Product Launch: The Ultimate Guide provides a big-picture perspective of launching a product.
The chapters in Product Launch: The Ultimate Guide are presented in sequence, the next layering on the previous. We hope the information provided helps you plan a successful product launch in ways that it's been able to help others. And, we hope the information sparks a spirited discussion with your team to drive the best possible launch outcomes.
We encourage you to provide your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this page. What was missing for you? What could be explained better? What did you like? How did it help you experience a better product launch (or avoid a product launch disaster)?
How to Use Product Launch: The Ultimate Guide
This guide is designed to help you achieve success with your next product launch. It’s anchored in decades of product marketing experience, compiled from hundreds of product marketers worldwide across a full spectrum of large and small organizations. Whether you have lots of experience launching products or are new to product marketing, we trust the tips presented here provide a lasting foundation for successfully launching your products.
Questions to Ask Yourself
At the end of each chapter are questions to ask yourself. Reflect on them and use them to probe others for answers. The intent of these questions is to spark curiosity, to probe, and to second guess conventional wisdom.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on outputs and losing sight of the outcome.
Most chapters have links to valuable worksheets, templates, and other downloadable content. You can access these resources as a member of the BrainKraft community. Membership is absolutely free—no strings attached. You are encouraged to modify the resources to fit the way things are done in your organization. If some things are missing, add them. If some things are not relevant, remove them. Make them yours.
Product Launch Fundamentals
The Difference Between a Product Launch and a Release
Before describing the details of a product launch, it’s important to lay the foundation for what a product launch is—and is not. Sometimes you’ll see organizations use the words “product launch” and “product release” interchangeably, but they are two very different efforts.
A release—at least in software terms—is a set of work completed by a software development team. It can be a small amount of work or something huge.
A product launch is something different. It’s introducing a new product; it’s significant improvements to an existing product. It requires a go-to-market strategy, a detailed plan to achieve a successful outcome, and usually includes an expanded group of stakeholders.
Make sure that your organization understands and agrees with what constitutes a product launch and a release. If you work for an organization that intermingles the terms, work to educate people on the distinction. Managing a product launch or release in these environments is challenging. It results in fire drills and pointing fingers when expectations are not met.
A Product Launch is More Than a Date
A launch date is when a new product, solution, service, or feature goes live in the market (it’s ready to sell) and the go-to-market efforts begin. Unfortunately, some organizations erroneously tie a product launch to a solitary “date” rather than a series of continuous, long-term efforts. This way of thinking sets up the organization (and its customers!) for a disappointing outcome. There’s a lot more to a product launch than a launch date, and it is managed in three phases:
Pre-Launch Phase: Sets the launch objectives, strategy, planning, and preparation.
Launch Phase: Introduces a product to the market.
Post-Launch Phase: Monitors the success of the launch relative to its objectives.
A Product Launch is a Team Effort
A product launch is one of the most cross-functional activities a company performs. Many ideas, perspectives, and contributions are needed to ensure a successful launch (they don't reside with just one person). Many people—each with their own responsibilities—must collaborate, communicate, and coordinate as a unified team.
A Product Launch Builds Momentum
A product launch is more than delivering a product to market. It’s about building momentum. Momentum for market awareness, for sales, for adoption, and for retention. A launch should always contribute to the success of your business in an impactful way.
A release is a body of work that is complete, but a release alone rarely increases momentum. A rocket won’t achieve orbit without escaping the invisible force of gravity. The momentum required is called escape velocity. Otherwise, it tumbles helplessly back to Earth.
To achieve launch momentum, you need to understand your escape velocity.
Define What Winning Looks Like
Business objectives frame product launch objectives. We will explore the three business objectives of Win, Keep, and Grow. Once you know these three fundamental objective categories, you can build launch objectives that define what winning looks like.
The definition of a successful product launch is wide open for interpretation when launch objectives aren’t defined, agreed upon, and socialized. Without clearly defined and socialized launch objectives, a product launch is in trouble from the start.
There are Always Advantages and Obstacles
There are always advantages to leverage and obstacles to overcome in a successful product launch. An advantage is something that allows you to achieve your launch objectives with less effort. That said, advantages are not all-powerful and only exist when customers believe in them, not just because you say it.
An obstacle is something that creates friction and makes it harder to achieve your launch objectives. Obstacles are not the end of the world; they are merely barriers to overcome. You need to acknowledge them, prioritize them, and find ways around them, through them, or over them.
This way of thinking helps you and your team think strategically through the product launch planning process, leading you to product launch success and avoiding blind spots that can negatively impact the team’s efforts.
Define What Winning Looks Like With Launch Objectives
Defining Launch Success
The point of establishing launch objectives is to define success. Without a definition—and measurement—success is vague. There should be one primary launch objective and perhaps one or two secondary objectives, but that's it. Too many launch objectives are a recipe for misaligned expectations and potential failure. When launch objectives aren’t defined, agreed upon, and socialized, success is wide open to interpretation and ridicule.
A clearly defined product launch objective must include:
A metric (what): This is the specific element used to measure success.
An amount of that metric (how much): Defines the goal, creates focus, and is used to measure attainment.
Deadline to complete (when): The time at which the launch objective is achieved.
A metric and amount without a deadline is not an objective. A deadline increases the sense of urgency and focuses on what’s most important.
A clear launch objective: Sell $3,000,000 of new product X within six months of the launch date.
An unclear launch objective: Prepare the sales team to sell as much of new product X as we can.
Be Bold and Pragmatic
You can be both bold and pragmatic when defining launch objectives. To be bold is to think big and imagine the possibilities. But be sure to temper that with pragmatism. The questions in this section help you with that. As you apply the lessons in this ebook, you should have a voice in the back of your mind reminding you to revisit your launch objectives any time you discover new obstacles to overcome or advantages to leverage.
A product launch must go hand-in-hand with the business objectives of Win, Keep, and Grow. These three metrics are the foundation for measuring your product launch success.
Win metrics focus on acquiring new customers who haven’t bought from you (or were lost, and you're trying to win back).
The Win metrics is most often associated with revenue or subscribers. If a product has a quick buying decision, it's easier to focus on measuring revenue or subscribers because the correlation is obvious. When a buying decision is long, measure the sales pipeline and qualified leads generated through marketing activity.
The Keep metric focuses on keeping the customers you’ve won. To measure how product launch efforts contribute to customer retention, track renewals, and product adoption.
Renewal rates as well as the dollar amount associated with the renewals are important to track because tracking contract renewals alone won’t tell the whole story. It’s possible to achieve 100% renewal rates at the contract level, but if the average contract value is declining, it could indicate a bigger problem exists.
The Grow metric focuses on expanding revenue from the customers you’ve won—also known as share-of-wallet. This metric is often used in a product launch, especially when a significant new capability is introduced. Grow metrics operate like Win metrics, except the target buyers are current customers.
Other Important KPIs
Key Progress Indicators (KPIs) track the efforts that show progress toward desired results. They indicate whether the product launch is on the right track and if course correction is needed.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) to track, include:
Number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
Ratio of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) to sales qualified leads (SQLs)
Sales Pipeline growth and growth rate (how much, and what is the trend)
Conversion rates: deals in pipeline vs. deals won
If the use of your product is actively monitored, consider:
Daily/weekly average usage/trends
Key Activity Usage (i.e., usage of an important feature that indicates a strong likelihood of user adoption)
Time to Key Activity (i.e., the amount of time before the key activity happens)
Every product has a customer usage milestone that indicates a degree of stickiness for the product. For project management software, it might be the creation of the first project. For a graphics design product, it might be the first export of a design. This is what is meant by a Key Activity. It’s something that users of your product do with your product that is an indicator of engagement and the likelihood of continued use.
Get Alignment With Key Stakeholders
Launch objectives require agreement and support from your key stakeholders. To arrive at launch objectives that are both achievable and measurable, however, requires negotiation. “Sell as much as we can!” isn’t a good objective because it’s not specific, measurable, or time-bound. By getting agreement on what success looks like, you’ll set expectations with your key stakeholders, be able to prioritize launch efforts, and align the launch team on what matters most.
Stakeholders Have Short Memories
You should expect multiple iterations with stakeholders before arriving at a consensus on your launch objectives. This is normal. You should also anticipate that stakeholders have a short memory and need constant reminding of the agreed-upon launch objectives.
Launch objectives are the “North Star” during the pre-launch phase. Any changes to the North Star have an impact on your strategy, readiness, resources, and budget.
Example: Synergient is launching a new product. Sales leaders are focused on revenue, but the sales cycle expects to average nine months or longer. Having a launch objective tied to sales doesn't seem realistic. Another consideration is that the target buyers are risk averse and are likely to ask for references or evidence that other customers are getting value. Otherwise, they won't buy. In this scenario, changing the primary launch objective to focus on getting early adopter customers to agree to be reference customers is the logical choice. Get references first, and the revenue will follow.
Tracking Progress for Continuous Improvement
As stated above, a product launch isn’t a one-and-done effort around a single date. Go-to-market efforts can run for long periods of time following a product’s “go live” date. Continuously monitor your metrics, and update stakeholders with the results. If your product involves a long sales cycle, knowing whether or not a product launch was successful may involve many months of tracking and analysis.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Do you understand your company’s business objectives? If not, how can you get them?
What advantages (internal and external) could you leverage to achieve your launch objectives?
What obstacles (internal and external) could get in the way of achieving your launch objectives?
If you’re considering a launch objective involving revenue, how long is the sales cycle and how many of the deals do you need to win?
How much change is required of your company to market, sell, and support this product?
Has your company promoted this kind of product before? How well?
Has your company sold this kind of product before? How well?
Has your company delivered this kind of product before? How well?
Has your company delivered customer support for this kind of product before? How well?
What are the Key Activity Usage indicators that help us know customers are likely to adopt our product?
If the launch objective is based on revenue, what are the KPIs we can use to track the progress toward the revenue objective?
These questions help you do two things. The first is to assess your company's ability to execute and if they have experience navigating through the problems they are likely to encounter. The second is to evaluate if the launch objectives are achievable.
Launch Objectives Canvas
Win new customers
Keep the customers you have
Grow revenue from existing customers
Product Launch is a Team Sport
A product launch is a team sport, and it’s one of the most cross-functional activities a company performs. And it’s not a sequential set of activities. There are many players in this sport, each with their own responsibilities that must interconnect. Collaboration, communication, and coordination is critical for a successful launch.
So, who are the players on your launch team?
The Launch Director
The launch director is the one that drives the bus. They are ultimately accountable for the success of a product launch, they shape and negotiate launch objectives, they keep the launch team focused, they keep key stakeholders informed, and they monitor KPIs.
Launch ambassadors provide insight from functional areas and domain expertise where needed. They are representatives of functional areas like finance, legal, product management, corporate marketing, sales operations, customer success, and so forth. Or they could provide deep domain expertise about markets, technologies, methods, or government regulations that are critical to a successful launch.
The Project Manager
The project manager keeps the bus on schedule and identifies problems along critical paths. In many organizations, this role sits within a team that specializes in launches. They are keenly aware of how a product launch affects different areas of the business and know which resources (launch ambassadors) to call upon when forming a launch team. They keep a detailed schedule of deliverables, track progress toward completion, and alert the team of potential issues. They often lead regularly scheduled launch meetings. In small organizations, the project manager may also be the launch director.
The Executive Sponsor
The executive sponsor of a launch team is an invisible partner who provides guidance and removes obstacles. They represent the launch team at the executive level and are critical for big, tier 1 product launches (more on launch tiers later).
Unify the Launch Team With Common Tools and Practices
Any team without common tools and practices is inefficient and usually gets results through heroics. The same goes for a launch team. There are many great collaboration tools available; decide from the beginning which you will use. Sadly, larger organizations tend to have one of everything which, ironically, makes collaboration harder. If this is the case in your organization, choose one collaboration platform for the launch team and require them to use it.
An initiative as big as a product launch cannot be managed by email and slide decks. You likely already have a collaboration platform available to you. If you are a Microsoft Office shop, you have a collaboration platform called Teams. If not, you likely have Slack or Confluence. There are other collaboration platforms. The point is to pick one. If half of your team is using Teams and the other half Confluence, you will have a collaboration problem that results in missteps and extra work for everyone on the team.
The Launch Team Needs to Meet as a Team
How often a launch team meets and the cadence of meetings is important. Set a standing schedule for launch team meetings from the beginning. Otherwise, you will waste many hours trying to organize meetings. Get the meetings into your launch team’s schedule from the beginning.
The meeting cadence is up to you. Consider that brief, more frequent meetings are better than less frequent but longer meetings. A weekly cadence to keep the launch team in sync is common. As you get closer to the launch date, you may want to increase the frequency to every other day, or even daily.
The most effective launch team meetings are held live. Collaboration platforms are essential, but they aren’t perfect. Live engagement brings out issues and nuance that never happens with postings and emojis.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Do you have access to the individuals you need for a launch team?
What is preventing you from getting the resources you need?
How much experience does your team have at successfully launching products?
Are you missing individuals on your launch team who would make the team stronger?
What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while building your launch team?
Concentrate Limited Resources With Launch Tiers
Launch Tiers and Why You Need Them
Product Launch Tiers help focus limited resources on a product launch. Launch Tiers segregate product launches into decreasing tiers of importance. Some product launches are more important to a business than others.
It's a method that requires planning on your part to define each tier and socialize it with your team. The most important thing I can share is that simple launch tier definitions are the best way to go. The less nuance and gray area, the better.
Tier 1 represents the highest priority launch tier. Tier 4 represents the lowest priority.
The criteria that define each launch tier must be clear and unambiguous. This helps to increase alignment and reduce conflict. Below are suggestions to help you get started. The suggested launch tiers are a guideline only and should not be taken as absolute. There will be cases where business priorities override launch tiers, and for good reason, so flexibility is needed.
Define launch tier criteria to make the most sense for your business. Remember to make it clear and unambiguous.
Tier 1 Launch
Reserve a Tier 1 launch priority for the most important product launches. Tier 1 product launches have the highest visibility of all product launches. Everyone is watching.
A Tier 1 launch gets the highest priority for budget and resources.
Choose a Tier 1 Launch priority when:
Changing the status quo in significant ways (internal and external).
Entering a new, unfamiliar market segment with an existing product.
Introducing a new product you’ve never sold into a familiar market segment.
Introducing a new product into an unfamiliar market segment.
Significantly increasing competitive advantage.
A Tier 1 launch significantly impacts the status quo in ways like introducing a new product in a competitive market, selling an existing product into a new market segment, or introducing a cloud version of an on-premise software product.
Tier 2 Launch
A Tier 2 launch is important but less so than a Tier 1 launch. Examples of Tier 2 launch criteria include:
Some change to the status quo, but not as severe as a Tier 1 launch.
Increasing competitive advantage.
Reducing customer churn (increase retention).
Increasing product adoption.
Introducing an option to an existing product (in a familiar market segment).
Tier 3 Launch
Choose a Tier 3 launch priority when the launch doesn't fit the criteria for a Tier 1 or Tier 2 launch:
Little to no change to the status quo (internal and external).
Gaining competitive parity.
Minor changes to existing features to make them work better.
Fixing quality issues that impact sales or renewals.
Tier 4 Launch
A Tier 4 launch is the lowest priority and receives the fewest resources. In most cases, it receives no launch resources at all because it’s a product release with only bug fixes and performance improvements. Customer communication about the update is sufficient in this case.
Choose a Tier 4 launch priority when the launch doesn't fit the criteria for a Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3 launch:
No change (zero) to the status quo (internal and external).
Bug fixes and performance improvements.
If you’ve figured out that a Tier 4 launch doesn’t increase momentum, you are correct. This is very common in software environments with frequent releases using a CI/CD pipeline. You experience the same thing frequently with the apps on your phone. There is no increase in momentum, but there is still a process to follow to make sure internal and external audiences are informed.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If a release only has bug fixes and performance improvements, but the bug fixes are significant and have been impacting sales, is it a Tier 3 or a Tier 4 launch?
How will you assess the degree of impact on the status quo?
How many of the product launches in the last year were treated as a Tier 1 launch that shouldn’t?
How can you prevent having multiple Tier 1 launches happening at the same time?
What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while defining your launch tiers?
Launch Tiers Guide
Know Your Customers Like They Are Friends
Customers are the essence of a business. The more you know about them and how they make decisions dramatically improves the likelihood of product launch success.
Buyer Personas as an Alignment Tool
A buyer persona is a representation of the people you want to attract and influence. They are an amalgamation of market insight based on information about real people. It's a vital tool used by marketing and sales teams to gain a unified understanding of the people they need to influence. And it helps shape words and images that move an individual from one step in their buying journey to the next.
Having a standard, unifying definition of buyer personas assures consistency in positioning, in market-facing content, in marketing channels, in sales tools, and in prioritizing product direction.
The Basic Buyer Persona—Who They Are
Basic buyer personas are the easiest to build and focus on general buyer demographics such as: job title, company size, location, gender, age, purchasing power, etc. A basic buyer persona is essential in marketing for targeting the right buyers in the right places.
Here are a few easy techniques to identify demographic attributes about your customers:
Run data analysis on your customer database to identify common data patterns.
Talk to people in your organization who interface with customers on a regular basis.
Talk to/survey your customers.
Read LinkedIn profiles of people who match your ideal customer.
Advanced Buyer Personas—How They Think
Psychographic attributes—how your customers think and feel—put you in the big leagues of buyer personas. This puts you at the heart of why buyers need your product. It gives you deeper insight into how buyers think, act, and feel, which helps guide everything you do in product marketing (including a product launch).
Techniques that help you identify psychographic attributes include:
Interviews with candidates that match the target demographic attributes (basic buyer persona).
A tool like CrystalKnows.com provides personality profiles of LinkedIn profiles.
Perception surveys of a basic buyer persona.
Empathy mapping is another popular method for developing psychographic insight. Empathy Mapping is a great team exercise performed on a whiteboard with stickies or a virtual whiteboard like Miro.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Does your company have experience marketing, selling, or supporting your target buyer personas?
If you use buyer personas today, what validation do you have to know they are reasonably accurate?
What will prevent the launch team from building buyer personas? What can you do to remove these barriers?
What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while building your buyer personas?
Do you have any concerns that would cause you to revisit your launch objectives? Buyer personas?
Buyer Persona Canvas
Empathy Mapping Canvas
Increase the Chances of Success With Market Segmentation
“Everyone” is Not Your Customer
The sole purpose of segmenting a market is to focus limited resources on achieving the best results. Afterall, “everyone” is not a market segment and is not your customer.
Market segmentation benefits every part of your business. Your marketing team uses it to target potential customers with a message that resonates with their needs. Your sales team uses it to identify better sales opportunities. And these are just two examples. Market segmentation helps your entire organization focus on activities that yield the best results (and avoid the market segments that drain your resources).
So, what's a market segment? Simply put, it's a group of customers with similar needs, preferences, and common communication channels.
Needs refers to something they want that helps them in some way like fixing a problem, making them feel better, or capitalizing on an opportunity.
Preferences are the way they like to do things: the way they buy or the type of solution they want.
Common communications mean they use the same information sources to get and give information. Marketers refer to this as the communications channels.
The Five Types of Customers in Every Market Segment
The five types of customers are Your Customers, Competitors’ Customers, Shoppers, Do-It-Yourselfers, and the Uncommitted.
Your Customers are simply the people who have satisfied their unmet needs with a product from your company.
Competitors’ Customers have satisfied their unmet needs with a product from a competitor, and they are another company's customer.
Shoppers have unmet needs and are exploring ways to satisfy them. They might be someone's customer already and preparing to make a change. Or they might be jumping into the pool for the first time.
Do-It-Yourselfers (DIYers) use their skill and ingenuity to satisfy their unmet needs. They are their own customer and can be very difficult to persuade to change.
The Uncommitted are sitting on the fence and not taking action to resolve unmet needs. There are reasons why they are uncommitted that you need to figure out. They may have higher priority unmet needs to deal with at the moment that don’t relate to your product. Or maybe you believe they have an unmet need, but with a little investigation, you discover they don't.
The purpose of these definitions is to ground your decisions in reality. Only some people need your product, and that is what you need to figure out.
Let Buyer Personas Be Your Guide
Buyer personas and market segments often have a chicken vs. egg conundrum. Should I identify a market segment first and then figure out the buyer personas? Or should I identify the buyer personas and let them lead me to market segments?
If your product is domain- or industry-specific, the decision is made for you: The market segment is somewhat defined and you need to figure out the buyer personas. Software for banks is an example.
If your product has broad application, say like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, the best approach is to start with buyer personas and let them guide you to market segments.
Does a Compelling Unmet Need Exist?
There is a need, and there is a compelling need. It's easy to rationalize why everyone on the planet needs your product, but that would not be realistic. You must determine how compelling the unmet need is and which market segments have the most compelling unmet needs.
A salesperson sits down with two potential customers. Both seem eager to learn about your product. But after a sales call, one potential customer can't wait to learn more, and the other seems disinterested. It's a different level of need. One is compelling and one isn't.
Your choice of market segments doesn't need to be perfect; it just needs to be good enough to guide the rest of your launch team.
Who Has an Unmet Need You Can Solve?
The key to finding a suitable target market segment is to answer two questions:
How compelling is the unmet need in this group?
How adequately served is the unmet need today within this group?
An unmet need spans a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is "underserved." These are market segments with an unmet need but with insufficient options. "Adequately served" means potential customers have a range of options to choose from. "Over-served" means there are many options available.
The unmet need vs. adequately served matrix uses a low to high range. Potential customers in a market segment either have a compelling unmet need or don't. You know it's compelling if they are willing to spend time and money with you. Conversely, an overserved market segment requires more time and resources to stand out.
Be Cautious of Underserved Market Segments
When you discover a market segment is underserved, your first question should be, "Why?"
Maybe there isn't a good enough solution in that market segment. It's also possible it's a complicated or costly market segment to serve. Or maybe it's underserved because there isn't a large enough compelling unmet need.
One Customer Doesn't a Market Segment Make
It's a mistake to assume the attributes of a single customer define a Market Segment for all potential customers.
Examining the observable demographic attributes of your early adopter customer, you could rationalize that every company with matching demographic attributes has the same level of urgency. A lot of time could be spent chasing potential customers with no compelling unmet need because of that assessment.
Is the Market Segment Worth Pursuing?
Your organization has limited resources, and you likely can't pursue every customer. The rational choice is to shorten the list of market segments to those with the best potential to achieve your launch objectives. What makes a market segment attractive to your organization?
Questions to Ask Yourself
Does the market segment have enough potential customers with an unmet need?
Do you have access to buyers in the market segment? If not now, how can you get access to them?
Is the market segment a strategic fit for your business?