How to Make Sure Your Product Launch Isn’t a Disaster

September 29, 2020

The time leading up to launching a new product or feature is always so exciting—and often pretty hectic. The product and engineering teams are itching to get their new thing in front of customers, sales is asking (and likely has been for a few months!) when they can start demoing the new product to prospects, and marketing needs all the details so they can send the press release.

Sound familiar? These are all important components of a launch, but there are some key areas to focus on in order for it to be a big success—and to keep things from going sideways. Next time you’re gearing up for a big launch, avoid embarrassing or costly mistakes by incorporating these five ideas into your plan:

1. Align with the most critical teams as early as possible

One of product marketing’s critical roles is alignment—and it’s got to happen on an ongoing basis, not the day before a launch, whether you’re working on sales enablement tools or product-related content.

There are a few key teams that are most affected by a launch and also the most crucial for input during planning. In my experience, here are the teams that must align and what to focus on for each:

  1. Sales: What are their launch goals? What are the most critical tools they need for the first three months?
  2. Marketing: What specific messaging do they need for their planned marketing activities?
  3. Product: Align on timing throughout the process and continue to gather accurate feature information. If there are delays, other teams must know immediately.
  4. Customer Success: Do they expect any questions or concerns from current customers? They will also need customer-facing language about the new release as early as possible.
  5. Support: Ensure all support documentation is ready ahead of launch and discuss what impact, if any, the new release may have on any existing customers.

I recommend reaching out to a leader in each of the above groups and asking them to name a representative from their department. From there, put together a launch task force of these key members, set up regular biweekly meetings (which may become more frequent as you get close to the launch date) and run through your launch dashboard in each meeting.

Generally, to align with the most critical team members, think about who you either need buy-in from or a decision from in order to consistently plan towards your launch.

2. Get to know the product

This is a no-brainer for any product marketer. Taking the time to really know the product and put yourself in the shoes of your target audience for a new product is invaluable in planning a launch.

The biggest reason why is that you’ll be leading the launch task force—others will expect you to know the product inside and out. It’s pretty tough to market a product you don’t understand.

These are some basic questions to ask your product manager:

  1. Why are we creating this product?
  2. Who is it going to benefit and how?
  3. What are the most desired features within this product?
  4. What are some features that customers are expecting but might not make it into the initial release? (This is critical to share with sales and customer success as it will come up in their conversations!)

Then, actually use the product. This takes time, so block at least 30–60 minutes a week to test out the new features. You might be working with a prototype or wireframes in the beginning, but that’s fine. Get familiar.

3. Over-communicate

If you ever feel that you might be communicating too much or wondering if people at your company are getting sick of hearing from you, then you’re probably doing exactly what you need to do.

And with most of us being remote, communication has never been more important.

I recommend focusing on these two areas of communication:

  1. Regular communication with the launch task force
  2. Less frequent but consistent communication with the company as a whole

With the launch task force, although you might be meeting regularly, have a consistent line of communication for quick updates that are relevant to the group. Create a dedicated Slack channel or an email distribution list for the group and use these channels for updates around things like a new messaging document you want to share, getting quick feedback on a content piece, etc. If it’s time-sensitive, us the @here command in Slack to make sure you get everyone’s attention.

With company-wide communication, depending on the length of the launch planning period, I recommend alerting them of the following things: announcing a new feature coming at a specific date, sharing overall launch and business goals with the launch, and, as you get closer to the date, an overview of the launch activities so that the entire company gets excited and there is some internal buzz.

4. Organize, organize, organize!

Organization is a crucial skill for every product marketer, whether you’re gearing up for a launch or you just had one.

Here’s how I stay organized: I create a launch dashboard. I use a Google Sheet with multiple tabs, and each tab represents a specific launch. Then, each line item/section includes the various action items needed from each team. For example, there’s a section for “Corporate Marketing” that includes: Press release, email communications, update web copy, etc.

This dashboard is my go-to resource—and it’s always open as a tab in my web browser. I always share it with the launch task force.

This is the method that works for me. Find the one that works best for you to organize and have visibility into all the moving pieces of a launch. There are always many different moving pieces, so you’ve just got to find what works best for you and your teams.

5. Celebrate the launch…. before the launch

I’m a big believer in creating internal excitement around a launch. Think about it: When you’re genuinely excited about something, do you put more energy and effort into the work/project? I definitely do. So whether someone is directly involved with the launch planning or in a supportive role to a specific team, they’re still involved.

One of the best ways I’ve found to get internal teams excited is to throw a launch party before the launch. Try this agenda for the event:

  1. Announce the new feature—either from the head of product or the CEO. They should be excited and energized as they speak about it, which is more important than ever on Zoom. After all, if the person announcing the new thing doesn’t seem into it, why should anyone else be?
  2. Give a brief demo so people can see and understand what it does and why it’s worth talking about.
  3. Allow time for a Q&A and encourage employees to ask questions.
  4. Recognize teams and individuals for their hard work.
  5. Encourage people to help get the word out via their own social media on the day of launch.

The goal here is that we want everyone to feel included, informed and excited about the company’s direction and goals.

What’s your best advice for nailing a product or feature launch?

Tell us on LinkedIn and we might include your advice in an upcoming blog post.