We’ve all seen successful new product launches—and product launches that don’t quite hit the mark. What’s the difference between a successful product launch and a launch plan that fizzles? I’ve considered this question time and time again throughout my career. I’d like to share what I’ve learned, to help you develop your own launch plan into a surefire success.
What is a product launch?
Product launch definition
“Product launch” can seem like an omnipresent term in many organizations. The ubiquity and repetition of the word can sink its semantics and make it feel blasé. It falls into the buzzword trap, blending into the background noise of our day-to-day. But what does the phrase really mean?
Product launch captures all the hopes and aspirations of our team. It is the time and effort of one or many people wrapped up in that brief moment of time where the focus of our efforts is released into the world. It’s an edge-of-your-seat experience, as you wait to see how the market responds, and how your customers react to the product you’ve spent countless hours gestating, considering, and crafting.
It can be hard to avoid losing sight of this when between launches when the word hovers in the air detached from the experience. But when you’re in it, when you see it—the word “launch” should evoke the kind of excitement you get when watching a rocket soar into the unknown: the butterflies-in-your-stomach sensation of both a job well done and the anticipation of new discovery.
What is a product launch plan?
A product launch plan is both your rocket blueprint and your map of the stars. In order to successfully launch a product, you’ll need as precise a launch plan as your resources allow: specific tasks, assigned to specific people, with specific deadlines. And you’ll need a plan that is resilient enough to withstand the headwinds in your way. It’s normal to have some anxiety about your plan—we all have some smoldering anxiety that we won’t reach the heights we hope for. But the best product launch plans strike a balance between hope and reality: if you do your research, put in the work, know your target audience, and understand pain points, you should have enough confidence that, even under the worst distress, the structures you’ve engineered will sway but will not break. Your new product launch plan is your guiding light through troubled waters, hazy woods, the starry skies… you get the idea.
What is the purpose of a product launch?
A product launch is when you start capitalizing on a market opportunity. It’s the point at which the skills, efforts, and talents of those involved converge, and something new, risen out of the product endeavor, is put out into the world. In the most simple terms, it’s the point at which we release a product to market, in hopes of some gain (financial or otherwise). In the best cases, it’s more than that: it’s delivering something of ourselves to the world, because, through enterprise, we hope we can make our world a better place.
What should a new product launch plan include?
A product launch plan will include differing tasks depending on the type of company, type of product, and significance of the product or feature you’re launching. At its core, a product launch plan for product management teams will always include development tasks, marketing tasks, and sales tasks (even if you don’t have a sales team, you’ll still have a category where things like pricing and selling platforms would live).
4 steps to perfect product launch planning
As you and your team collaborate on the product launch plans, you’ll want to keep the focus on outcomes. Instead of developing a list of deliverables and action items, start with the value proposition of your product and use it as a guiding light. The reason you’re launching this product is that it holds value, right? Build your product launch roadmap and launch plans off of that value.
1 – Get your Messaging On-Point
Whether you use a formal positioning document, something home-grown, or even if it exists in the heads of the team, solidifying the messaging for your product is the first and most critical step of a product launch. If your value proposition doesn’t exist on paper, now is the time to make that happen. There are quite a few variations of positioning- type documents, but the fundamentals remain the same:
- What is your product?
- What does it do?
- Who cares about it?
- Why do they care about it?
This document will be used throughout the entirety of the product launch. Marketing will use it to create content, sales will use it to sell it, and you, the product manager, will use it to communicate to the organization and to customers. In order for the messaging document to be effective, the content should tell a story. Jobs-to-be-done is usually my favorite way of formulating this information.
2 – Define your Goals/Key Performance Indicators
Defining your key performance indicators (KPIs) upfront will keep your product launch plan outcome-driven. This task presents the perfect opportunity to collaborate with a working group. A working group is a team composed of representatives from different areas of an organization that meet regularly to solve problems and collaborate on opportunities for a product or products.
The working group will represent the interests in different areas of the business and therefore have different goals. As a product manager, it’s our job to source those interests, ensure that we have tools in place to capture the data, and report out on a regular basis. For the product launch plan, I recommend creating a template of the data you’re tracing. This will make things easier after launch; you’ll collect data and plug it into a report that’s consumable for different audiences.
Quantitative data is paramount to track the success of a product, but you should also be considering qualitative data. This will come in the form of customer feedback and testimonials. Prior to launching a product, you should line up customers to regularly collect feedback from. (Using the same customer(s) will allow you to track feedback without introducing more variables.) This is also where you can work with marketing to set up a case study and customer testimonials (assuming the customer agrees to it). Case studies can be a great marketing tactic because prospective customers see it as a “review” of your product.
The bottom line: be specific about your goals and your KPIs and use them to keep your plan outcome-focused.
3 – Document Plan and Assign Tasks
Now is when the pen hits the paper when it comes to the product launch plan. This step is where the ideas, goals, and teamwork culminate into a set of action items and deliverables that define the product launch plan. This is another step you’ll collaborate closely with your working group because they will be assigned tasks and be held accountable to complete them.
To devise the list itself, I use an exercise similar to story-mapping. (I recognize this is difficult to do in COVID life or if you’re a remote team, but there are a few great tools to facilitate the exercise.) Grab a bunch of post-its and markers and have everyone in the room write down tasks. Get the post-its up on the wall, group them by type of task, then discuss. Each member of the team will bring a different set of skills and expertise to the table, so lean on each other to develop the list. Ultimately you’ll walk out of the room with a solid list of tasks. Then, you can compile everything and create a formal launch task list. Think of these tasks as the small steps that lead to the giant leap.
This is similar to a successful list I’ve used in the past:
- Create and publish the Messaging/Positioning document
- KPI and metrics definition
- Customer feedback interview setup
- Product/system readiness: This would include things like completion of MVP and working with a product to ensure any data collection is included
- Ensure ability to pilot (if applicable) with customers
- Document plan for deployment/release
The bulk of the product launch list will consist of marketing deliverables because, well, marketing is how you let the world know about you. Here’s what I’ve used in a B2B, SaaS setting:
- Customer/prospect emails
- Press release
- White paper
- Update website
- Promotional videos
- Social media campaigns
- Ad planning and buying
- Any other communication mediums consumed by customers (e.g. newsletters, webinars)
- Pricing–this isn’t necessarily the responsibility of the sales/finance team, but it’s part of selling the product. I put it here, but it may make more sense elsewhere on your own list.
- Updates to sales sandbox/demo environments
- Enablement for sales teams (including talking points)
- Sales collateral (this can sometimes be the responsibility of marketing or product)
Here’s where a product launch task list will start to differ depending on your product and company
- CRM updates (i.e. what configurations need to be done for sales)
- System outage planning
- Actual deployment and release (this may be a development task or an IT operations task)
- Enabling the teams so they know the product and how it works
- Developing any documentation needed for training and/or support
- Any customer-facing help pages/documentation
Once you’ve worked as a team to finalize this product launch checklist, it’s time to assign specific people to each deliverable and do your best to define target completion dates.
4 – Communicate and Collaborate
Now you’ve reached the execution part of your product launch plan. Meet with your working group regularly and report on the status of deliverables. Your launching plan isn’t written in stone so if you find it’s not working, shift things around. Maybe you missed something in the initial plan or maybe something you thought would work actually won’t. Be flexible and work together toward the goal line.
Now is also a great time to communicate the plan to the rest of the organization. Everyone will likely be curious to know what’s happening and when. Ideally, you’re keeping everyone in the loop all along since transparency and teamwork are parts of a successful company. But, in the off chance that you aren’t in that type of environment, now’s the time to let everyone in on the plan.
4…3…2…1… Blast Off!
The day has finally arrived! You’ve hit the magic button and the product is now launched and into the atmosphere. So… now what? Assuming things are running smoothly, you should be monitoring your KPIs as they come in. If you’re not able to do that (or if watching logins tick up isn’t your idea of a good time), see if you can listen in on some sales or customer success calls. Let Houston–I mean, customer support know that you’d like to be notified of any communication from customers on issues or feedback.
Most importantly, celebrate! The teams have put in a lot of work to get to this point and that’s worth some high-fives. When the time is right (and when it is safe to do so) try to get out of the office and celebrate. Sometimes we move so quickly and we’re too focused on the next thing that we forget to slow down and appreciate what we’ve accomplished. Stop, take that breath, and celebrate.
Be sure you’re consistently measuring your KPIs post-launch. If things aren’t looking as you expected, reassess and develop a plan. Maybe there’s a key marketing tactic you left out or the price isn’t right. Always be measuring and always be analyzing.
Key takeaways about product launch plans
There are a number of different variables that can change the makeup of a product launch plan, but the structure and steps for a successful product launch plan will transcend different companies, products, and teams. Collaborating with your working group and being intentional with your product launch strategy are the fundamentals of a successful product launch. Tell the story of your product, communicate it to your market, and celebrate your wins.