We’ll be discussing the term “product launch” plenty of times throughout this guide. It’s important that we’re aligned on the definition before diving in. A product launch refers to a company’s planned and coordinated effort to debut a new product to the market and make that product generally available for purchase. Product launches help organizations build anticipation for their product, gather valuable feedback from early users, and create momentum and industry recognition for the company.
Start with the end in mind
Before you get too deep in the trenches of building your product launch, it’s valuable to determine what you’d like to achieve. Just building the product and shipping it is not a success in itself. If you’re building a minimum valuable product (MVP) for example, think about the type of product and business you want to be five or ten years down the line. How are you going to get there? This is the product vision—every product manager needs to have one.
By defining a high-level product vision, you can get the executive team, marketing, support, engineering, and the rest of the organization onboard with the product launch strategy.
Product launch goals:
As you read through this guide, always keep in mind the goals of your product launch. What does your product team hope to achieve? Good goals are clear, measurable, and have an expected time frame.
Goals that businesses are typically hoping to accomplish with a product launch, range from:
- Find a product-market fit
- Capture new customers
- Increase in revenue
- Build product awareness
- Build the company’s reputation in the industry
Kickoff the Product Launch
Who needs to be in your product launch kickoff?
The upcoming product launch activities will include the involvement of representatives from most departments in your organization. Although they may not be assigned any tasks until the final stages of the launch, it’s essential to have every stakeholder identified and included upfront at the product launch kickoff. Not all teams need to be involved/represented in the product launch kickoff, but there should be clear communication regardless.
Product launch kickoff meetings can run longer than other meetings. When you’re ready to schedule a meeting, 90 minutes will be enough to do everything while leaving time for any housekeeping items.
When everyone is all together, the first thing to do is inform each representative that they’re speaking on behalf of their department. Once you get confirmation that each individual represents their department, select someone to take notes throughout the meeting. A visual of how each department will contribute to the launch can be a great asset at this stage t.
When everyone is onboard from day one, no one can claim they were unaware of things further down the road. It also offers them an opportunity to chime in with ideas and opinions earlier in the process instead of second-guessing things further down the line. By inviting them into the feature launch kickoff process, they know they’re valued and have something to contribute.
Ensure all attendees know what the product kickoff meeting is for and what the ideal outcomes should be before leaving the room. Then address everyone’s roles, what they are actively responsible for, and how you anticipate everyone working together.
Before the meeting wraps up, let everyone know how you’ll be communicating any future next steps, whether in meetings, online video chat, in the roadmap, or notes. Some product launch kickoffs can occur months or even years out from the eventual product launch, so you’ll want to set up a good system for future communication.
Remember, you don’t want to alienate anyone in the meeting. The fastest way to estrange anyone is by speaking in the terminology they don’t understand. Try to be conscientious of not over-using your favorite acronyms. It adds a tiny bit of extra work for you to be inclusive but will help you leaps and bounds later on. Take the time to explain the concept and state that it will be a recurring topic. This cues the opportunity for questions and makes it clear that you aren’t just throwing acronyms out there for the sake of it.
Emphasize the value of the product
At this early stage, your product launch kickoff should focus entirely on the new product’s value (or the next version) will deliver to customers. The details are likely to change, so it’s better to avoid confusing functionalities with overarching value.
During the kickoff, harken back to the vision, themes, and goals of the product. These should become the emphasis for a successful launch. This conversation will drive messaging, channels, activities, and target audiences.
The kickoff conversations should answer the following questions for meeting members.
- What problems is the product solving?
- How does this align with the company vision?
- What pain points is it addressing?
- Whom is it helping?
- Why are we building this?
At the same time, it’s a good idea to come to terms right away because your product won’t be all things to all people.
Getting too aggressive with your goals from the get-go usually leads to product failure and disappointment. While your organization can have lofty goals of world domination, an individual product release can only do so much. Accepting that this product will not be all things to all people upfront helps temper organizational expectations.
Delay the product details
Launch kickoffs can be months or years before the actual product launch. As such, avoid getting deep into any specifics. With so much time between now and when the product ultimately is released, there are bound to be tweaks and changes along the way.
Couching the product strategy in themes gets people out of the habit of focusing on specific functionality and back to primary objectives. The goal is to communicate the why more than the what. Work with your team to understand the why and the jobs to be done before development begins to commit time and resources.
You should still deliver something solid in terms of commitment, though. That commitment can sound like, “When delivered, our customers will be able to x,y, and z.”
The early stages are more about roles and responsibilities and less about the details of implementation and execution. For instance, avoid conversations around pixels and buttons. Because you’ve got such a head start, there will be plenty of opportunities to flesh out those topics at a later date.
Then, conduct a product launch pre-mortem where your product launch kickoff team thinks through possible missteps that could hurt your product launch and prepare plans of action in advance. Knowing there are strategies in place (understood by others, not just you) relieves pressure for if/when something goes awry.
Product Development and the Product Launch
Demonstrating the value this product will bring to the business, and its customers can be undervalued in product development. But it’s as essential as ensuring sales and marketing comprehend these things.
Product development has an enormous responsibility in this phase of the product launch to implement the vision. That weight means they’ll rebuff following orders blindly and would rather understand what it is they’re trying to build and why.
Product development ownership
Instill a sense of development ownership. If they feel like they’re part of the process, they’ll help you identify compromises and opportunities. For example, they’ll let you know if there are better technologies that may solve the problem faster.
Why is this outcome so crucial? Uninformed equals unengaged. Developers have to make hundreds of decisions during a project, all of which can impact that project’s scope and impact. When they get what you’re trying to do and the broader context, they’re far more likely to code conscientiously and consider their decisions’ long-term ramifications.
Innovation springs forth when engineers and designers feel like they’re part of the team. They’re then able to accurately judge compromises and opportunities based on their impact on the end goal.
You’ll want to kick things off with an overview comprehensive enough to get engineering excited about the opportunity. But you will need to update the team throughout the product development process. For instance, a regular bulletin and a roadmap will keep them inspired and eager to deliver something truly remarkable. It’s far more motivating to have fresh intel rather than being expecting to be still excited about your initial product launch kickoff session that happened many months ago.
The Role of the Roadmap in the Product Launch
Roadmaps aren’t just helpful in product management. They’re useful for a myriad of different roles and departments, including the product launch.
Your product roadmap serves as your guiding strategic document, communicating transparency, and where you want to take your product eventually for your entire company. The roadmap will notify everyone of any shifts in your product launch strategy.
Various departments will be interested in the different phases and functions of the product launch. So keep the roadmap as updated as your one source-of-truth to increase curiosity, engagement, and efficiency.
You may need to create different versions with varying levels of detail for different cohorts of stakeholders. Because some of your stakeholders will need to be attuned to changes down to the sprint level, but other departments may just need to know by quarter.
Don’t over-communicate dates early on in the project, but provide enough context to keep stakeholders engaged and confident.
As you get closer to your product launch, the roadmap dates must also become more precise. Marketing, sales, and other departments will be scheduling activities based on the roadmap, so it must be accurate. Otherwise, you could end up with launch-related activities occurring too soon or too late. The outcome of these activities might only affect one product, but there will be a lasting effect on the people across all affected departments if something is not going to plan. This can affect all future product launches that you hope to run smoothly. So keep your roadmap as accurately up-to-date as you can.
Jumpstart the Product Feedback Process
Product launches for software products typically happen only after several levels of testing have been completed.
“Regular” employees often don’t get their hands on products until after they’ve been through a formal QA process, have proven capable, and have moved into alpha testing.
Alpha testing is a product’s first round of end-to-end testing, usually done by its employees. When the product clears this level, it’s ready for beta testing, which involves real users but is still before the product’s official commercial release.
But that delay between QA and alpha is precious time. As much usage as possible by your employees will uncover more bugs, reveal enhancement opportunities, and test the product’s scalability. By not waiting until it’s passed acceptance testing, you’ll get the rest of the company more familiar with exactly how the product works.
Additionally, this serves as an opportunity to confirm the product does what it was intended to do. Employee testing verifies the product is heading in the right direction, solving the problems it was designed to address, and adding value for future customers.
Different parts of the organization need different things to prepare for launch. Carve out time with each department, pursuing a specific agenda each time. This agenda provides them with the information they need and ensures those departments will complete their deliverables on time and accurately.
You may need to set aside more time than anticipated, given that these departments are not ones that you engage with on a daily or even weekly basis. Alignment in engineering and development can often occur naturally and often because of the extreme overlap; however, this may not be the case for marketing, sales, and support.
Every new product launch needs people outside of your internal team to:
- Be aware of the product launch.
- Understand the value the launch provides.
- When to expect the official product launch.
All those things won’t happen unless the marketing team is involved. Marketing will craft compelling messages and talking points that speak to the product’s unique value proposition. To ensure accuracy, it needs to be done in collaboration with product management.
Don’t make a mistake and put off talking with marketing until you’re ready to speak to sales. The role of marketing, particularly product marketing, comes into the product launch process much earlier. Marketing sets the stage and initiates the processes that will make the sales team successful.
Give a clear priority to marketing when you’re developing the value proposition. The team must understand users and buyer personas and how the product fits into the competitive landscape to generate compelling, on-point materials and execute successful campaigns for the new product. If they don’t have that solid foundation to build on, things can go wrong very quickly.
Product management should have the opportunity to review everything for accuracy early enough that they can catch and correct any errors. If looping in marketing happens late, though, this crucial opportunity can be taken away in the interest of shipping messaging and positioning for the sake of the launch.
Training up the sales team is essential to bring in the revenue your strategy was built to generate.
Before getting into the product itself, the sales team requires some foundational education—train sales on the product’s value proposition, benefits, and ideal customer profile. Explain how the product you designed and built offers specific benefits to a particular target audience. Set some parameters around what makes for a good prospect and realistic use cases for the product.
Without conveying this information to sales, there’s no telling whom they’ll try to sell it to and what promises they’ll make. Left to their own devices, you risk getting inundated with square peg-round hole scenarios if there isn’t a match.
Consistency across the sales team is crucial. This consistency is where assets like slide decks, collateral, and sell sheets come in. There should be a robust catalog of resources, tailorable for different target segments, and follow-up materials for each sales funnel stage. Ensure sales has the quality and comprehensive sales tools that you’ve verified for accuracy and quality.
Almost every customer will want to see the product in action before buying it, which means you’ll be swamped with requests to provide customer demos. It’s not a particularly scalable solution. Train sales on the product, so they’re comfortable and knowledgeable enough to give their own demos.
Please don’t underestimate the time it takes to become enough of a product expert to demonstrate its value and confidently sell it to prospects. It’s particularly challenging if the product is breaking new ground or requires pre-existing technical acumen.
Of course, those demos and presentations will inevitably lead to questions from prospects. You’ll want to prepare sales for when things go off-script as well—arms sales with FAQs, talking points, and responses to common objections.
While some things can be anticipated ahead of the launch, others need to be added based on real-world experiences in the field.
Support (or customer service or customer success) is instrumental in successfully adopting and utilizing your product. If the support team feels lost or stuck, you can bet your customers will feel even more confused. Don’t leave your dedicated support crew in the dust in your excitement to move the product along.
Your future self will thank you for thinking far enough ahead and making the support team product experts. When other departments or customers have questions, support can be the go-to, and you’ll only be called in when things require escalation.
You’ll also want to develop an escalation and feedback process for more difficult product issues (or more difficult customers). A process should be in place to document all contact your support team has with users.
It’s important to mention you should involve your legal team in your product launch. That way, they can vet all the necessary customer contracts, terms & conditions, and other legal and regulatory documentation in place. It’s better to involve them before the product launch, where there is time to make necessary adjustments than to inform them afterward where you and your product could already be under legal pressure.
Set the Stage for Product Launch Success
Decide how to unleash your product
At this point, product development is wrapping up their work. It’s time to think about unleashing this fantastic offering upon the world. Work with your marketing team to create a PR and go-to-market campaign. That includes establishing a prepared way to explain the product’s pricing structure.
Don’t overlook this step just because it falls outside of strategic product planning and product development. It’s your job to not only create a great product but to make it a successful one.
Heavily mine beta data.
Consider the public beta your “soft” launch. A “soft” launch is an opportunity to gather massive amounts of feedback. You can tweak as many things as you want without an official product launch’s constraints and responsibilities.
But remember, you never get a second chance at a first impression, and the beta is making first impressions. They’re the early adopters and influencers that could pour cold water on your release before it’s even out the door if things seem shaky.
Your beta-launch’s goal isn’t to offer up perfection; it’s to generate feedback and spot potential problems. Better to push out a beta that needs some adjustments than to delay it for so long that you won’t have enough time left to do much with the feedback you receive.
Make the most of your dress rehearsal so the final product reaches its full potential.
Implement effortless onboarding
In most cases, you won’t be personally shepherding each prospect through the discovery, trial, and purchase phases. You’ll need to put a scalable onboarding solution into place. The goal here is to move prospects as quickly as possible to that moment when they realize the value proposition is real, and the product is helping them do their job or live their lives better.
You can minimize setup time with pre-set defaults. But asking people to check a bunch of boxes and flip a bunch of switches before they’ve even started using the product is both off-putting and misguided. How will they know what they want until they’ve got some experience?
Instead, give them a robust and common starting point and then let them tweak it themselves after they’re more familiar with the product and see how it applies to their particular needs.
When a product has a steep learning curve, many new users will bail out before realizing any value. Acknowledging that users need a little education to be successful is essential.
Train the Trainers
Sometimes onboarding a user requires an internal team member’s personal touch. In those cases, your peers across the organization will need to be trained on the product. An efficient approach is to train your trainers. The trainers are your peers across the organization, such as a sales engineer, that can train others rather than relying solely on the product team. Making sure those people are ready before the product launch is key.
Training doesn’t necessarily mean a week-long class or a giant user manual. It can be as simple as short how-to videos for specific tasks or interactive webinar walkthroughs. Just make them easy to access and discover, with a mix of self-service and full-service options.
If your product is digital, you can build some onboarding capabilities directly into your product. Identify which behaviors are crucial to converting trialers into adopters. You can proactively nudge them toward those actions with helpful prompts in the user experience. Also, make sure there are implemented means for users to offer direct feedback about the product experience.
Whatever your research has indicated as key moments that generate customer delight, do everything possible to usher users there. On-screen pop-ups and highlights, helpful hints, and in-app walkthroughs are things you can do to decrease the time-to-value.
No matter how intuitive your product may be, people will still have questions about using it. Make it easy for them to overcome obstacles and complete tasks. Make sure support documentation has been developed, reviewed, and made easily accessible.
This documentation could include FAQs on your website, a help section built into your product itself, or a printed product owner’s manual (if you’re selling a physical product).
If things go great, you may soon find yourself overwhelmed with new users, all clamoring for help and guidance to make the most of your product. All the new users mean it’s time to create a strategy for scalability.
When the masses descend, a lone product manager can’t be onboarding and training hundreds or thousands of customers each week. Support will play a crucial role in training customers. It’s Customer Support’s time to shine.
Otherwise, turn to self-service or broadcast methods to get users up to speed. Save personalized support for strategic customers.
Nature vs. nurture
Once a user gets hooked on your product, your job isn’t done. You’ll need to prevent complacency from kicking in after that initial rush of success.
Craft a strategy for maintaining momentum, such as new assets, for the long-run. Once you’ve established an initial user community, continue to offer them additional tidbits to encourage usage and adoption. These can highlight other features glossed over at launch, provide more in-depth training or tutorials, and include case studies demonstrating how real customers realize the value in various ways from the product.
The communication strategy should leverage notifications, emails, and prompts. Ideally, base these on programmatic triggers keyed off user behaviors in the product (or a lack thereof).
Product Launch Metrics
Product Launch Metrics
With your product about to hit the market, everyone will be dying to know how it performs. You need to get the whole organization on the same page about what matters. Revisit the strategic goals for the product that were proposed before and during the product launch kickoff, and create consensus on concrete success metrics.
Sales, revenue, new users, page views, and adoption make a sizable metric pool. However, many metrics are entirely irrelevant if they don’t align with the organization’s KPIs. There are many dangers in using such vanity metrics to taint the lens of viewing your product, so don’t fall prey to this. Metrics that answer questions about the overall product strategy should always be the focus.
Beyond purely figuring out if you’re achieving your goals, you’ll also want to establish additional measures to track early on. Develop your plan for what key metrics to track that is most important for your team.
Identify Product KPIs
Identify those product KPIs and automate data collection and reporting. These include the red flags to watch out for (such as high churn and abandonment) and positive trends (such as repeat users and conversions from trials to paying customers).
You’ll want to regularly check these figures, so make sure it’s not an overly manual process to get your hands on them. By tracking this data right away weekly or on a schedule you’ve predetermined, you’ll be able to spot hiccups early on. You can then intervene before problems fester and damage the momentum of your launch.
Over time you may need to augment the KPIs you looked at on day one as you learn more about what moves the needle and matters most.
Hone Your Product Launch Pitch
After spending so much time obsessing over every detail of your product, you’re going to be excited to talk about it publicly, finally. You could ramble on for hours about every nuance and impressive feature. But most people aren’t going to give you very much time to grab their attention. If you’ve only got two minutes to pitch about your product launch, what would you say?
Work with your marketing team to place these limits on yourself. It forces you to figure out what the most important and compelling points are.
You’re going up against short attention spans and busy schedules. Convey the value, the solution, and give justice to the dedication involved in producing this product.
You never know under what circumstances you’ll need to discuss the product, its reason for being, its main benefits, who its main competitors are, and who it’s for, to name a few.
A prospective customer at a conference might have a full minute or even longer. But you may only have a few seconds with a CEO. Be ready to make your case in both instances.
Make Some Noise
Your launch date is set, and you’ve communicated to everyone throughout your organization who needs to know. Now it’s time to let customers and prospects know what’s coming officially. The big reveal is an exciting step, but it’s also a high risk-high reward moment in your product launch process.
While you’d love to expound for hours on everything the product can do, nobody has patience for that. Briefly articulate your value proposition. Share the elevator pitch that you developed in the last step. Remember, features and functionality are irrelevant. What matters are the beneficial outcomes it provides to customers.
Map out the most relevant and resonating use cases and focus your follow-up announcement on those. There will be plenty of time later to highlight all the other things your product can do.
Parse out the news
You can’t talk about everything all at once. Work with marketing to implement a staged messaging campaign highlighting other remarkable capabilities and benefits post-launch. You’ll maintain momentum and win over holdouts that didn’t connect with your initial messaging focus.
Check back in with your target market and choose when the target market is most apt to be receptive and responsive to your messaging.
Research your buyer personas and identify where and how they prefer to gather their news and updates.
Meet prospects where they are by leveraging channels they’re already using. Depending on the product and target audience, that could range from snagging a featured review in The New York Times to advertising on a Twitch stream.
Then, identify an ideal launch date. It might be timed to coincide with a related event, industry conference, or even a holiday. While you might feel impatient sitting on a finished product for a few weeks, you only get to launch once, so make the most of it.
The Real, Deal Product Launch
You’ve done your work and shepherded this from conception through birth. Now it’s time for the big debut and a round of congratulations. We don’t get many moments in life where we can pat ourselves on the back, but this is one of them. However, you didn’t get here alone. Take time to celebrate and acknowledge the contributions of others on your team.
Read more in the Anatomy of a Product Launch, below.