Foundation: Launches


Product Launches often define the role of Product Marketing. In pillar 5 we discussed the need for a longer term Go To Market Strategy, and in this pillar we’ll discuss the Launch Plan. In many ways you can think of a launch plan as a point-in-time snapshot of your GTM Strategy.

As a PMM your goal is to govern and quarterback the entire launch process, while contributing the pieces you need to such as the messaging, the launch goals, and a good portion of sales enablement material. The more work you do up front preparing for a major launch, the smoother the entire process will be. Like some of my other work, you will see a pretty big mirror from

In an upcoming Guides & Templates article, I will share with you a launch planning template and checklist that you can build from for your own launches.

Tiering your Launch based on Impact

Not all of your launches will be of the same magnitude, nor will they require the same level of effort. As part of your overall launch strategy, you need to clearly define which types of launches get what level of effort and activity. A good way to do this is to Tier your launches, that clearly defines for everyone that when you identify the tier everyone else knows their involvement level. A good gut check I always use is how much impact on revenue/sales will the launch have.

I recommend a 3 Tier system that looks like the following:

  • Tier 1: These launches can redefine your overall business. They receive the most effort and budget from other departments. You will often need a good 90 days out to plan these. These also have the highest impact to Revenue & Sales. This tier often contains entirely new products, integrations of an acquisition, or a major new line of business (such as a new geography).
  • Tier 2: These launches redefine a product line, or provide a major revenue driving enhancement to the product. These require about 30–60 days of time to prepare and launch. These get moderate level of budget and effort, usually a targeted marketing or sales campaign.
  • Tier 3: These launches provide needed improvements to the product line, that either help reduce the sales cycle or help keep existing customers happy. Preparation time is under 30 days, with something small like a blog post or customer newsletter blurb. They don’t necessarily have a huge impact on revenue, but still something that the general market needs to know about. This will usually be a new minor feature, a new coverage of some type, maybe a new integration; but something that will only excite a much smaller group in the market.

Everything else, falls under general enablement and should be covered by your PM and Services organization to inform existing customers. These other product changes are probably general improvements on an existing feature, a bug fix, or responding to a minor customer request in the product; things that people may find interesting but won’t change whether they buy or not.

Timing of your Launches

In addition to the 30–90 day timing mentioned according to the tiers, you also need to determine when to officially launch based on when the product will be ready.

On the day that the product is released, will existing customers see anything different. This is extremely important to make sure that customers are ready, that your internal folks can handle day 1 questions, and that your AR/PR team has any embargos scheduled appropriately for media coverage. If you are giving Fortune an exclusive on a new product, they want to be the first one to break the news to the market, not your customer who tweets an image of it.

Launch goals aligned to business objectives

Once you have identified the Tier that your launch falls under, you must create measurable and attainable goals. When creating these goals, always refer back to your overall business objectives for the year and write out how these goals help the company achieve its objectives. Some of these objectives are going to be aspirational in nature (seen as a leader in the industry), and some will be very measurable (reach $X.XX M in revenue for the product).

You will need these goals, especially for major launches, to help drive cross-functional alignment of the launch.

The Tier will dictate how big the goals are. For Tier 3 launches I do not create any goals (or a formalized plan) because it’s too much effort for the amount of return.

Identifying audiences for major launches

When it comes to major launches (Tier 1 & 2) this is one of my favorite exercises to do, because it helps drive alignment and ensures that you do not forget anyone.

When crafting your launch plans, segment them into these 6 major audiences, and craft plans that encompass everything you will do in favor of the respective audience:

  • Prospects: Your net new logos, obtaining market share, and going after new business. This includes plans for website updates, demand generation, paid ads, and marketing campaigns. You will work closely with the corporate marketing team that runs campaigns and content creation.
  • Customers: All of your existing customers, regardless of whether they purchased this specific product. There is a combination here of driving awareness for customers as well as running a cross/up sell campaign. Part of this will also be your online community (if you have one) since those are built for your customers. Your customer marketing team will help lead these plans.
  • Influencers: The parts of the market that will not directly purchase from you, but can influence buying decisions. This includes your Analyst Relations, Public Relations, and Social Media plans. Additionally, any online communities that help influence decisions would fall here and as part of the Social Media plan. Your AR/PR/Comms group will help drive these plans.
  • Sales: Enablement, Training, Campaigns, and Communication are the hallmarks of the sales audience. This is where you will most often find most of your individual time and contributions spent. You will work with your Sales Enablement team (if you have one) and Sales Leadership, to help drive the readiness of the Sales team. This also includes your Sales Engineers/Architects.
  • Channel: Depending on the maturity of your organization, you could roll the Channel/Partner plans into your Sales plans. However, in my experience I have found it to be extremely advantageous to call this audience out directly. Especially if you have a channel marketing/enablement group. 1) they’ll appreciate being called out because it’s easy to make the channel an afterthought and 2) in many cases a focus on channel activity helps drive tremendous growth for a business.
  • Internal: Every employee in your business is an advocate for your launch and needs to know how to communicate it. Here you will cover internal communications of the launch process. This will also include any Services & Support groups. Your PM will be the one to help drive the internal technical non-sales readiness, and your internal communication group will help with company wide communications.

Cross-functional alignment for launch planning

For major Tier 1 Launches, that start about 90 days off from the expected product launch, you must achieve cross-functional alignment. The best way for you to accomplish this is to find 1 or 2 people from different teams that can help drive the planning and execution for each of the audiences above. You should provide them with:

  • An overview of what is being launched
  • The launch tier
  • The messaging to go with the launch specifically
  • Your measurable launch goals that align to the business objectives

When someone from another group, has this information, they can then begin to craft their plans. It’s important that you ask them for a minimum of 3 basic pieces of information in their plans:

  1. Segmentation of targets and/or activities. (e.g. Content, Paid Ads, Marketing Campaigns). This will help clearly ensure that you have very specific activities and that your teams do not forget anything. You will also use these to help categorize your summary role up and executive overviews.
  2. Measurable goals for each segment. These are goals set by the team leads, for their audiences, that help drive towards the launch goals you have set. It’s my experience that this is the hardest thing for people to grasp. These goals should be things like: # of Leads, # of Analyst briefings, amount of Pipeline generated, # of social media shares, etc. They should be trackable, measurable, and attainable goals. Your groups will not be comfortable doing this for the first time, and may not know what goals to create. That’s okay, just ask them to put something down (even if it’s a wild guess), because you’ll need them later.
  3. Activities & Dates: These are the list of activities, that fall under each segment, and help drive towards the measurable audience goals. It’s important to have dates includes, whether these are dates of activities being created (like asset creation) or dates that activities will be engaged (when a marketing campaign will run).

As you see, activities should be what you do to help achieve the audience goals. The audience goals should drive towards your launch goals. And your launch goals should drive towards the business objectives. If you are doing anything for a launch that doesn’t follow this pattern, then you should highly consider removing that activity from the plan. Everything done should be with purpose.

One you have plans from everyone, you will use these to create executive roll-ups and summaries that communicate to your leadership teams everything that you’re going to do, without requiring them to read a lengthy document.

Launch Checklists

The launch checklists are the companion pieces to the launch plan. One you have your goals and activities laid out, you must then create all of the individual work streams that need to happen in order to accomplish the activities at the respective dates. Many people use a simple spreadsheet for this, or some other project management software. Your launch checklist should include dates, responsibilities, and dependencies. Everyone must know who’s involved, how long it will take, and what needs to tactically be completed. As a PMM you will use this checklist, to ensure that your launch activities are on track.

Running Your Launches & the Go/No-Go

I will be creating a follow up article on how I specifically run my launches. What I can share as preview is that weekly meetings for launch status updates, DO NOT WORK. There are a number of problems with weekly standing meetings, the largest being that people do not want to speak up in front of a room full of people when their plans are off track. So it turns into a lot of head nods, that turns into a scramble in the final few weeks before the launch. I will typically hold only 2 mandated meetings:

  • Launch Kickoff: After all of the plans have been created (but not necessarily the checklist), I will hold an all hands kickoff meeting where we will review everyone’s plans as a group. Ask any questions and provide any clarifications.
  • Go/No-Go: Typically two weeks prior to the launch date, I will hold a final all hands meeting to get the final review on where everything stands prior to the launch happening. PM will also provide their final Go for engineering. In this meeting you are trying to obtain cross-functional agreement that everything is ready.

So if I only hold two major meetings, then how do we ensure if the launch is on track? I will be covering that in the follow up article! But it involves principles of Agile/Scrum!

Being ready according to 3 things

When determining if you are ready, it’s best to think about these along 3 different fronts:

  • Commercially Ready: Every activity related to bringing the offering to market, and letting the market know that it’s ready. This is primarily your focus as a PMM, and what your launch plan revolves around.
  • Operationally Ready: This is a shared responsibility between yourself, your PM, and any technical enablement group you have. This is ensuring that all of our systems internally are ready for the new product. Including any new SKUs, that support knows how to support it, and that your business is ready to add the new product/feature to its portfolio.
  • Technically Ready: This responsibility lies completely on your Product Manager. This is all about whether the product itself is actually ready to be used and in production on the day of launch (or before then).

Was your launch successful?

At the beginning of the launch process you worked with different team leads to create measurable, trackable, and obtainable goals for each of their segments. The reason for this is so the launch group can look back and answer the question about whether the launch was successful.

When it comes to setting those launch goals initially if the team leads were not used to doing this, you would have asked them to just put a stake in the ground and to trust you. The first time you do this, you are NOT going to report these goals up to any executive team nor will you report how you did against these goals after the launch.

After the launch runs, as a group, you all will want to keep track of how you are doing against the goals you set. Once the numbers are in, as a group you will walk through each goal. If you’re short, figure out if it’s because you could have done more or because the goal was too ambitious. If you overachieved on the goal, then you know you can raise the goal for your next launch.

The first launch you do this for will teach your entire organization a lot about yourselves, and may be an uncomfortably new way of working. But you’ll have firm understandings of what you can accomplish as a group, and you will be able to create more accurate goals for the next major launch. Its your next set of goals, after everyone is familiar with participating in a launch like this, that you will report up to your executive teams.

Retros are important to future successes

Your launch will not be perfect! Either a message will fall flat, an activity won’t be done, a goal will be missed, an entire workstream will be completely forgotten until the last minute: these things happen. And it’s okay! A few weeks after your launch has completed, you must hold a cross-functional retrospective. And if you want people attend, since this isn’t a mandatory launch meeting, do it over launch and buy the team lunch! This is a great moment to celebrate, and thank everyone for their incredibly hard work, passion, and dedication to the launch process.

Review how your tracking against the goals so far, and then finish the second half of the meeting off with a very open and candid retrospective. Everyone should come to the meeting with a list of things that went really well, and things that could have gone better. This is your opportunity to learn how to shape the launch process to better meet the way the company operates. Do you need more time? Maybe less time? Did you forget a workstream? Could you have been more prepared? Did anything happen too late in the process? If you could do it over again, what would you have changed to make the biggest improvement?

This is NOT a dirty-laundry airing session. This is a judgement free zone, where everyone can share the successes and the failures (there will be failures), so you can learn how to move forward. Try not to frame anything from the perspective of blame. It’s better to say “if we had X sooner, then we could have accomplished Y better” rather than “Because this person didn’t deliver A, I wasn’t able to do B”.

Launches in an Agile Development World

If your company is a software company (and MANY companies are now), your engineering team may have moved towards Agile/Scrum/DevOps development practices and methodologies. This means that they are releasing more things, at a far frequent pace. I will be writing another follow up article on this alone, because I think this is a space that a lot of PMMs need help with and one I’ve learned a lot about in the last 12 months. A few things become really important quickly:

  • Tiering is crucial to ensuring you’re not doing too much for every little thing
  • Momentum/Roll-Up launches become more common. Just because a small feature is in production, that doesn’t drive revenue on its own, doesn’t mean you have to create a full launch plan for that. You may not communicate anything at all. Instead, you take a bunch of these smaller releases and combine them into a larger narrative and “launch”.
  • Services/Support & Customer communication are critical. Your organization needs to have a cadence, and someone dedicated that isn’t a PMM, to run the communication and enablement. This person will work directly with the PM, and will only pull you in when they need you for messaging activities. This helps ensure that you’re not blocking any releases, and that everyone that needs to know, does actually know about the new features/releases.

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