Contributed by Maggie Hibma
It’s 2015, product marketers. Time to up the ante on your product launches.
Last year you may have had to juggle multiple launches at once, or maybe your launch cadence is more staccato throughout the year. Every company and every year can be different — but what never changes is the hard work of pulling off a successful launch. Consumer interests change, consumer habits change, and if you’re on a rinse-and-repeat launch methodology, you run the risk of missing innovation and standing out from the crowd.
So this year, try something new. Experiment. To get you started, here are 5 tips to try for your next product launch.
1. Know your bottom line
This kind of bottom line has nothing to do with numbers. It’s about your company’s vision.
Every company was created for a reason. Do you know why your company was created? What’s your company’s mission statement? You can usually find this information on your company’s web site or by talking to the people that actually founded the company, or were around from the beginning.
It may seem like a stretch to think about a launch, on a big or small scale, and how it relates to your company’s overall mission and vision. You might think, “How does [X] feature achieve [company vision]?” On the surface, perhaps it’s a very loose connection; a thread that stretches miles between your decision makers and who is actually making and building what you’re launching. But that thread is a cornerstone to your launch. Grab on.
As PMMs, it’s up to us to find that thread and tug on it again and again until it’s clear to us and to our target audience through our messaging that this launch supports the overall goal of the company. This requires a deep understanding of your company and your customer. Find a few folks who are willing to knock some themes or ideas around so that thread becomes clear. Including other people in this process only benefits you — a true case of the more brains, the better. It’ll make creating your positioning that much easier, and even give you some ideas for your launch along the way.
2. Write the ending before you begin
It’s no fun to go see a movie when someone has already spoiled the ending (thanks, every friend I have on Facebook). Luckily, in the PMM world, the exact opposite is true. It couldn’t be better when a product launch blossoms into the success you worked hard to achieve. Your target audience is showing interest, your paying customers are happy and you’re getting high-fives all over the place. You go, Glenn Coco!
One way to ensure this happens is to write a fake press release about your launch. It’s a fantastic way to nail your positioning, discover the true benefits for your buyer and even help you spot customer issues right off the bat. It also makes sure you and the folks building what you’re launching are on the same page and don’t stray in development or messaging on why this matters for your customer.
This is actually Amazon’s approach to product development and having used it myself, I’ll vouch for it here – it’s worth the time you’ll spend on it. Sit down with your product manager and write it together, so you’re both on the same page. Expect to go through several drafts, but you’ll get much more out of it than you’ll put in. Ideas for sales content, potential up-front support issues and fodder for blog posts or product pages are gifts that will keep on giving during this process.
3. Play musical chairs
I’ve seen a few office spaces around Boston (and yes, I’ve also seen that Office Space) and one thing I’ve noticed is that every team sits together. Makes sense, right? Sales is on the phone all day, so they have their own room. So does Support. Marketing is usually grouped together in one way or another, and if you’re lucky enough to have developers in-house, they’re usually on their own, too.
As a PMM, it’s important to really understand what’s being built and why from the first second you learn about an upcoming launch. I’m not saying you need to drop everything you’re doing right now and learn how to code (although, honestly, it’s not a bad idea), I’m saying you need to be “in” with your developers and product managers. You need to know where they’re coming from. How do they interpret what’s being built? How are they approaching it? What do they think about the potential buyer they’re building for?
The easiest way to do this is to literally pick up and find yourself a nook near your developers and work there for a while. Watching and listening to folks build a feature is unbelievable. Doing this allows you to be in sync with the ‘product’ piece of product marketing. Questions are much easier to ask when it’s a tap on the shoulder instead of a walk to another floor. Conversations begin easily. Brainstorms happen. And that’s how awesome stuff gets made.
4. Pick up the phone
When’s the last time you talked to a customer that uses your product? Yesterday? Fabulous. Last week? Yeah, the holidays have been crazy. You don’t remember? Well, that’s a problem.
Product launches can require all different kinds of content: blog posts, product pages, white papers, customer stories, buyer’s guides – the whole shebang. And while you’ve already nailed your positioning with the press release, you still need to create content. The best place to find soundbytes, commonly-used phrases related to what you’re launching or even how to explain this new feature in the context of your overall solution is through your customers. They’re the ones that have either asked for this feature, or will reap benefits from having it. They are your best source for figuring out what content is necessary for your launch.
If you work for a company that doesn’t have a formal user testing situation set up, park yourself next to an sales account manager and see if you can steal five minutes of their next phone conversation with their customer (I suggest bringing cookies with you for this favor). Find someone in marketing who is customer-facing and see if they can put you in touch with a “friendly”. If you know a customer that’d be willing to chat with you for a few minutes, pick up the phone. Asking them how they’ll use this new feature, what they’d need to get started and what questions they have should give you clues on what your launch needs to be successful.
5. Now say it again, but this time …
As a product marketer, I have different two types of folks who need to know the details of the launch. At a really high level, the public makes up one (like current customers, potential buyers and everyone in-between) and the people I work with account for the other. And at HubSpot, the internal folks are split into many segments, like Sales, Marketing, Support, Services and others.
Part of every product marketer’s journey is learning how to communicate the same message to different type of folks in the way they need to see it. Customers need to know what’s changed, the benefits and how it affects how they work today. Support needs to know all the technical ins-and-outs so if a customer calls in with an issue, they know how to fix it. Sales needs to know how to talk about it and how it could possibly affect the way they present your solution. There’s also a strategy component our Services folks need for their customer calls.
This year, think about your methods of communication — both internal and external — and see how you can use the same information to address your stakeholders from their frame of reference. Maybe your sales team needs some tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) information up-front on how it will affect the way they demo today. Maybe your Services folks need some best practices included in your communications. You can sit down with members of each team and discuss what would be most useful for them.
So, I’ll leave you with this: Our 2014 launches were filled with success and setbacks for all of us. What can you do with your product launches in 2015 to up the ante?
Learn more Product Launch best practices from Maggie and colleague Jeffrey Russo’s ProductCamp presentation:
Maggie Hibma works on the Product Marketing team at HubSpot, the world’s leading inbound marketing and sales platform. At HubSpot, Maggie specializes in the platform’s marketing automation, social and mobile apps, and frequently blogs about the HubSpot software. Before coming to HubSpot, Maggie was a Product Manager at LogMeIn where she grew the brand through social media and worked directly with U.S. and international development teams to design, test, and launch product features. Follow Maggie on Twitter at @MaggieHibma