There are lots of resources to help startups through their first product launch (if you haven’t found them yet, try looking here). But what if you don’t work for a startup? Is the process different if you’re a product manager in an established organisation, where products have already been launched?
The answer is yes…and no! Yes, because your goals are similar, whatever the company size. You need to be confident that your new product is solving a business problem, one that customers are willing to pay for. You need to make the market aware of your new product’s existence and the reasons why they need it. You need to measure the success of both your product and the launch process itself.
So where’s the difference?
You Have a Ready-made Customer Base
If you’re planning a launch in a more established organisation, there are a few things that work in your favour:
- You may have a ready-made set of customers who are ripe for the picking. If you are launching a product that fits in with your core competency (and you should be), the chances are that the customers you already know would benefit from your new offering.
- You can make the most of your existing relationships to get user feedback at the beta stage, and you will probably find your early adopters too!
- With that in mind, launch planning might include one strategy for existing customers, and one for new customer acquisition. It might be more work, but the rewards are worth it.
You can Spread the Workload
There’s a larger pool of resources in a bigger, established organisation. The product manager is often referred to as “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”, or maybe “a generalist, not a specialist”. Product managers have a good breadth of knowledge (can code a bit, can write user stories, can build a business case, can understand some financial stuff and draft marketing copy), and maybe have some deeper expertise based on their background, but there are a lot of things that a product manager is not.
- In a larger company, a number of departments will likely get involved in the launch process to provide the mastery you’re looking for. These specialists can be a boon, they help to spread the word and increase adoption.
- But in a larger company you also have a lot of people to educate. They all need to know what the product is, why it exists, what problem it solves – and all from a different angle, making a “one-size-fits-all” approach unworkable.
- Your launch becomes a two-stage process – an internal launch and an external launch. You should tap into your product evangelist role and make sure your colleagues understand why this product is going to change their customers’ lives.
Product Positioning Becomes More Complex
- Marketing will want to understand how to position the product with potential buyers and of course against competitors. Once they understand the concept, though, they can help to write copy, put together the creative, make website changes, and plan a marketing campaign. They’ll work alongside you with a PR team (in-house or agency) to get the word out.
- Business development will want to understand pricing, positioning, buyer personas, the target market and how to tackle potential competition. For the first few customers, they’ll probably need some help to present the product, and sorry, but you will probably become their go-to person for sales calls.
- It’s a good idea to invest time in training a sales engineer or two, so that they become the expert within the sales team. There’s a great phrase “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”. It’s really appropriate here, you don’t want to be fishing for the rest of your life!
Operations Support Needs to be Involved
- Professional services will want to understand why the product is needed, how it works, and how it can be configured, so that they can work out training needs and create implementation documentation.
- User guides might be required – and while you will probably need to help with the copy, a technical author will want to know similar information to the professional services team, so that user guides can be built in a way that suits real-life usage.
- The product support team have comparable needs too, but their focus is likely to be on potential issues that may crop up – it’s useful to give them your insight into the kinds of questions that users might have once they’ve started using the product.
- Depending on your delivery model, you may have an IT team who need to understand all the technical details to help them to host or support the application. Not all product managers are technical, so involving the engineering team in these discussions will help you.
Internal stakeholders will do a lot of the heavy lifting to make your external launch a success once have what they need. You’ll still be needed, but if you’ve done the work internally, it’s likely you’ll be involved in an advisory capacity rather than churning out deliverables.
How do you Measure Success?
All the work you’ve done during product planning and development comes together into this final stage. It’s a busy time for everyone involved. At the end of the process, you’ll have a successful new product in the market and are likely to have learned lots of lessons on how to make it easier the next time around.
But it doesn’t stop there. Ideally, you need to have a set of success criteria to check as soon as you’ve launched. Whether you call them OKRs, KPIs or just success criteria – you want to know what you’re aiming to achieve and understand if you’ve achieved it.
It’s a good idea to set these targets based on rough timelines. Where do you want to be in month one? Month six? At the end of the first year?
When should you start?
This last point is important: when should you start planning your launch? You should start as soon as you start to build your product, because it enables you to set the scene for the entire process.
A great way to do this is to build a business model canvas. This helps you to define the value proposition of your product, your target market, return on investment and, importantly, the channels which you will use to get it to market. By bringing your internal stakeholders into the process early, they are prepared and can do what they need to leap into action at the right time.
So, you’ve launched your product and are tracking its success. What do you do next? Well, there’s always another problem to solve…