This article derives from a presentation at the Product Marketing Trailblazers in 2021. Watch this presentation, and others, via our OnDemand service. For more exclusive content, visit your member dashboard.
There's a famous quote from Michael Dell, CEO and Chairman of Dell Technologies, that I really like:
“Ideas are a commodity. Execution of them is not.”
True. It’s easy to come up with an idea, and big companies especially are eager to try those ideas out, so they start building the product very quickly when you have an interesting one.
But then the onus rests on the product marketer to get the product out of the door so that customers are aware of this product and ready to buy. Internal teams have to learn all about this product too and speak about it to their customers or prospects.
It takes a lot to get that engine humming. For me, that’s the privilege of being a product marketer – we can be the execution engine that helps new products out the door.
SAP has launched a lot of products, and in this article, I want to share my experience launching with them, including:
- The failures I’ve experienced throughout those launches,
- An integrated marketing plan framework you can use,
- Key elements for a successful product launch,
- Customer engagement across the buyer journey,
- Getting market ready, and
- A few best practices you can use to successfully launch a product.
Why product launches fail
Professor Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School says that 95% of product launches fail. That statistic may be a little inflated – some claim the true figure is closer to 40% or 50% – but that's not the point.
The point is a lot of product launches fail, and who gets blamed for these failures? It's not the engineer. It's not the product manager. It's the product marketer in charge of go-to-market decisions. But what does go-to-market have to do with it?
Let's look at why product launches fail. Based on my experience, I found four elements that if not done right, create a huge gap between the development of a product and taking it to market. Let's take a closer look.
Problem one: Failure to define a strategy, objectives, or solution readiness
Why has the product been developed? What problem is it trying to solve? How does it tie to the overall growth of a company? Is the product even ready? Answering all of these questions is one of the key steps in a go-to-market motion. Failure to answer these questions and define that strategy is a big stumbling block to getting your product launch right.
Problem two: Failure to identify your target audience and their needs and wants
The second most important thing is to identify the target audience. Do you know what they want and need? Customer expectations are changing by the day. They’re expecting more and simpler ways of doing things, and if your product doesn’t live up to their expectations, they're not going to buy it. They're not even going to look at it.
If you’re not targeting the right audience for your solution, they're not going to buy it either. Maybe you’re aiming at C-level executives who don’t need your product, but employees a level lower would better understand its benefits. Identifying the right target audience and what they need and want is crucial for a successful product launch.
Problem three: Lack of internal collaboration and alignment from pre- to post-launch
The third element is getting your internal teams ready for launch. Internal collaboration and alignment from pre-launch to post-launch are crucial. If that alignment is missing, you have failed to socialize your product both within your company and among the customers that your internal teams deal with.
Problem four: Failure to educate customers, partners, and the market
Are you educating your customers? Are you educating your partners? Are you educating your market? Failure to educate any of these three pillars will result in chaos.
The market won’t know about your product, customers won’t know about your product, and the external partners who are supposed to be selling your product won’t know about it either. That equals disaster.
Integrated marketing plan framework
So how can we avoid falling into the traps I outlined above? I’m going to talk you through some of the most successful tactics I’ve used throughout my career to get product launches off the ground. Together, these tactics form what I call the integrated marketing plan framework.
Step one: Establish a strategy
First and foremost:
- Why are you building this product?
- What problem does it solve for the customer?
- What does it mean for your company?
- Will it increase your brand awareness?
- Will it help you drive more revenue?
- Will it allow your company to showcase itself as an innovator?
Defining the strategy behind developing your product is a crucial step. To get on the path to launch success, you should be able to answer the five W's: why, what, who, when, and where.
Step two: Set goals
Once you have outlined your strategy, then come the goals. Identify the short-term and long-term goals you're trying to achieve with this particular product and tie them to each go-to-market team’s KPIs.
If your goal is to increase your revenue by 30%, that will directly translate into your sales folks’ revenue targets and your marketing teams’ funnel goals, so establish those KPIs.
Step three: Hone in on your target audience
The most crucial step, as we discussed, is to define your target audience. Who would benefit from this product? Forget about your company's target audience for a moment. Who would benefit from this particular product? This will define your messaging, your positioning, and the channels you use. How and where you talk about your product must resonate with that target audience.
Key elements for a successful product launch
Now we’ve defined our strategy, goals, KPIs, and target audience, let's look at the key elements that we need to get together to ensure our product launches are done right. We need to make sure that these four elements are ready:
- The product
- The company
- The customer
- The market
If you get the tactics right in these four areas, you become a hero. Let's go a little deeper.
Getting the product ready
We all know you cannot launch a product that doesn’t exist. Still, launches often fail because marketing is way ahead of product development. We go ahead and start speaking about the product and announcing it on various channels with teaser videos long before we’re ready to launch. All that messaging needs to coordinate with the product’s development.
As product marketers, it is so crucial to work in close alignment with our colleagues in engineering and product management. We need to understand week to week what is happening with the product. We have to know if there are any hiccups. So often, engineers come up against bugs, issues, or security concerns that derail the launch schedule, and we need to be on top of that.
It’s not only about the product being ready but also the documentation and everything else that allows you to package the product, so constant alignment with readiness teams is crucial too.
Getting the company ready
Now that you're in alignment about your product, you know when it’s coming, and if you’re on track to get it out the door, your next step is to get the entire company ready.
It's crucial that everybody in the company knows about the product that’s being built. It sounds obvious, but that can be a challenge in large companies where teams might be working in silos.