June 6, 2024
Product Marketing

Three Actions to Take Now for a Stress-free Product Launch

I’ve occasionally had the unpleasant experience of realizing an important product launch was at risk because a task had become much more time consuming than I expected. I wished I had started the nettlesome task sooner. Recovery required a mad scramble, not only by me, but by others involved in preparing for the launch.

I consider myself a fairly organized product marketing professional with good project management skills. When schedules go off the rails, I get embarrassed. I don’t want to be the person calling in favors, or worse yet, causing the launch to miss the target date. I’m sure you don’t, either. 

In this spirit, I am sharing my list of three product launch tasks that you should start sooner, rather than later. In my experience, these tasks can take longer than expected, or require more effort to complete when left to the last minute. 

Line-up customer references

Based on my experience in the B2B SaaS industry, you will need at least one customer reference, but preferably three to validate your product’s benefits. The more references, the more credibility your launch will project. In addition, you’ll have more diverse quotes and quantified benefits to insert into your marketing collateral.

Lining up multiple references can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Many customer organizations have policies against publicly endorsing their suppliers, or extensive approval processes. Even when endorsements are allowed, any of a myriad of complications can dash a product marketer’s best hopes. 

This is why I recommend you begin lining up references during the very beginning of the product life cycle: The customer discovery phase. This is when you and your product management counterparts are interviewing customers to understand their use cases and current solutions (your company hasn’t even begun developing the new product).

I recommend you approach customer discovery not as a transaction, but as the beginning of a relationship. Customers should be invited into the product development “tent,” where they can provide advice at every milestone in the product life cycle, including its launch. This makes their endorsement a natural part of their special relationship with the company.

The key to engaging customers as special advisors is to offer them a pay-off that is worthy of their time investment. This might include developing product features tailored to their use case, offering special discounts, or providing integration services. 

By the time your company is ready to launch the product, the customer may have participated in discovery, UI design, beta testing, and message development. They have bought-in at every step in the development process. An endorsement and reference isn’t even a decision, it’s a natural next step in their role as product development advisor. 

Draft a launch plan with your launch team

Developing a launch plan enables you to get your arms around the launch, determining its scale, the resources required, and scheduling for major tasks. You’ll quickly identify the long lead time items and critical dependencies, so that you don’t get blindsided. 

I recommend you do this early in the product development phase and do it with your launch team. Even though the launch may be months away and no immediate actions are required, getting the plan fleshed out helps identify and mitigate risk factors. 

By doing this together with the rest of the launch team (representatives from the product, sales enablement, marketing communications, and digital marketing teams), you get everyone on the same page and set expectations for their participation when the time comes to get to work. 

The task of drafting a launch plan can be accelerated by using a template. Many large corporations have established launch templates that prompt managers to think through key decisions. If you don’t have a template, I offer my own ungated launch plan template

Identify a target launch date and event

Identifying a high profile event as your target launch date and venue is a great way to focus the entire organization’s efforts. The earlier you do this, the greater the benefit. The event helps motivate every department in your organization to make the product ready for sale. 

Instead of allowing budgets, staffing, or technical resources to dictate product readiness schedules, the event becomes the driving factor. Each department allocates its resources as necessary to meet the event date: The product team designs and tests the product; the sales team lines-up beta customers and trains its staff to sell the product; the support team builds out its support infrastructure.

Using a high profile event as the launch venue raises the stakes for product development and readiness. When there are tradeoffs to be made in the completeness of the feature set, testing, or preparation of the sales and support teams, it's the target launch date that is the yardstick. Without this hard target, it can be much easier to allow schedules to slip. 

This is not to say that you should compromise product quality or customer satisfaction for the sake of meeting a launch date. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid changing the launch date. But, setting your target early in the development phase can increase the likelihood of hitting it.

Act now to eliminate stress later

No matter where you are in your product development schedule, it’s not too soon to tackle these three product launch tasks. They will help you mitigate risks and increase the likelihood of hitting your desired launch date with the support of the most credible customer references.

You may not be able to eliminate every surprise. But, you can have peace of mind knowing you’ve proactively addressed the most common product launch risk factors.  

Carl Blume is principal consultant at Atlantic Marketing Advisors, a marketing consulting firm serving the B2B software industry. He recently published The Complete Guide to Launching a New Product for Product Marketers. Blume has held marketing leadership positions at Oracle, HP and several Boston-based startups. He has been a BPMA member since 2018.