Most products don't sell themselves, which is a reason launch readiness is crucial to product growth. Launch readiness (also called go to market readiness) is often the most challenging part of a successful product launch.
A product launch is one of the most cross-functional initiatives a company undertakes. It reaches far beyond the readiness of a product. A successful product launch needs a differentiated, working product and a fully functioning organization behind it.
Launch readiness aims to ensure the entire organization is ready to market, sell, deliver, and support a product at a level that drives momentum for a business.
Practical launch readiness verifies readiness; it doesn't assume it's happened.
Launch readiness checklists are helpful but only tell part of the story. Plus, launch checklists are typically copies of checklists from other companies or generalized lists that miss things that are essential for your organization. For that reason alone, use the Four Dimensions of Launch Readiness to build a launch readiness checklist or refine the one you use today.
You will have higher launch readiness confidence when you get a 'yes' for each question.
Are we targeting the market segments that produce the best outcomes?
Can we generate enough sales leads to achieve our launch objectives?
Do we understand and know enough about the competitive landscape to re-position them unfavorably?
Can our sales team identify a qualified sales opportunity and guide it to a close?
Do we have the tools and processes to provide timely support to our sales team?
Can we accept money from a customer when they make a purchase?
Can we deliver the product we've sold in a timely fashion?
Can we onboard new customers efficiently?
Can we provide prompt support to customers when they need it?
Launch Readiness: The Business Dimension
The Business Dimension of launch readiness ensures the mundane aspects of a product are in place. In a rush to get a product into the market, it's easy to assume things like pricing and accepting money are so simple they can be addressed with an email.
As the saying goes, "Everything looks easy when you're not the one doing it."
Pricing model, price list, and discounting policy
The pricing model, the price list, and discounting policy are not trivial exercises. For most companies, the best foundation for pricing is based on the perception of value, not cost.
Determining pricing models and setting prices must factor in how loose or rigid the discounting policy is. You must also factor in channel partners and distributors (they want to get paid too).
Ability to accept money from customers
It seems simple enough. You sell a product, and customers want to pay for it. Are all the elements in place for the Finance team? Proper accounting for sales is essential, and it must be auditable and fully compliant with regulations.
What if your product launch introduces the first product sold over the web? Do you have a payment processor? Have you factored the cost of online payment fees into your pricing structure? Does your Finance team have a process in place to reconcile online payments? Will you have a referral network? Do you have the ability to track referrals and pay them? What about returns?
Ability to pay salespeople and channel partners
People who sell your stuff want to get paid for selling that stuff, and you want to pay them based on a commission structure. Have you thought about commissions and how they factor into day-to-day operations?
It's easy to assume the product you're launching will have the same commission structure as other products in your portfolio, but this may need to be corrected. It may require a different compensation model.
The two groups that can stop a product launch fast are Finance and Legal. Your legal team wants to mitigate as much risk as possible. They also want to protect all intellectual property, establish licensing and use terms and conditions, and approve standard contract boilerplate.
Launch Readiness: The Product Dimension
The Product Dimension of Launch Readiness ensures a product can be delivered to customers, can be onboarded efficiently, and support is available when they need it.
Product delivery represents all the operational elements needed to quickly deliver what a customer purchases. A slow delivery time than perceived by customers means a longer time-to-value (TTV) and a potentially upset customer. A faster delivery time pleases customers and makes a solid first impression.
Fast and efficient onboarding of new customers is critical. The goal is to shorten the time-to-value. The quicker customers receive value, the more likely they will like your product and continue as customers.
No matter how good you believe your product is, customers will need help from time to time. There are two ways they will need help. One is if the product doesn't work—that is, it's broken, and only you can fix it. The other is how to make it work better for them. Both of these scenarios are the responsibilities of the Customer Success team.
Launch Readiness: The Marketing Dimension
The Marketing Dimension of launch readiness chooses the best target market segments. It ensures the product is a good fit for those market segments too.
A product's packaging is structured to connect to customers' value drivers in the target market segments.
There is a clear, compelling message relative to the alternatives customers have today and a believable, unique value proposition.
Target market segments
A market segment is a group of people with common needs, practices, and communications channels. Market segments are defined by attributes that allow categorization. Some market segments are desperate for your product because it solves problems they are experiencing now. Other market segments have the problem you solve. Still, it is smaller than the other problems they encounter.
Target market segments are those with the most need, the highest urgency, and the willingness to pay for your product.
You have a choice when planning a product launch. You can let your sales team figure out the best market segments by thrashing around or directing them to the best fishing holes.
Product-Market Fit matches your product with what a market segment full of buyers needs to address their problems. The Product-Market Fit could be better in some market segments, and you'll save time, money, and resources chasing windmills. In other market segments, your product is a much better fit and more likely to succeed.
The short answer is only chase buyers in a market segment when there is a good Product-Market Fit.
Packaging is the art and science of presenting a product to closely match buyers' value drivers. One widespread way of doing this is with the Good, Better, Best (GBB) method.
"Good" product packaging is your lowest-price bundle that offers excellent value to some customers. The "better" product packaging has all the value of the "good" packaging but with more value for a different set of customers. The "best" product packaging offers all the value of the "better" product packaging but with a more excellent value for the most discriminating buyers.
The beauty of packaging is that elements can be added or removed (like features, professional services, training, and support) to appeal to value drivers in each buying group. For example, a "best" customer may be willing to pay for faster support twenty-four hours a day, but a "good" customer accepts waiting until the next business day.
Positioning is a form of communication. The goal of positioning is to occupy a space in the minds of buyers that present your product as the best fit for their problems or unmet needs by leveraging the perceptions buyers already have.
There are five building blocks of good positioning:
A buyer persona with a problem.
An established perception of the pain.
An established perception of how the problem is solved.
A set of attributes that categorizes the vendors.
A collection of value drivers that are important to the buyer persona.
A simple framework illustrates the deliverables of a good position. At the topmost level is the brand positioning of your company or business unit. Top-level brand attributes flow down to the products and services delivered.
The second level is at a market segment. Different market segments can have different needs and expectations that must be accounted for.
The next layer is the unique value proposition (UVP). Salespeople often refer to this as a unique selling proposition. A unique value proposition is only unique when your target buyers believe it's unique.
The UVP is followed by a Primary Message, also referred to as the elevator pitch. The memorable and repeatable message conveys what makes you unique and why a buyer should listen.
The Primary Message is backed up by Proof Points that demonstrate that you can deliver on your unique value proposition.
Enough good leads to fill their sales pipeline and achieve a sales quota is a concern in the minds of your Sales team. If you only sell online, that same concern still exists; it's just in another part of the business.
Sales leads come from direct actions, like advertising and other direct-response marketing tactics. And sales leads can come from indirect activities like search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, podcasts, and blogs.
There isn't an immediate answer to the perfect marketing mix required to have an adequate lead flow. It requires experimentation. The critical thing to address is ensuring the marketing team has what they need to drive lead generation effectively.
Potential customers need sufficient information to help them understand who you are, what you offer, and how they can learn more. How you deliver that content is up to you and should be framed around the unique value proposition, primary message, and proof points developed in positioning.
A tip about market-facing content is to write for humans but be search engine aware. Every piece of content should be viewed through the lens of winning more customers, keeping the customers you have, growing revenue from existing customers, or stealing customers from your competitors.
To re-position a competitor is to frame them in a less favorable light. It isn't necessary to trash them. The desired outcome is to place uncertainty and doubt in the minds of potential customers.
By extension, re-positioning requires knowledge of competitors, their strengths and weaknesses, and their perceptions of them in buyers' minds.
A common technique is to find the weakness in your competitors' strengths. It's something we learned from Sun Tzu, the originator of the Art of War. Every competitor has strengths; it's something they project to the market. They are proud of those strengths and broadcast them in everything they do. The goal is to find the weakness in that strength and amplify it.
Another method of re-positioning a competitor is to identify the important attributes of the product category you will compete in, determine one attribute not owned by your competitors, and own it.
Launch Readiness: The Sales Dimension
Sales teams use the term "Day 1 Ready" to mean all the things they need to be successful and build sales momentum are in place. To be Day 1 Ready means the Sales team understands why buyers need your product, they can qualify a sales opportunity, they can nurture a sales opportunity to a close, they know the pricing/discounting structure, can get paid for selling your product, and know where to get help when needed.
Sales-facing content (sales tools)
Sales-facing content is designed for two purposes. The first purpose is to educate and ready the Sales team. These are things like market overviews, buyer profiles, and competitor battlecards. The second is to provide sales tools that help salespeople nurture a sales opportunity.
These are sales presentations, product demonstrations, return-on-investment (ROI) calculators, and the like.
Sales teams are notorious for asking for more sales tools and sales readiness content than is needed to be successful in selling. Finding the sweet spot is critical, and the way to find the sweet spot is to place more emphasis on what buyers need and less on what sellers want.
Draw a vertical line down the middle of a whiteboard. Everything above the line is must-have. With it, the Sales team can successfully sell your new product. Everything below the line is nice to have. Get to that later.
Some salespeople need a lot of support, and some need very little. In the Sales launch readiness dimension, you need two levels of sales support. The topmost is the first place all salespeople go to get information. It's where sales presentations, competitive battlecards, buyer profiles, and the like are stored.
The next level down is when human intervention is required. It's when the self-help place lacks the information to address special sales situations. A salesperson needs to consult with a product expert, an implementation expert, or others who can counsel them on how to win the sales opportunity or walk away.
If the frequency of special situations increases, it could signify other problems. One problem is the core information in the self-help place has gaps. Another could be a sign of ineffective sales enablement that needs addressing.
The Four Dimensions of Launch Readiness are Not Optional
The final thing to say about the four dimensions of launch readiness is every item is needed for a successful product launch. View it as the "Ts" to cross and the "Is" to dot.
UPDATE (5/17/2023): Added video overview