As with everything in marketing, a good launch is about your audience - you need to know who they are and what they want. My experience in launching products at Gong for the past 18 months has reinforced that perspective.
We always ensure that we have the right internal stakeholders involved and that they’re aligned on the right outcomes. That’s key to maintaining a high-speed release pace.
We haven’t done everything right the whole time, which means we’ve learned a lot.
Read on to learn what’s worked for us, and the principles that will help you herd the cats in your launch process, covering:
- Gathering stakeholders into a core launch team
- Aligning on objectives
- Aligning your Bill of Materials (BOM)
- Setting a regular cadence
- Creating backchannels
- Running process reviews
Gather your stakeholder squad into a core launch team
The first step to successfully navigating a product launch is knowing who you need to interlock with for the launch. I’m sure every product marketing manager (PMM) has a list that includes sales, customer success, marketing, etc.
I’ll say this: Your list is probably too short.
You need a representative from every team your launch will impact, which is usually broader than a PMM’s core network.
When I joined Gong, the organization was relatively small and flat. We had three product managers (PMs), three enablement managers split between onboarding sales and customer success, and two PMMs. Our initial Core Launch Team was about nine people pulled from those groups.
We began noticing knowledge gaps that impacted our customers. Turns out, we hadn’t gone broad enough with our Core Launch Team. We’d missed important stakeholders from the Support team, and as our company and product grew to include more functions, we needed to regularly increase our Core Launch Team.
Our Core Launch Team today is 68 people with representation from PMMs and PMs, as well as Enablement, Customer Success, Sales Leadership, Customer Education, Support, and our Product Liaison Group.
How the heck do we manage such a large group of people?
We divide them and sequence their involvement at the right times. Our first step is aligning on objectives, so let’s dive into that straight away. Then we’ll get into how and when we meet with various teams.
Align on objectives
Once you have a team picked - and it should be a big one that covers most of your organization - it’s time to figure out what they all need from the launch. Why? Because a launch is about your audience and what they need, not what you think they want. You need to confirm your assumptions and cover all your bases.
When I created our first launch enablement plan, it was a generic template any PMM would have recognized. Our internal stakeholders’ initial reception of our plan was lukewarm, but we pushed forward anyway. (Yeah. Don’t do that.)
We launched using a plan we thought addressed our stakeholders’ asks, and for the most part, it did. But as the launch results came in, it was clear that we weren’t nailing it.
We ran a post-mortem and asked stakeholders what they really needed from PMMs during launches, and it wasn’t what I expected.
Here’s a taste:
Our plan had focused on features and messaging. But everyone else wanted to know how we’d take into account and deliver on their needs.
Now align your Bill of Materials (BoM)
Every launch needs support materials. Once you’ve gathered your stakeholder team and agreed on launch outcomes (based on their expressed needs), get aligned on which materials are needed to support your stakeholders individually and collectively.
The list should be as short as possible while meeting the desired outcomes.
Here’s the baseline BoM for our monthly launch at Gong:
- Post-sales training deck
- Sales training deck
- Customer communications (emails, social posts, videos, etc.)
Knowing the desired outcomes and having the stakeholders involved gives you a basic map to coordinate your launch.
Next up? Bring the right people together at the right times to achieve those outcomes.
Set a regular cadence
Meet early and often, but not too often.
The more up-to-date your stakeholders are about the release, the happier they’ll be. A combination of in-person meetings and a-synchronous touch points ensures that you’re communicating regularly and that there’s space for stakeholders to engage throughout the process.
Here’s what we do at Gong:
Day 1 (the week after prior launch): This is the first live meeting in the process. PMs and PMMs narrow down what’s in and what’s out of the latest launch, and discuss how we want to approach the launch overall. We go over the anticipated deliverables.
Days 2-7: PMs and PMMs work together in e-platforms to create a deck that covers the launch items for PMMs and the Core Launch Team.
Days 8-13: We share the deliverables deck virtually, ahead of our live meeting to refine it with everyone’s input. Comments and questions are shared via Google Slides. We circulate the revised draft to the Core Launch Team via email and Slack.
Day 14: This is the big one: the Core Launch Team meeting. We discuss the materials live with all the stakeholders. We invite them to poke holes, ask questions, and make sure that PMM is answering their objectives prior to launch. This is our last chance to ensure we haven’t missed a loose end.
Days 15-21: We refine all the agreed-upon materials and prep for launch.
Days 22-29: We host live and e-training sessions for the GTM teams.
Day 30: We launch!
Do you have a favorite chat tool? You need one.
A Core Launch Team channel is essential, as is a Batphone (i.e. a separate Slack channel that everyone is connected to for launch emergencies only).
Use the channel to post updates and get answers quickly. It helps keep the conversation going between regular check-ins and lets you notify stakeholders of developments outside of email.
It’s also great for regular project updates, such as new deck edits, asking for feedback, etc.
The Batphone is for when things go sideways. (It will happen.) We don’t use ours often, but when we need it, we’re glad we have it.
Run process reviews now and again
Once per quarter, you should have a meeting with the whole team to check in. Are you delivering on critical outcomes? What changes do you need to make to the process or the deliverables? No business process is static, and you need to keep up.
In these reviews we’ve uncovered key gaps and changes that were needed:
- More people or teams required on the Core Launch Team
- Need for pre-reads before training sessions
- Fewer meetings required (we cut ours by 50% recently)
By adding a backstop, you ensure that your process evolves along with stakeholder needs, and remains relevant. Remember, it’s all about knowing your audience and what they want. That changes over time and your launch should too.
Why trust me?
I’ve been coordinating product launches as a PMM since 2017. This article is based on 18 months of iterating on a monthly launch process at Gong, while our team size doubled and our number of internal stakeholders more than quadrupled.
That volume requires a clear, repeatable, and scalable internal process so everyone’s on the same page at every launch.
If you remember nothing else ...
- Go wide. Your list of actual stakeholders is bigger than you think.
- Align on outcomes. Don’t focus on the launch. This is about the results each stakeholder needs from you.
- Meet and communicate early and often. Stakeholders need to know what’s coming and when.
- Not all launches are created equal. Some are big, some are small, but the process is largely the same.