A Successful Product Launch – What Does it Take?
Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Having worked in software marketing for 30+ years, I have been involved with many product launches in global software companies. It’s a critical step in the life of any product, yet many see it as an after-thought – to be started once the product is finished and ready to go-to-market. Product launches can be complex yet need to be a well-orchestrated initiative that involves various departments and people within your organization. They are not a small task.
To understand what it truly takes to launch a product to market, I reached out to Saeed Khan, a 25-year veteran in high-tech and founder of Transformation Labs. Saeed has helped bring many products to market throughout his career. He has been writing and speaking on Product Management and new product development for a number of years. Here is his perspective:
What are some of the challenges facing product management organizations as it pertains to bringing a new product to market?
Saeed Khan: There are many challenges in bringing new products to market, but one of the biggest is getting alignment in a company so that they can maximize the return on what they've researched, built and launched.
Assuming you've done your homework correctly, found some really compelling market and customer problems to address, AND, you've done a great job at building a product that solves those problems well, it's no done deal that the product will be a success.
Defining the right positioning, compelling messaging, targeting the right prospects, articulating why you're better than your competitors, driving lead generation and closing deals are all still factors that can make or break the success of your product.
Product Launch is that initial, necessary boost we give to products when we take them to market, to drive awareness, break through market noise, and start the product journey to success. And if you don’t do it well, product success becomes much more difficult.
Remember the Blackberry Playbook (their failed tablet)? Technically it was a great product, but they launched it poorly and ultimately it got crucified in the press for apparent “failings”. A good launch would have addressed those “failings” preemptively and the tablet would likely have had a very different trajectory.
Who should be involved and when should you start?
Saeed Khan: Product success comes when ALL teams (product, marketing, sales etc.) are aligned and move forward together. Given that, all these teams should be part of the product launch process.
When to start? Early, very early. Product launch is often thought about as a tactical activity that starts some time well AFTER the product is being developed. But that's a wrong assumption.
Launch is a critical step in the success of the product and planning for it should begin very early. In fact, before you even start building the product, you should be thinking about how you will go to market with that product. Why? Because in the end, people don't care about the can do (the features); they care about what the product can do for them (the benefits).
And as people plan what they are going to build, they should be doing it with those benefits in mind. For example, if an ultimate benefit of a product is that it reduces complexity for the customer by integrating lots of disparate information into one place, that should be a guiding factor when designing and building the product. And if that is done well, it becomes a VERY clear message to share in the market and VERY easy to demonstrate in the product.
For example: Amazon uses a model called "working backwards" when they plan products. The FIRST document they write to describe the product is a press release about the product that describes the benefits to customers and why customers should purchase the product. Once they have clarity on this, then they start thinking about what to build to drive those benefits.
How do product marketing and marketing communications contribute to the launch?
Saeed Khan: Product Marketing is a critical role in any product-centric organization. Product Marketing is strategic marketing at the product level focused on understanding buyers, users and influencers. Product Marketing should be front and center in defining product positioning and messaging and working to drive the understanding of buyers/users etc. within the company. With this knowledge, Marketing Communications and Content Marketing teams can work on creating the content and programs needed to promote the products to the right audiences with the right positioning and messaging.
In your experience, why do product launches fail? Is it the market or the process?
Saeed Khan: There are many reasons product launches fail. The most common reason is lack of an actual market need for the product being built i.e. a product was built without understanding whether there was an actual market need.
Barring that, and assuming the research/discovery was done well, the biggest reason for failure is that there weren't clear and achievable goals for the launch that were tied to and supported overall product goals beyond the launch.
Launch is not just a set of tactical activities, but it is the basis to drive future product success. The objectives for launch should be defined in the context of the business goals for the product over the next quarter, half or full year. Without goals, how can we even measure success? And without goals, how do we know that all our actions are driving the product in the right direction.
Launch is a strategic cross-functional activity critical to product success. It should be understood and executed with that context in mind.
I will be hosting a workshop with Saeed Khan on “Defining and Executing a Successful Launch.” For more information on how to register, please visit: https://bit.ly/3kVL9oU
For more information about Transformations Lab: https://transformationlabs.io/
For information about Marcom Blueprints Inc: https://www.marcomblueprints.com/