Seven Rules for Sizzling Product Launches

Seven Rules for Sizzling Product Launches

marketer’s job. He or she invariably invests long hours in turning a vision into execution, bringing together people across the organization to work as a team under tight deadlines. The successful launch leader is part worker bee, part translator, part diplomat, part cheerleader, and part traffic cop. And he or she has to get it all done in a 24-hour day!

In thinking about my own product launch experiences and survival skills, I have developed the following seven rules for making the product launch process highly successful and as smooth as possible.

1. The launch begins long before the product is ready to ship.

In fact, the launch really starts when you have established the market requirements. These requirements drive not only what’s in the product, but also how you will take it to market:

  • What business problems does it solve?
  • How does it differentiate from the competition?
  • What are the compelling reasons for an existing customer to upgrade to a new version?

Of course, positioning and messaging will evolve along with market and competitive conditions throughout the development process. But, if you can’t answer these questions at the time that you’re defining market requirements, you will find it difficult to make a splash when you’re ready to launch.

Start working on your launch strategy early, and work on it often. The vast majority of marketers can’t build an effective strategy in one sitting, and waiting until the last possible day may eliminate options and encourage tactical launches with less-than-optimal market impact.

2. Establish clear objectives at the beginning, and keep them front and center throughout the launch process.

Take the time to think about what your company needs to accomplish with your product launch. Review these objectives with your senior management team and get their buy-in. This process creates an overarching focus for all of the members of the extended launch team. Each functional area can then develop its own sub-objectives that deliver on your overall goals so that you create a coordinated picture of the product and company to the outside world. These objectives and sub-objectives also help to prioritize work. Most of the time, it’s impossible to do everything that someone wants you want to do as part of the launch; a clear set of objectives provide you with a filter for what’s really important.

3. Get your sales team on board, early and often.

Your sales team brings a critical real-world perspective to the marketing function. I have found that bringing some key sales people (both account managers and sales engineers) into my positioning and messaging work serves several important purposes:

  • These people serve as an excellent sounding board for what customers think and how they view product differentiators
  • Bringing influential members of the sales organization into the process early generates positive word-of-mouth for future training activities
  • Once these people have become part of the marketing process, they’re more likely to want to help make the launch successful, by recruiting reference customers, for example.

Remember that most sales people don’t think like marketing people. Rather than sending them an esoteric positioning document to review, I like to work through the information in an interactive session. I usually bring in recent deals; for example, “When you were competing with Fawlty Software at Acme Corporation, who were the real buyers and influencers? What differentiators were important to them? At the end of the day, why did they choose us?”

These types of sessions can give your sales people, including Marketing’s harshest critics, a new appreciation for the marketing function. You might also want to enlist your “review team” to provide feedback on presentations and other sales tools.

4. Work, work and work the customers

In today’s world of cautious IT staff and conservative corporate communications departments, finding the right customer references for your launch is often the most challenging and stressful task of all. This task can’t be delegated to a single person—it needs to be front and center for everyone on the extended launch team, including executives. Figure out what type of customers you’ll need to support your launch theme and objectives; then leave no stone unturned to find the right references. If you’re doing a beta program, make sure that serving as a reference is a requirement for the program and engage with key participants early. Leverage customer advisory boards and any customers who played an important role in the release requirements gathering process. And keep this task at the top of your list!

5. Don’t forget existing customers

Existing customers are a critical audience for any incremental product release. Make sure that you have a clear communications plan that aligns with your launch objectives and goals for customer upgrades. Take advantage of the positive momentum from the launch to generate leads for upgrade programs.

6. “Training” needs to reach all parts of the organization

While most of our focus and attention goes into training the sales teams, it’s important to remember that many other parts of the organization touch customers. Make sure that you communicate the key messages of the launch throughout the company before the press release goes out. Point everyone to a comprehensive FAQ document, which includes key contacts for people who have additional questions. Engage the leaders of key customer-facing functions such as professional services and support to make sure that the message gets through to their team members.

7. The launch isn’t over on the launch date

With all of the hard work and madness that leads up to a product launch, it’s easy to go back to old routines once the press release goes out. However, you should not declare your product launch complete until:

  • All launch activities and deliverables are complete
  • The product has shipped
  • People are buying it.

Your priorities may shift once the product has “launched”, but you’re not finished until all of the tools, training, collateral, and programs are in place to support your revenue goals—and your company is ready and able to meet those goals.

I hope that these rules will serve you well. Be sure to enjoy the excitement of your next product launch!