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You Think You Had a Successful Product Launch. How Can You Be Sure?

In discussions with clients, I ask a question that stumps them. “Was your last product launch a success?”. Many reply that their launch was a success. I follow up the first question with “How do you know?”. What I hear is the sound of crickets. You can see the wheels turning in their minds as if I asked a trick question. The conclusion of our discussion is that no one really knows if the launch was a success because success was never defined.

It’s simple to me. If something is successful, there must be a definition of success. Otherwise, how do you keep score? We should be able to apply this logic to a product launch.

Now that I’ve stated what appears to be obvious, why do so few companies have a definition of launch success?

Effort Alone Doesn’t Define Launch Success

Many companies have a launch checklist. It’s a cross-functional collection of activities and deliverables that, when completed, mean a launch should be successful. It includes things like product messaging, sales enablement, SKUs for finance, legal review, updating the website, planning a launch campaign, briefing industry analysts, and so forth.

The launch checklist grows over time as expertise develops. New deliverables are added, and new activities are needed.

There’s a lot of stuff to do to pull off a product launch. Finishing everything on a launch checklist is very satisfying and a huge milestone.

Deliverables are, without a doubt, necessary. Does completing them on time define launch success?

The activity of enabling a sales team is essential, too. Is conducting the best sales enablement sessions of all time mean a launch will be a success?

If your answers have been “no” or “I don’t know,” you are not alone.

Suppose I am the person responsible for developing the sales tools. In this case, if I deliver them and the sales team loves them, I’d believe I’ve done my part, and the launch should be a success.

Suppose I am responsible for developing positioning and messaging, and I delivered a Product Positioning Canvas that blew everyone away. In that case, I’d believe I’ve done my part, and the launch should be a success.

Suppose I was responsible for developing a demand generation program, and I created the campaign strategy of all campaign strategies. In that case, I’d believe I’ve done my part, and the launch should be a success.

But what if I am the CEO and have overall responsibility for the company’s success and the product launch didn’t produce the business outcome I expected? Would I believe the launch was successful? Most definitely not. And herein lies the disconnect.

The Launch Checklist Disconnect

The CEO cares about winning new customers, keeping the customers that are won, and growing the customers that are retained. Simple.

A launch checklist doesn’t include winning, keeping, or growing. It’s about efforts—getting stuff done—not about business outcomes. And that’s why there’s a disconnect.

I’m not entirely pessimistic about a launch checklist. It serves a valuable purpose, like remembering to get a new SKU for a product or developing a price list. Some things always need to happen in a product launch, and they should be on a launch checklist so they are not forgotten.

My point is that product launch success is not defined by the quality or quantity of the deliverables produced or the number of activities completed—the efforts. It’s defined by business objectives that are measurable and time-bound.

When all the boxes on the launch checklist are checked, and the launch isn’t successful, who or what is to blame?

Simplify Launch Objectives to Win, Keep, and Grow

Effort is essential in a product launch, but business results are what get recognition. There are only three launch objectives you need: Win, Keep, and Grow.

Win new customers.

Keep the customers you win.

Grow the customers you keep.

Every measure of a successful launch fits one or more of these three core objectives.

The Magic of Launch Objectives

Launch objectives aren’t magical, but they do have magical powers. The most potent magical power is alignment. Everyone on your launch team and your launch stakeholders can measure the effectiveness of a product launch. They will focus on the critical few without being distracted by the compelling many.

The second magical power is everyone knows how to keep score—Win, Keep, and Grow. They have a clear definition of launch success.

Every launch objective requires three things—a metric, a quantity, and a deadline—how much and by when.

Win ten new customers within the first six months following the GA (general availability) date.

Win three reference customers before the GA date.

Increase the retention rate of product X by 20% in the twelve months following the GA date.

Increase the attach rate of product X by 30% on annual renewals in the twelve months following the GA.

I have a Launch Objectives Worksheet to guide you through defining launch objectives and key progress indicators. Download it and give it a try.

Reflect on a recent product launch by your company (good or bad). How would the simplicity of Win, Keep, Grow launch objectives change the performance of that launch? How much better would launch alignment have been? How would launch stakeholder expectations be improved?


aakarsh india
aakarsh india
Dec 06, 2023

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