Successfully launching a B2B product can make or break a company. According to McKinsey & Company, 50% of B2B product launches fail. In our mission to help companies win more, we had some B2B product launch experts do a session for Win Loss Week 2021 called "How Launching a Product is Like Conducting an Orchestra." The speakers were Ryane Bohm, Product Marketing Director at Gong, Jason Smith, the CEO of Klue, Eric Thum, a Senior Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce, and Rowan Noronha, the VP of Product Marketing at Showpad and founder of the Product Marketing Community. Here is what we learned:
Plainly said, a good product launch can make a company, and a bad one can break a company. According to Jason Smith, product launches impact so much within a company— such as market momentum, revenue, retention, brand, and more— that it is critical to manage a product launch successfully. If done correctly, it can lift your company to new heights.
What is needed to make a product launch work varies widely from company to company. There isn't a standard playbook to follow. It is not one size fits all. With that in mind, we took the key takeaways from this session's excellent strategies and examples to provide some guidance for doing it right. While not an official product launch checklist, we think these best practices will help you successfully launch a new B2B product.
It may seem obvious, but one of the biggest reasons product launches fail is simply the fact that the product doesn't successfully solve a problem for a buyer in the first place. According to Jason Smith, you have to do the strategic work upfront to launch something valuable.
"Make sure there is a real need for what you are launching. I've seen that in Startup Land way too often—technology looking for a problem, too many failures resting in a solution before you've really understood it." - Jason Smith
The key to launching something valuable to your buyer is to start with understanding your ideal buyer. It is best if you put in the pre-launch work of building out a profile for your ideal buyers. These are the buyers that experience the problem your product solves more painfully than anyone else. This is commonly referred to as your ideal customer profile (ICP), and according to Jason Smith it is a basic necessity for a successful product launch.
This panel may be biased considering that three of the four are product marketers, but they give good reasons why they think product marketing should captain a product launch. According to Eric Thum, product marketers take the story of why a product is being built and bring it to market. Telling a product's story encompasses naming, pricing, messaging, sales enablement, and more. Product marketers are the most equipped to handle these different product launch areas.
However, if your company isn't at a stage that has a product marketing discipline, Jason Smith had some different advice. Smith said, "the CEO has to be involved unless you have a dedicated product marketing discipline."
Ryane from Gong started with the advice that companies should take a tiered approach to product launches. Tier your product launch initiatives so that you don't go overboard on feature and product launches that don't deserve big hype. It isn't about how much time you spend internally on something; it is about how much value the product launch brings your customers.
"Not everything deserves a parade."
Eric Thum from Salesforce had similar advice and explained how Salesforce places products into different tiers. They use a four-tier launch framework created by collaborating with leadership at Salesforce. These tiers determine how many resources get allocated to a product launch. Tier 1 is the most important, usually redefining what Salesforce does. A tier 1 product launch has focused attention from all company levels and is broadcast in as many channels as possible. The lowest tier might just be a feature update and would be as simple as updating product release notes.
Jason Smith calls figuring out what kind of effort a product launch should get "alignment." He thinks about this in two ways— with resources and how disruptive the product launch marketing push may be to existing campaigns the company is running. When planning a product launch, you need to ensure this "alignment" is thought about and executed appropriately.
Ryane Bhom advocated that thinking about all the different groups that make your product launch audience needs a more holistic approach than you typically see. She said, "it is super easy for people to think, 'who are my new customers and my prospects?' That is missing about 70% of who you should be thinking about." Sometimes we get hyper-focused on potential prospects with a product launch that we don't create solid plans for everyone else impacted by it. These are the groups the panel talked about when describing the audience of a product launch:
You need to explain why your product launch is essential to your teams internally. It helps to have a plan for every internal team that the launch will impact. Does support know what the product launch entails, and do they have the resources and training to talk with existing customers about it? Give your sales team a little extra love and support in this effort. Take the time to create a really good sales enablement plan for the new product. They need to understand pricing, product functionality, if it's an upsell or replacement product, and more. Make sure they can demo it well, have resources to talk about it while prospecting, and, most importantly, understand how this new product helps solve a problem for buyers. Equipping your internal teams to do their part with the product launch will help it be successful. It will also empower your internal employees to share information about how it helps giving your promotion efforts an extra boost.
"If you are not explaining why this is so important ... it is going to be hard to get the right people on board." - Eric Thum
As Ryane Bhom mentioned many times, the audience focus on a new product is way too narrowly aimed at new customers. Don't forget about your existing customers; NEVER FORGET ABOUT YOUR EXISTING CUSTOMERS. Think about how this product launch is going to impact them. What do you need to tell them about it? Do they need to do anything when the new product launches? How should you communicate this new product to them, in a marketing email, product notification, their sales or support contact, or something else?
Figure out ways to spark their attention and educate them on your new product. Keep in mind you need to communicate less about yourself and more about the value prospects will experience from the new product. Show them how you are making their life better. Gong is incredibly successful, and according to Ryane, the whole team at Gong thinks of ways to stand out by being different and having fun with prospects.
One of the traps that companies run into is that they don't think about every product launch stage. They get so focused on the actual launch itself that they end up not thinking beyond that one moment. Eric relates it to when you go see a movie. You don't just see a movie, and that's the end of it. Before the movie, you figure out which movie to see, when you are going, who you are going with, and where you will see it. Then, once you've seen the movie and especially when it was a good one, you end up talking about it long after you saw it. Think about the pre-launch, launch, and post-launch in your product launch plan.
"Think beyond the moment. How do you keep the conversation going?"
Not every product launch needs a parade, as Ryane Bhom from Gong said, but your big product launches need to generate buzz—hell, with all the work you did, they deserve to generate buzz. The panel shared some of their insights on how to get that buzz for your product launch. Here are some of the tips that Ryane Bhom had:
Eric Thum shared one of the main ways Salesforce generates buzz for their product launches. They focus on bringing in customers to tell their story of their experience with the product. It is better to have customers tell the market why the new product is valuable rather than it coming from you.
Jason Smith brings a different perspective on the topic of generating buzz (a perspective with less budget and influence than huge enterprise giants like Salesforce). He shared these tips for companies that can't quite afford that Super Bowl, or Kanye West Tweet just yet.
A successful product launch can mean different things depending on the scale and intent of the launch, the market maturity, and more. Success for your product launch could be as simple as how many press mentions this new product got. Or maybe if it helped increase engagement or adoption of your customer base.
When Salesforce bought Slack, Eric shared that the goal of the Salesforce + Slack launch was measured by engagement.
Jason from Klue advocated that everyone needs to align on metrics that will define success in the pre-launch work of a new product launch. Stakeholders should have input and collaboration so that there is clarity on what success looks like and everyone is aiming for the same goals.
Rowan broke down how to measure success on a product launch really well. Rowan thinks about the goals and metrics for a successful product launch by strategic metrics versus tactical metrics. He shared that the most sought-after strategic goals and metrics are revenue, net retention, and expansion (upsell/cross-sell). Then with the tactical metrics, you can look at everything from win rates, leads, impressions, and more. He advocates that you separate the product launch metrics into these two categories.
Product launches are not a walk in the park. They take time, planning, collaboration, and work to pull off successfully. We hope this has at least given you some additional help with your product launch. Our clients have found that our win-loss analysis services help them build the right product roadmap, checking the box on making sure you are launching something valuable to your market. They also use it to understand how the new product is doing in market and discover key trends to help it do even better. You can learn more about how Clozd does win-loss analysis here.
Are you interested in the entire conversation from this panel? You can watch the whole video below.