If you build it, they won’t necessarily come: Why product launch is a beginning, not an end

Published May 25, 2021

You’ve done it! Finally, after months of work, a finished product! You’ve identified a problem to solve, created hypotheses, secured executive approval, conducted focus groups, refined target segments, defined requirements. Colleagues aligned, trade-offs negotiated, resources defended. Phew! What’s next?

Oh yeah, time to sell it.

Launch Day can feel like a finish line, but really, you’re at the starting blocks. You’ve just spent hundreds of thousands to millions of (likely) someone else’s money. And now they’ll want it back—with interest. It’s every product manager’s responsibility to think beyond being a cost center and focus on how you will contribute to revenue generation. A great rule of thumb is that every dollar you spend eventually needs to bring in six. Thus, effective launches are a critical part of the product function.

A common pitfall for the budding product manager is not thinking about launch until after development is finished. You wouldn’t buy a house if you couldn’t pay the mortgage, so you shouldn’t build anything without a launch plan. The adage “fail to plan; plan to fail” seems very appropriate here. Launch success is found at the intersection of deliberate tactics and the necessary resources to see them through.

Below are three of the best ways to ensure you see this success when Launch Day rolls around:

1. Tell people about it

You are not constructing a baseball field in Iowa. If you just build it, they won’t necessarily come. Your users won’t buy your product if they don’t know it exists. You’ll need to tell them all about it, sharing your message in places they will hear it and using language they will understand.

Generally, you’ll be working alongside a well-established marketing team. This is very handy, as they are likely better than you at driving awareness and messaging to your potential customers. Give them a unique selling proposition, the key differentiators of your product, and a large coffee, then get out of their way.

However, not everyone is this fortunate. If you’re a solopreneur, start-up, or marketing is too busy, you can’t let this slow you down. Take a Do-It-Yourself approach. There are many low-effort ways you can spread the good word—including bulk-scheduling social media, carrying out email campaigns via mail merge, interviewing a colleague for a webinar/podcast, in-app messaging, or sharing a screen recording with a voiceover. Experiment with different approaches and focus your efforts where you get the best bang for buck.

2. Get your team ready

You have lived and breathed and dreamt about this release for months now, but the rest of your team has not picked this up via osmosis. It is critical for the success of your darling product that everyone knows how it will affect them from Launch Day onward. You need to set stakeholders’ expectations, provide the opportunity to ask questions, and let them become comfortable with this new addition to the family.

Broadly, your stakeholders will fall into three camps, all with distinct needs:

Executives: There will certainly be changes to the idea they signed off on 3-6 months earlier. Hopefully you’ve kept them in the loop about any material scope creep/technical impossibilities. If not, do so now. Center the conversation around revenue projections/business reasons for completing the project, and prepare to justify all changes in this context. For especially curly issues, broach them one on one. Tread carefully: poor political acumen can derail months of hard work.

Internal-facing: Don’t create headaches for the folks behind the scenes. After all, they are the ones bolstering your product day in and day out. Make sure support knows how to interpret the error logs, that customer success understands the best implementation strategy, and that finance has a clear way to invoice every package. Ask well ahead of time what everyone needs from you for a smooth rollout.

External-facing: Your sales team is usually your easiest stakeholder group to prepare for Launch Day. Teach them how to sell the new product with a well-run training session, along with all the collateral they need. Sales deck, elevator pitch, and competitor positioning should do the trick (add other resources to taste). This is the perfect time to explain what the release includes and what it doesn’t yet (be ready with answers for when that’s on the roadmap). If you’re releasing a complementary product or this is a brand new proposition for your business, potential upsell examples with existing accounts can go a long way. The earlier you can equip sales with this information, the earlier they can close deals and build pipeline.

3. Get your figures in order

Think back to when your product was but a mere twinkle in your backlog. You made some promises*, didn’t you? To get the executive tick, you promised to deliver $X by Quarter Y (assuming A, B, and C hold true). If you haven’t recalled those promises until launch week, you are not in a good state.

You won’t deliver on those promises without an effective pricing model. Effective pricing is a cross between science and art—and it’s not only about the number on the invoice. You need a deep understanding of the value you are providing clients, filtered with market insights and competitive positioning. Clients must be able to afford your solution and see value for their money—both in absolute ROI and relative to your competition. A product (or a company) can’t flourish at scale where cost far outstrips value, no matter how much pricing psychology you employ.

Achieving a solid ROI for the money you’ve spent takes time. Sales seldom pour in the door from day one. Your assumptions may fall flat when confronted with the free market, so be prepared to update capex recovery forecasts as your sales data rolls in. Untested assumptions across different sales channels are especially prone to this. Enterprise sales should be able to pull off high value deals, but resellers across different geographies will need price-localization. Account managers dealing with legacy contracts might need to heavily discount, while SDRs may find no traction in certain industries. 

In B2B especially, it’s tough to get anything approaching statistical significance, so you should personally call your first 20+ wins and losses to get rich qualitative data on your preconceptions. Is the value clear? What are competitors charging? Have we packaged it correctly? Your sales team is a valuable source of information, but hit the phones and Zoom meetings yourself to dig deeper.

*This section focuses on revenue generating projects. Different project flavours beget different promises.

Final thoughts

A perfectly executed launch is beautiful to behold. It’s extremely satisfying when months of hard work culminate in happy sponsors, happy clients, and happy CFOs. The road to this Nirvana is paved with planning and preparedness. Make sure you celebrate with your team, savour the moment, and get right back to work on the next one.