top of page
Ultimate Guide to Product Launch Transparent.png

Product Launch:
The Ultimate Guide

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.

Resources

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. 

Launch Phases.png

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.

Momentum = Mass X Velocity

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:

  1. A metric (what): This is the specific element used to measure success.

  2. An amount of that metric (how much): Defines the goal, creates focus, and is used to measure attainment.

  3. 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.

Measuring Success

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

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.

Keep Metrics

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.

Grow Metrics

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.

Resources

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

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?

Resources

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.

Empathy Mapping Template

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?

Resources

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.

Parts of a market segment

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?

Will potential customers have to change the way they work to adopt your product? How hard will that be for them?

Do you have the authority and trust to serve the market segment? If not now, how can you establish the authority and trust?

Does your company sell to anyone with money or to a defined set of buyers?

Does your company target loosely defined market segments like “financial services” or “health care”?

What are the identifiable attributes of companies that have bought from your company? What are the patterns?

Does your company have a reputation for selling to buyers in your chosen market segment? Is it positive? How do you know?

Does your company have access to buyers in a target market segment?

Are you attempting to target too many market segments with too few resources?

What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while defining market segments?

Do you have any new concerns that lead you to revisit your launch objectives, buyer personas, or market segments?

Resources

Market Segment Scorecard

The Competition: Know How to Win and When to Walk Away

 

A competitor is an organization that solves the same problems your organization solves. Maybe not always in the same ways, but the problem gets solved just the same.

A common way to identify competitors is to compare a product to other products with similar features, but that's not the way buyers think. Buyers have options that extend beyond your type of product. The options may not be as elegant or efficient as your product, but they are options just the same.

To Win, Choose an Arena of Competition You Can Dominate

The arena of competition is a market segment. That means competitors, even with similar product features as your product, choose to target potential customers within the boundaries of a market segment.

Smart competitors choose the arenas of competition that offer the best opportunities to win, with the fewest resources, leverage their advantages, and encounter the smallest obstacles.

Know Who You're Really Competing Against

Build a list of the competitors that compete in the market segments you are targeting. The competitors on your list represent the organizations that form a competitive landscape.

Some competitors will be obvious, and others will not. Consider different ways your potential customers solve their problems today—it isn't always with a product like yours.

Analyze Each Competitor and Their Product

The next thing to do is get insight into each competitor. Don't fall into the trap of analysis paralysis. Collect enough information to get started and build on your competitive intelligence as you learn more.

A basic SWOT Analysis is a great place to start, beginning with your company and products. The S and W of SWOT are good enough for now. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are the strengths of each competitor?

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

--------- Sun Tzu --------

Map Competitors to Each Other With Product Category Attributes

To compare competitors, an understanding of the most common product category attributes is needed. These attributes identify the things that are most important in the minds of buyers. That is, when they think about a product category, which attributes do they think of and which of those attributes are important to them? These can’t be attributes you invent to favor your product.

Note: This is important input into competitive positioning. More on this later.

Once the common product category attributes are identified, it’s easy to rank competitors relative to the attributes. Merely ask representative buyers to rank order the attributes by competitor. It won’t take long to identify competitors you can beat and those you should avoid.

Questions to Ask Yourself

What are the different ways a buyer can satisfy their unmet need without your product?

If the different ways to solve their problem results in different product categories, what are the attributes that a buyer cares about in each category?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these solutions by category relative to the attributes identified?

Which category does your product fall into and what are the strengths and weakness relative to the attributes identified above?

What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while documenting your competitors?

Now that you have more insight into your competitors, do you have any concerns that lead you to revisit your launch objectives, buyer personas, market segments, or competitors?

Resources

Competitor Canvas

Connect With Buyers You Want With Product Positioning

 

What is Positioning?

Product positioning is a form of communication. It’s not something you do to a product; it’s something that's done in the mind of a buyer, and it’s all about perception. The goal of positioning is to create a place in a buyer’s mind that favors your product and brand, not to create a list of every feature in your product.

Ineffective positioning is due to three important things. There is little insight into buyers, little knowledge of the capabilities of competitors, and a belief that a better product always wins.

Anchor Your Product Positioning to Something Familiar

The goal of positioning is to arrive at a differentiated position in the minds of your target customer. The act of choosing a position can be described using an aisle in a grocery store as a visual anchor.

Grocery stores are organized into aisles. Each aisle has categories of products, and every aisle is further organized into individual products.

When launching a new product into a new market segment, you need to determine if you are creating a new aisle or if your product will go in an existing aisle. Forcing customers down a new aisle is strange and unfamiliar to them, and your product might as well be invisible.

 

You have a greater chance of launch success when you position your product in an aisle they frequent. Even if your product is disruptive. Customers need an anchor to compare what your product does with something familiar.

When you don't define your position, your customers and your competitors will do it for you. And it may not be the position you want to own.

The Product Positioning Document

The product positioning document is the most important deliverable from the product positioning process, and it's the deliverable that causes the most confusion about positioning. This is because there's often a rush to complete the document without first getting an understanding of the market and the buyer personas. Over time we've shortened “product positioning document” to just “positioning.”

An element of a product positioning document is the positioning statement. It's the short, pithy consolidation of your product's benefits, who it's for, and how it's better. The audience for the positioning document is internal to your organization. Mostly, it will be the people in the marketing value chain: writers, editors, designers, etc.

Keep in mind that the people in the marketing value chain may have zero knowledge about the unmet need, the buyer personas, the technology, or the target market segments. The positioning document needs to contain the unifying set of information that provides the insight everyone needs to get their job done.

There are seven fundamental elements of an effective positioning document.

  1. The target buyer persona and market segment (who).
     

  2. A description of the unmet need or unresolved problem. This is the “why” for the target buyer persona. Be as detailed as you need to (why).
     

  3. A description of the product distilled to the elements most attractive to a target buyer persona (what we do to solve the why).
     

  4. The Unique Value Proposition. This is where you differentiate. What is it about your product and/or company that is special in the minds of your target buyer? It’s the reason they will want to buy from you (how we’re better).
     

  5. The Primary Message. The one thing you want to say about your product that is easy to remember and easy to repeat. Often referred to as the elevator pitch (how we connect with the buyer persona’s why).
     

  6. Proof Points that demonstrate why your product is better. This can come from studies (like performance analysis), industry leaders, intellectual property, industry awards, opinions of thought leaders, and customer testimonials as examples (how we demonstrate we can do what we say we can do).
     

  7. Competitor Positioning (how to marginalize our competitors).

Positioning is a form of communication. It's not something you do to a product; it's something that's done in the mind of a buyer. It's all about perception.
Positioning Framework

1. Focus on One Buyer Persona at a Time

Product positioning varies from buyer persona to buyer persona. In buying decisions where one buyer is involved, you only need to develop one buyer persona. In buying decisions where multiple buyers are typically involved, you need one positioning document for each buyer persona but only when their unmet needs are different. This deserves repeating. In buying decisions with multiple buyers, one-size-fits-all isn’t effective. It's critical to connect to each buyer persona with the terminology they are familiar with.

2. Describe the Unmet Need the Way a Buyer Does

Use this portion of a positioning document to articulate the unmet need using the words a buyer persona uses. Take as much room as you need and expand the description with as much information as you can. The goal of your product description is to be clear, unambiguous, and not require additional explanation to clarify it. When you need to clarify the description, circle back and update it to fill in the gaps.

3. Describe the Product So Mere Mortals Understand it

The primary purpose of a product description in a positioning document is to connect a buyer persona’s unmet needs with how your product addresses those unmet needs. It’s not the time to list every feature in the product.

 

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the acronyms and mysterious language used to describe a product and its various parts during the development process. Unfortunately, it may not be the lingo your buyer persona or your team members understand. An important rule of communicating is: When you confuse, you lose. 

Developing a product description is vital to helping people understand what it does for them by connecting it to the unmet need they care about. Buyers are faced with an onslaught of messages every day. It is harder and harder to break through this noise. Simplicity is the answer to reach a crowded mind. Less is more.

The description of your product should be worded in a way that is understood by the target buyer persona. When your buyer persona is more technical, you have the freedom to describe the product in technical terms that connect with their unmet needs. When your buyer is more business focused, you describe the product in business terms that connect with their unmet need.

4. The Unique Value Proposition—What Makes You Special?

The dictionary defines value as relative worth, merit, or importance. To propose a value, you need to understand value from a customer's point of view, but something is only valuable when a customer believes it's valuable, not because you say it.

 

 

 

 

A value proposition is a promise of benefits to be delivered, and value is delivered through more than product features.

Unique is defined as having no like or equivalent. A unique value proposition (UVP) is a promise that is unique to your product or company. It is the thing that target buyers view as special. Some products are special because of the way they work or the pricing model. Some companies are special because of expertise, reputation, or core beliefs.

What is special about your product or company that is believable and provable?

5. What You Say Matters: The Primary Message

The primary message contains the words that connect with potential customers by communicating your unique value proposition. It provides the consistent way to communicate your value to buyers. Your market, your partners, and your team will be confused and hesitant without the consistency of a primary message.

A primary message is brief and straightforward. It isn't a tagline or a headline for an advertisement, per se, but is just as brief. It's the core message that's communicated consistently, so it must be written in the language your buyer persona understands and uses. It also needs to be repeated again and again at every opportunity.

A primary message is not the same as a description of the product. It is a short sentence or two that quickly communicates the overall benefit of your product. Its purpose is to engage a buyer to want to learn more.

A rule of thumb for a primary message is that it can be delivered in ten seconds or less, entices the buyer, and uses language familiar to the buyer persona. You know you’ve nailed it when most target buyer personas respond with “tell me more.”

6. Proof Points: How Your Promise Becomes Real to Buyers

Proof points are the validation that you can deliver the unique value proposition you promised.

Proof points include performance data, industry recognition, customer testimonials, patents, and positive coverage from industry analysts. It is something that proves you can do what you say you will do.

A startup with their first product won’t have proof points to support the unique value proposition. But the team could have deep industry experience that can validate their claims, or maybe the founders were previously successful in other endeavors.

Sometimes these efforts conflict with revenue objectives. If your product targets a specific industry, an industry thought leader saying good things about your product and company might be a good proof point. Landing a customer that others in an industry follow is also a good way to build proof points. The main point is to identify what customers want in proof points and develop a plan to get them.

A final point about your proof points is that they don’t always automatically carry over from one market segment to the next or one industry to the next. Sometimes, it’s not believable.

7. Put Your Competitors in an Unfavorable Box

There are always two things your sales team will want to know that is tied directly to positioning. The first is “What do we say?” The second is “How do we beat the competition?” The first part of our positioning discussion was to answer the first question. Now it’s time to talk about competitors.

Earlier, you identified the attributes that buyers care about as it relates to a product category. You were also asked to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each competitor relative to those attributes. Now it’s time to leverage them to marginalize your competitors.

Look at the list of category attributes. Your goal is to find the attributes where your competitors are weak and you are stronger—again, as long as the attributes are important to buyers. Never attack your competitors where they have clear and overwhelming strength. It’s a waste of resources. Look for a category attribute you can own, even if it initially shrinks the size of the market potential. It’s better to be the big fish in the little pond and make the pond larger over time.

Saleforce.com did this by staking out a position of “No Software.” It was risky, but brilliant. The message to buyers was they didn’t have to go through an expensive and difficult software install process. They can have you up and running right away. This was in the early stages of software as a service (SaaS) and it’s a pedestrian thought today.

Salesforce.com likely didn’t have the most feature-rich product at the time relative to their competition, but their customers didn’t need to take a year before solving an unmet need.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Are you using the words buyer personas use to describe their unmet need? How have you validated it with real potential buyers in the wild?

Are you describing what your product does for a buyer persona or what the product does (features)?

Do the people in your marketing value chain understand the unmet need and the product description? Is it clear and unambiguous?

Have you identified the different buyer personas that are involved in making a buying decision? Are their problems different? Do you have a positioning document for each buyer persona?

What can you remove from your positioning document without diluting its effectiveness? In other words, are you saying too much?

What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while building your positioning?

Now that you’ve developed your product positioning, do you have any new concerns that lead you to revisit your launch objectives, buyer personas, market segments, or competition?

Resources

Buyer Persona Canvas

Positioning Canvas

When you confuse, you lose.
A unique value proposition is only unique and valuable when your customers believe it, not because you say it. 

Anticipate Your Buyer's Every Move

 

The ultimate insight about buyers is how they make a buying decision. This knowledge lays the groundwork for meeting buyers with the best content at the right time, improving sales readiness, and increasing sales velocity. We capture this insight in a buyer's journey.

A buyer's journey documents how a purchase is made. It’s from the buyer’s point of view. A sales process is the seller's view of a purchase. The closer these two views are aligned, the smoother and faster a buying decision happens.

Why You Should Care About the Buyer's Journey

A buyer's journey documents the steps taken by a buying center to make a purchase.

There are three fundamental components of a buyer's journey. The first component is the set of buyer personas participating in a buying decision, which is known as a buying center. The second component is a list of the steps buyer personas take in their buying decision. The third component documents the buying criteria each buyer persona seeks to satisfy in order to convince themselves they are making a good buying decision.

Market segments tend to have common buying practices, and this is documented in a buyer's journey. That is, the buyer personas involved in making a buying decision, the steps they take, and how they ultimately make the buying decision.

The Buyers Making a Buying Decision are a Buying Center

A buying center is a set of buyer personas that participate in a buying decision. These are the people you need to influence. In some cases, the buying center operates as a well-coordinated team, and in other cases, the buying center is a loose collection of buyers communicating on an as-needed basis.

There are four buying roles represented in a buying center.

The economic buyer is the role that makes the final decision to purchase.

The technical buyer represents the people who verify compliance with something that is important to a business. Examples include legal language, compliance with government regulations, or compliance with a company policy.

Functional buyers represent the interests of the end-users of a product. Sometimes functional buyers are actual end users and sometimes they are proxies for end users.

The researcher is the role that is tasked with identifying potential solutions.

A buying role isn't always static to a buyer persona and can change from product to product. This means for product A, the economic buyer could be buyer persona X, but for product B, the economic buyer could be a different buyer persona. Why? Because purchases can fall within different budgets and jurisdictions.

Buying Criteria: What Buyers Use to Make a Decision

Buying criteria are the way a buyer evaluates a purchase. Buying criteria help buyers know they are making a good decision because it is specific and verifiable. Sometimes buying criteria focuses on product features or material. Other times, buying criteria are about the seller's company and reputation.

Buying criteria help us evaluate competitors, know when to discount and by how much, guide feature prioritization, and focus selling efforts on the things that matter most to buyers.

 

Buying Criteria Spectrum.png

Buying criteria are in a spectrum. Some buying criteria fall into the "must have" range of the spectrum. When buying criteria aren't met, there won't be a sale. Period. Some buying criteria fall into the "nice to have" part of the spectrum. While the spectrum varies from buyer to buyer, your job is determining the most common buying criteria in a market segment—those which are "must have" and those which are "nice to have."

Questions to Ask Yourself

Now that you understand your buyer’s journey, do you have new concerns that lead you to revisit your launch objectives, buyer personas, market segments, or positioning?

What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while documenting the buyer’s journey?

Now that you’ve developed your buyer’s journey, do you have any new concerns that lead you to revisit your launch objectives, buyer personas, market segments, competition, or positioning?

Resources

Buyer’s Journey Map

Prepare Your Team, Your Partners, and Your Buyers to Succeed

 

Launch readiness is a state that results from preparation. It's necessary to prepare people in your organization before they are ready to do the things needed for a successful product launch.

You could be mentally ready to run a marathon—get new running shoes, a cool running outfit, and watch YouTube videos to study techniques—but you won't be prepared to complete a marathon until you physically train.

Launch preparation and launch readiness go hand-in-hand. Knowledge, methods, and tools are needed to enable people to prepare, and you need the mechanisms to assess that they actually are prepared.

Launch Objectives Guide Launch Readiness Efforts

If there is one overarching principle of readiness, it is to view all your product launch preparation through the lens of your launch objectives. Everything else is a distraction. Focusing on launch objectives ensures alignment with your launch team and your key stakeholders. It makes it easier to say no to things that detract from winning.

The Big Five Launch Readiness Abilities

It’s easy to get caught up in the creation of the deliverables and activities and fail to recognize the big five launch readiness abilities:

  • The ability to access buyers.

  • The ability to guide buyers to a purchase.

  • The ability to accept money from buyers when they agree to purchase.

  • The ability to deliver the product customers have purchased.

  • The ability to help customers adopt the product into their organization.

Launch readiness gaps are the distance between the state of readiness you have today and the state of readiness needed for a successful product launch. The easiest way to identify readiness gaps is to step through the big five readiness abilities and distill them down to an essential set.

There is a lot packed into that question. It’s a way of thinking to help maintain focus on what is important to achieve launch success versus what are “nice to have” things.

Preparing the Sales Team

There is often a lot of effort and debate about the deliverables that a sales team needs. We often produce too many sales tools and other sales readiness content that isn’t used. More effort is needed to verify that the sales team is actually prepared to be effective. Effective means the ability to achieve the launch objectives (not a sales quota).

Here is a set of fundamental sales readiness questions to answer:

  • Can our salespeople identify a qualified sales opportunity?

  • Can our salespeople identify a sales opportunity they should walk away from?

  • Can our salespeople describe the problems our product solves that is relevant to a buyer persona?

  • Can our salespeople quantify the business value our product delivers to a buyer persona?

  • Can our salespeople guide a buying center through a purchasing decision, including addressing common sales objections?

Notice that each question is worded so the results are easily verified. Successful sales enablement programs incorporate an element of verification. In small companies, it can be as easy as a quick Zoom call. In larger companies, the process of sales readiness verification is harder because of the increased size and scope. But there are two secrets you need to know about sales readiness.

Not Everyone Needs to Be Prepared

It can be terrifying to look at your organization and realize the scope of effort necessary to prepare everyone for a product launch, especially the sales team.

Here's a secret: Not every salesperson needs to be prepared.

A VP of sales once asked to verify that every salesperson was ready to sell a new product. Hours were spent in meetings discussing how to make that happen. In the final analysis, it turned out that every salesperson didn't need to be prepared because every salesperson wasn't needed to achieve the launch objectives. Those that weren’t prepared when the product was launched were eager to become prepared once they saw colleagues earning sales commissions from the sale of the new product.

The moral of this story is there were two definitions of success. One was the VP of sales’ who was more focused on hitting sales targets. The more salespeople that were ready, the higher probability of being successful. The second definition of success was the launch objectives, which were a subset of the overall sales target.

Prioritize the areas of launch readiness, like marketing, sales, and finance. Other areas of preparation are important too, but if you don't get the marketing team and the sales team ready, the others won't matter.

Deliver What Buyers Need, Not What Sellers Want

Deciding what sales tools a sales team needs to be effective isn’t as hard as many believe. The path to the most effective sales tools starts with a buyer’s journey. When you focus on what most buyers need, you naturally deliver the right sales tools for the right buyers at the right time.

A less effective approach is to ask members of the sales team what they want, which they will tell you. Unfortunately, that list of things is much larger than is necessary for a successful product launch.

Focus on a market segment full of buyers, rather than individual sales situations that change from week to week. Deliver what most buyers need and what most sellers use. Too many sales tools and too much content confuses buyers and sellers.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Do you have access to the buyer personas you need to influence?

Can you accept money for a purchase of the product?

Can you deliver the product in a timely manner?

Can you help customers when they need it?

What is the shortest path to achieving launch readiness and how can we verify that readiness has been achieved?

What new potential advantages or obstacles did you find while identifying your launch readiness gaps?

Do you have any new concerns that lead you to revisit your launch objectives, buyer personas, market segments, competition, positioning, or buyer’s journey?

Resources

Launch Readiness Canvas

Continuously Improve With Good, Bad, Better, Best

 

The Good, Bad, Better, Best (GBBB) method is a concise way to capture learning from a product launch. The goal is to document what worked, what didn’t work, and establish action items to improve the next product launch.

Good is for what worked well, whether planned or unplanned.

Bad is for what didn't work well, including unplanned, negative surprises.

Better is for what worked better than planned.

Best is for celebrating the people who made special contributions.

Assemble your launch team and stakeholders. Allow fifteen minutes each for the Good, the Bad, the Better, and the Best.

Starting with Good, have team members write as many things that were good about the product launch on sticky notes. This includes the processes, the team, execution, measurement, etc. Make sure there is only one item per sticky note. Place each sticky note under the Good category and move on to the other categories without discussion, repeating the process with the next category.

Discuss the sticky notes to document the learnings that the team believes can improve the next product launch. Discuss why things were Good, Bad, or Better. Identify areas of improvement and what needs to change.

Questions to Ask Yourself

What are the things that turned out well whether they were planned or unplanned?

What are the things that turned out badly? How were those things missed?

What are the things that can be done better next time?

Who or what results, individuals, or functional areas produced outstanding results?

Resources

Good, Bad, Better, Best Canvas

It's Your Turn

The next step is up to you. There is a lot of valuable information provided in Product Launch: The Ultimate Guide and we tried to distill it down into the most essential insight you will need. We've included templates and worksheets to help you with your product launch as well. 

If you haven't already done so, register to become a member of the BrainKraft Community to get access to the templates. It's absolutely free.

If you need more help than Product Launch: The Ultimate Guide can provide please reach out to us. We are happy to answer your questions.

 

If you want to conduct a product launch workshop for your team please contact us and we can walk you through our process to see if you are a good fit - hello@brainkraft.com.

Overview
Fundamentals
Launch Objectives
Launch Tiers
Launch Team
Buyer Personas
Market Segments
Competition
Positioning
Buyer's Journey
Launch Readiness
Improve
Comments
Workshop

#launchreadiness

#launchtiers

#launchteam

#buyerpersonas

#marketsegments

#competitivelandscape

#buyersjourney

bottom of page