available for interviews by publication and online writers.
- Product evaluations: Will you perform product evaluations? Will you publish benchmark data? What reputable sources will you quote?
- Online communication: How will you communicate online? What online advertisements will you develop and use (banner ads, email campaign, and so on)?
- Company web pages: Will you update your company web pages? Which ones? Will you provide demos of your products? Via a web page?
List an overall timeline of all activities in the launch plan that need to happen.
Financials and launch budget allocation
What is the budget for your launch plan? Provide a pie chart of how you’re allocating the
launch budget (Figure 14-4 ) and give the details in a table. Include a short explanation of why you’re allocating the funds the way you are.
Launch budget and ROI
What is your launch budget? What do you expect each line item to contribute to the overall launch ROI? Y our launch sales don’t usually recoup all the product development costs.
Ideally , you want the sales generated during launch to reimburse the launch expenditures.
If you’re working for a start-up or have very long sales cycles, recouping your investment
during the launch may not be possible. Figure 14-5 shows a typical launch plan ROI
calculation. Refer to Chapter 9 for more information on ROI calculations.
Include information on all possible risks, including critical decisions not being made,
product slips, competitive landscape changes, and so on. How will you overcome these
barriers? How might they affect your company? Is the probability of these risks low ,
medium, or high? Keep your answers brief .
Assumptions, open issues, and governance
List any of the assumptions made in this document. For example, you may have a
formidable competitor that is due to release a new version of its product and your launch plan may assume that you will launch your product six months prior to the competitor’s launch.
List all open decisions, including final budget and anything else that needs to be resolved to move forward. Track any open issues during the creation of this document. When the issue is resolved, document it. Any unresolved issues should be assigned to a responsible party .
Describe the governance processes and structures within the company . What has
happened up to this point, and what are the next steps? Be brief .
List the roles and names of the contributors and key reviewers of this document.
Core project team
Specify what commitments are required from each of the departments involved. Which
named individuals are part of the launch team? What are their roles in the launch?
Validating the Plan against Your
As you near finishing up the plan, make sure to do a reality check to determine whether it can meet your stated launch goals. Answer the key questions, such as whether the launch type, budget, resources assigned, and company commitment are enough to accomplish what you must achieve to make the launch and product successful.
One of the most common goals is to achieve a certain level of sales, revenue, profits,
and/or customer adoption and usage. Carefully analyze your launch plan to determine
whether your activities will drive enough potential customers to awareness and
consideration that even as some of them fall away you end up with a total number in terms of unit sales and revenues that is realistic given your goals.
Do an analysis like the one shown in Figure 14-6 and present it to your executives
and stakeholders so that you can either get the support and resources you need or set
expectations for how the results will likely compare to the company’s goals.
Otherwise, you may be expected to deliver on unreasonable goals — and blamed for a
lack of results if things don’t work out. By including assumptions, getting everyone to
walk through them and understand the calculations, and then tracking results, you
can use data to build your case and lead the company to launch success.
Use Figure 14-6 to work through the following example from the bottom up. The company has agreed that your goal is to sell 1,000 units in the first three months during the launch.
So 1,000 is your expected unit sales. Now start at the top. Your marketing generates
10,000 leads (people who want to find out more about your product). Your estimate is that 5 percent (10,000 × .05 = 500) of those leads then learn more and consider buying. In the next step you estimate that 10 percent of the 500 who consider purchase actually do complete the purchase; that’s 50 (500 × .10) unit sales, nowhere near your target of 1,000 units. Working the math back the other way , if your target is 1,000 units sold, then you’d have to have 10,000 people who consider purchasing (1,000/.1) and 200,000 (10,000/.05) leads. That’s a 20 times increase over the 10,000 you had planned. And now you need to explain that you’ll need more marketing budget to make the sales targets.
After the launch is well underway , analyze how you’re doing against your stated goals and make adjustments to how and where your marketing funds are spent. Hold a formal review with the launch squad to evaluate how the launch process worked: What went well, and what could be improved? Did you meet your goals? What did you learn in terms of assumptions, roles and responsibilities, and schedules? Capture the results formally and share them with the company . If you hold a formal review , share the results and help the company to constantly improve; you’ll not only have greater success and buy-in for your efforts but also begin to be perceived as a true product and company leader .