Let the impact on internal teams, prospects, and customers determine the launch activities necessary for launch success.
Product managers are proud of their products and product teams. Of course they are! They want customers to know about all the cool new stuff in each release. And so, many product managers request a big marketing push for every new release, regardless of whether it’s warranted.
When is a launch necessary?
When there’s something important to announce.
What is a launch?
Release is the end of a development project; launch is the beginning of a marketing project. And not all releases warrant a formal launch. Many new product releases can simply be released without fanfare.
Need to know
To justify a promotional launch, someone must need to know about something in the release. Who has the need to know?
Customer-facing Teams (sales, services, support, success teams)
External Partners (third-party developers, distribution channels)
Buyers (aka Prospects)
Users (aka Customers)
For example, consider version 16.60 of Microsoft Excel. It improves search with an updated Find tool. Who cares? This capability is of limited interest to some customers and possibly customer support. This feature will not impact new buyers, salespeople, or third-party developers. Microsoft included information about the updated Find tool in the release notes. They didn’t bother with a media release; they probably didn’t even send an email about the new capability to any internal teams.
On the other hand, Apple likes the “big splash” launch when running their developer and customer events. In 2021, they announced and demonstrated a cool feature for Mac OS called “Universal Control.” With it, you can use one keyboard and mouse to control your desktop, laptop, and iPad. Way cool. However, even though they announced it, it wasn't working on release day. It was released months later in MacOS 12.3. and even then, it was labeled "Beta". Alas, even the best companies struggle with keeping commitments after announcing.
My big launch failure occurred when my company launched a new portfolio of products and forgot to tell some key employees. Instead of setting up a dedicated phone number, the launch team provided our general toll-free number in the advertisement, mailing, and media release. And no one told the people who answered that phone line. One of the sales guys was walking by the call center and heard them complaining about the spam calls there were getting. Once it was brought to my attention, we did a quick briefing to the call center team, but we never recovered the dozens of calls from those who called earlier.
Use Launch Tiers
Use a tiered approach to product launch based on need to know. Who needs to know and what impact will it have on each audience?
The commonly used labels for releases are new, major, minor, and patch so let’s use that same labeling for launches. Basically, the tier equates to how many numbers are used in the typical release numbering scheme.
Tier 1: Product. The Tier 1 launch is for something entirely new. Usually, it’s introducing a new product. But it’s not always a new product. It could be entering a new market, offering a new pricing scheme (such as moving from license to subscription), or a new delivery model (such as moving from on-premise to online).
A Tier 1 launch has a sizable impact on both new prospects and existing customers — therefore, most internal teams are affected as well. All internal teams need the ability to discuss the new product, its features, its positioning, and usually its pricing and packaging options. And you’ll need to build awareness with prospects and customers. Your launch plan will have objectives of enablement for internal teams and awareness in the market.
Tier 2: Major. A major release contains one or more features that impact the positioning and messaging of the product. In a typical messaging document, you’ll find a product description plus three to five major features. A major release will result in a material change in the messaging document (or else, it’s a minor release). A major release usually has a greater impact on existing customers and internal teams. Your launch plan will have objectives of enablement for internal teams and awareness in the customer base.
With major (and often minor) releases, sales teams and channel partners want to know specifics months in advance—in some cases, so they can pre-sell new capabilities. In others, so they can prepare to support them. Explain that plans are fluid; changing market conditions and internal resource constraints may redirect product efforts. A roadmap is a direction, not a commitment.
Tier 3: Minor. A minor release contains capabilities that will be of interest to customers but won’t impact new buying decisions. Therefore, a minor release does not impact positioning, pricing, or packaging. Because the capabilities are desired only by customers, internal teams, primarily non-sales roles, will need to be brought up-to-speed. And because a minor release is unlikely to impact new prospects, sales teams don’t need to be trained; they merely need to be informed.
Tier 4: Patch. For a patch release, the launch effort is informational. Internal teams, especially customer support and services, need to know that a bug was fixed or a security issue addressed. You’ve seen plenty of app updates that are patches. A Tier 4 launch simply tells customers why the app is getting updated, usually something like “general security and performance updates.”
Tier 1 launches don’t occur often. I mean, how often do you release something entirely new? Microsoft Excel is in version 16; MacOS is at version 12. MacOS 12 “Monterey” was a major release with a Tier 2 launch; MacOS 12.3 with Universal Control finally delivered was a minor release with a Tier 3 launch. Excel version 16.60 was a patch with a Tier 4 launch. Most of your launches will be Tier 3 and 4.
When planning a launch, always begin with objectives. Who needs to know and what do they need to know for this launch to succeed? Let the impact on internal teams, prospects, and customers determine the launch activities necessary for launch success.
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