Product marketing is one of the most multifaceted roles in any organization, and from supporting sales to go-to-market strategies and content development, there are many elements to our jobs.
Product and feature launches are one of the best opportunities for a PMM to flex every muscle in their armory, truly showcase their abilities, and influence change and progress through the organization, so here I’ll take you through best practice for nailing the process pre-launch, mid-launch, and post-launch.
My name's Seiyonne, I'm currently a product marketer at HelloSign. For those of you who don't know, HelloSign is a B2B SaaS company, very much like DocuSign. We provide e-signature solutions to companies looking to sign NDAs or sales contracts or agreements.
We were a YC company, we started back in 2008, and kind of went through the traditional startup path until February of this year where we were acquired by Dropbox.
Some of the stories I'll be sharing today will be things that HelloSign did really, really well, but more of the stories will be things HelloSign did not do really, really well - because that's always what we like to learn from, and then certain things Dropbox does particularly well.
We'll start on launches because everybody's reading this because they care about product or feature launches at some level. Product launches, as many of you probably know, are one of PMMs greatest weapons for influencing change and progress through the organization.
We're going to talk about:
- Exactly how you flex that muscle and what are the different things you can key in on as PMMs when it comes to launches.
- Building your launch plan and what the different things you can do are, prior to launching, to set yourself up for success.
- Pre-launch activities, making sure that the team is aligned and focused on where to go, what to do, and how to do it.
- Once you're in flight, how do you make those micro-adjustments in order to ensure success? How do you adjust based on feedback and based on data?
- A part of the launch that most people forget about, which is the land aspect. What happens after you hit that timeline? What happens after you hit or miss the goal? Where do you go from there? And how do you move forward?
What does a great product marketer do?
Take a minute and think about what are some things a great product marketer does? Is it organization? Customer insights? Competitive Intel? Help sales?
Product marketing is one of the most multifaceted roles in organizations today. We do everything from market sizing and insights to content development, to sales enablement, to messaging, to telling stories. We're one of the few roles that get to flex all of these muscles both internally and externally.
One of the few ways we can flex every single one of these muscles is through a product launch because a true product launch has elements of every single one of the things that we as PMMs call our core competencies.
At Dropbox, there's a list of about 17 of these competencies, many of them are flexed in our everyday activities, but product launches are uniquely positioned to bring it all together. So as PMMs, this really puts us in the limelight, it makes us the superstar. We get to unite different teams from across the company. We get to bring together different departments who often don't work together.
Where else are you going to get the chance to bring together an engineer and an account executive? Or a marketing leader and customer support rep? It only happens in the context of a launch, so use those to your advantage and always think about:
- How can I launch this feature?
- How can I launch this product?
Our founder has an interesting saying that he's picked up, very much like sales has 'always be closing', for PMM it's 'always be launching', always be thinking about your next launch. What are you going to tell the market? And what are you going to shout from the rooftops?
Great, I've convinced you to launch all the time, everywhere you go, but how do you actually do that?
Building a launch plan
Problem statement and benefits
Well, step one is to think about your launch plan, these are all of the building blocks you're going to put together before you actually make it into that launch. First and foremost, your problem statement and your benefits. These are your cornerstones of the entire launch. You have to start by asking yourself:
- What are we doing?
- What problem are we solving?
- Why the hell would anybody care?
- How bad is this pain?
Take the example of Advil - the pain they're solving is headaches and the fact that headaches suck, we don't really work well with headaches, and they're not enjoyable. Why is that pain important? And how are they solving it?
Well, they get rid of the headache, and you can move on with their life and do everything you wanted to do. So think about yourself as a PMM, what pain are you solving? And how are you solving that? Think about how bad that pain is and think about what the customer can do once that pain is gone.
Really put yourself in the shoes of that customer, not in the shoes of a marketer or the sales rep or the product manager. Think about it from that end-user perspective, as PMMs we're responsible for bringing the voice of the customer to the table.
Next, think about how you're going to actually communicate that problem statement and benefits to the world.
- How are you going to position it?
- What's your messaging?
- What's that 30-second elevator pitch that you're going to give to an investor going to your building?
- What's the five-minute conversation in the Uber pool home with somebody who has no idea what your business does?
Think about the statements that you're going to arm sales reps with when they go into prospects and have discussions with, think about messages that you're going to give your customer support reps when they're troubleshooting and fixing issues that customers are having - all of that rolls into messaging and positioning. And that all comes from that problem statement and those benefits that you defined earlier.
Once you have that messaging and positioning down, it's time to think about what actual things you're going to do with that messaging. Specifically, what channels are you going to activate? Are you going to tell that message through a blog? Are you going to do it through an email? Are you going to add a landing page to your website? Are you going to have a launch event? What are the multitude of things you can activate?
Rather than making this decision in an ad hoc or random way, think about it from a tiered perspective. This is one thing that Dropbox does really well. All of our launches are categorized into one to four different tiers.
A tier-one launch is going to have different channels than a tier four launch. For example, a tier-one launch is something that we are going to have an event about, we'll have a landing page, we'll have press, we'll have blogs, we'll be interviewing our CEO and our founder.
Whereas a tier four launch might be something we simply communicate in an email to existing customers, it might be something we put on the website, specifically under release notes. Thinking about your tier launches is really geared to one specific purpose. It's to educate everybody in the company, what you're going to be doing before you move down that path.
So before the launch even begins everybody knows, we're doing a blog, we're doing a landing page and we're doing an email. We are not doing a press conference. We're not doing an event. We're not doing direct mailers. So this helps set the stage about what you will be working on and what you won't be working on, which is huge because as everybody knows, everybody who's not in marketing has great ideas about how to do marketing.
This helps you set the stage for what is going to be done and what won't be done. Try and make this a collaborative discussion with your product leaders and with your sales leaders, because you're going to need their buy-in when you get into the actual launch process. Aligning with them early on will only serve you down the road.
We've now figured out exactly how we're going to do our launch. Well, now we need to figure out when we're going to do it. It seems simple. But start with your launch date and simply work your way back. What things are you going to have to do and what prep work do you need to do to make those things a reality?
A great example is a blog post. If the blog post is going to go live on June 1st:
- When do you need to have the draft done?
- When do the executives need to sign off?
- When does the design team need to finish their creative concepts and bring those briefs to you?
- When do you need to have the animation or the video that's going in the blog post done? And,
- When do you need to pitch that to press to ensure it gets coverage prior to the blog post going early?
Think about your timeline and work your way backward, you'll discover that you need to start much earlier than you probably have the time for, and it'll very quickly force you into prioritizing things that are really, really important, and things that just really aren't that important or aren't going to move the needle.
The next part about the timeline is to make sure this timeline is visible to the entire organization. I know that's scary because it basically makes you and me as PMMs accountable to everybody, but that's really what we do. Making that timeline visible ensures that everyone is on the same page, everything is transparent, and everyone always knows the status of where things are.
Surprises are one of the worst things you can think about in a business - mid-launch, you figure out that somebody forgot to update the website, mid-launch, you forgot that somebody didn't train the sales reps, so they don't know what they're doing when customers call.
So making sure the timeline is visible, is transparent and is communicated is supercritical to helping you get that alignment and ensuring that people are on the boat with you.
Excellent, you've now built this awesome, awesome launch plan, and you're ready to launch. Well, there are a few things you should do prior to actually launching and the reason for that is, you can have the most well orchestrated, well laid out perfect launch from a tactical perspective, but if you don't aim in the right direction, you're gonna end up like this kid…
...hitting yourself in the face. Take the time before you pull that trigger, and say, "What do I need to do to make sure all the arrows are going in the right direction?"
Pre-launch is all about setting yourself up for success and setting yourself up for success is all about ensuring you've set the right expectations with the right stakeholders when it comes to goals and success metrics.
Why is this important? Because inevitably, two weeks into your launch, somebody is going to say, "I thought we were going to do an event. Why did we not do this? We were going to send people pizza boxes".
Come on guys, ensuring you set the right tone, and the right expectations will prevent not all of that, but a great majority of that.
Align on launch team
How do we do that? First and foremost, who's your team? Figure out who your launch team is going to be and get them on board well in advance and use this to your advantage. Pick people from a diverse set of backgrounds, diverse set of experiences, and diverse set of thoughts.
Include engineers, include customer success reps, include the IT team, include people on the security team, it's contrary to what we as marketers usually think, 'marketing runs marketing launches', 'sales runs sales launches', but getting cross-functional buy-in, especially at the smaller companies, will ensure that you're covering all your bases.
There are going to be things that you forget about that maybe an engineer will think about, there are going to be issues you run into, that can be troubleshooted better by a PM than by a PMM. So make sure you pick your right team, you get everybody to agree on it and devote time as part of this launch.
Align on guiding principles
Next is understanding your guiding principles. What this simply means is, under what circumstances are you going to change your launch plan? For those of us in SaaS, this often comes down to:
- Under what circumstances will you change your roadmap?
- How many dollars does a customer need to commit for you to go to product and say, we're not doing this anymore?
- Under what circumstances will you change your go-to-market motion?
- Will you change the channels that you're sending messages through?
- Are you going to change your logo, your colors or your branding for this product?
Setting those guideposts early will help you further down the road when inevitably things will come up you didn't expect. You'll understand how to prioritize and make the right decision.
Align on goals & success metrics
Next, think about goals and success metrics. Obviously, we want revenue, we want users, we want growth, we want all of those things. But oftentimes they conflict with each other. The strategy to get more users is usually very different than the strategy for monetization. And in a product launch, they often conflict because you have limited resources and limited bandwidth.
So make sure you pick exactly what's important to your organization and what your stakeholders will buy into. For us in our last product launch of HelloWorks, it was revenue, but then it also became users, and then it also became active users.
All of a sudden we had three conflicting goals. That meant that when product wanted to build something like a payment gateway, which was great for monetization, we did it at the expense of not building a better onboarding experience, which is bad for users.
We ended up in a scenario where we were having to prioritize one goal off the next. So think about your goals and make sure you get alignment early on, on what's important to the organization, and where you're going to charge to.
Actively gather feedback
You'll see this theme throughout the presentation - think about feedback. As product marketers, our strongest voices are those of our customers. So if you have beta customers, if you have early testers, if you have internal champions, gather feedback from them:
- What are they trying to do with your product?
- What pain are they trying to solve?
- Is it the pain that you decided upon?
- Or is it something entirely different?
Speaking to customers will surprise you, you'll hear about things you never thought possible. You'll hear about interesting ways they're using your product to solve their business needs. So make sure you are prioritizing the voice of the customer, even at the expense of other things.
Pre-launch alignment in practice: an example
One of the things that we did well at Hellosign was talk about guiding principles. And for us in our last launch, that meant we were not going to change the roadmap unless a customer came to us with a check of over $50,000 or a big strategic brand. Those are the only two reasons we would change the roadmap.
We got engineering to buy off in it, we got product to buy off in it, we got sales as hard as it was to buy off on it. Sure enough, two weeks into the launch, we had 10 customers all wanting different features, all saying they would be happy to pay today.
We actually got zero pushback from sales teams, no single sales rep came and said, "Hey, can you change it because I really want to sell this deal and meet my quota". Every sales rep actually pushed back and said, "Yeah, we can't actually do that right now. But we're going to have that in the next quarter or the quarter after that".
It made what would normally have been a very challenging back and forth conversation that we would have wasted time and energy on really, really easy. And it actually set us up for success when one of our largest customers came to us asking for a feature we didn't have and the cheque was four times that amount.
We happily shifted our roadmap, and they're one of our biggest customers on the product today. So keep in mind, those guiding principles will come back to save you when you least expect it.
Excellent, you've done all the pre-launch planning, you're all set up, the team is motivated, they're ready to go, you've pulled the trigger. You're done now, right? You're all good?
Well, not necessarily. Because nobody wants to be like Nick Young throwing up threes when he misses his basket.
The same thing applies to all of our launches. Just because you launch it does not mean you will be successful. I think back to a quote that one of our lead PMMs at Dropbox says, "Shipping is not success. Success is success".
Just because you ship something, just because you launch something, it doesn't mean we win. What that means is that through this launch time, you need to be making micro-adjustments on a very small scale to fine-tune that machine and understand where should we shift, and where should we not shift?
Data & feedback
That includes looking at data and getting feedback from users. Think about a running back in football - the ball gets hiked and they have a plan. But oftentimes, the best running backs make micro-adjustments to ensure that they're successful in getting to the end zone and they don't blindly follow the plan.
So too must we as PMMs make those adjustments based on the feedback we're getting from markets and from users. How do we do that?
Well, pay attention to how your data looks, and your feedback is on a weekly basis. That seems really short and aggressive but tracking things on a week over week basis will let you get a really fine level of understanding and will set you up to get massive returns on an annual basis.
Y Combinator is one of the greatest examples of this, they coach all of their new companies that they need to achieve week over week growth, not month over month growth, not year over year growth, but week over week growth.
Every single week, they get judged on growth. Think about that as a sales rep you have a weekly quota, that must suck. But the reason they do it is that week over week growth compounds, just a 2% shift from 5% to 7% creates a massive difference in your annualized growth.
So as product marketers, make small shifts to optimize that week-on-week growth. If you can figure out what that right formula is, it'll pay massive dividends down the road. We often don't need six months or 12 months to get enough data in today's world.
Think about talking to customers and prospects that use you mid-launch. Why are they using you? Who are these people that are giving you time and money before your product's even been proven? How bad must their pain be?
Spend the time to speak to them - get on calls, answer emails, take an Uber, fly to see them, spend the time to meet with them. And when I say spend it, I mean all of you as PMMs, that your job is to be right next to the customer. You should be drowning in customer conversations.
All that data should be coming back to your product teams, to your executive teams, saying it's not me who wants to change the roadmap, it's the 17,000 customers that say our onboarding sucks. That's why we need to change the roadmap. It's going to make all of those discussions, debates, challenges that you face much easier, so get in front of those customers.
Do things that don’t scale
That leads into my next point, and most of you have probably heard this, do things that don't scale. Oftentimes as marketers, we think about scale on day one. How do I scale this to 10 million people? But what we need to do is think about how do I scale this to 50 people?
Think about examples like Brian from Airbnb, the co-founder, renting a camera and going door to door in New York, taking pictures of people's apartments to post them on Airbnb.
Think about Bill, co-founder of Pinterest, going from design conference to design conference, recruiting attendees to post their content on Pinterest.
Doing things that don't scale will create that very first cohort of super loyal users and customers. That cohort will be the group that gets you your next group and your next group and your next group. Before long those first initial 50 customers have referred you and brought in business of 50,000 customers.
Don't focus on scale right away, focus on getting quality feedback, and delivering an excellent customer experience.
An example from HelloSign
One of the greatest examples I think, is one of my PMMs, Matt. Matt actually emailed every single one of the users of our new product, one on one out of his inbox, totally breaking protocol - not allowed to do that, everything's got to go through Marketo.
Nope, Matt did it one by one, personalized every single one to their company, their use case, their name, their role. I mean, the amount of time he spent was inordinate, and it did cause him to miss goals on other things. But at the end of that process, Matt knew everything there was to know about the customer use case.
He knew every facet of how customers were using our product. He knew every gap, every pitfall, every challenge. He knew every single customer that was willing to pay us when a new feature came out. He knew every customer that was willing to do a case study. He knew them by first name by last name. He knew the amount of time the developers were spending in our product.
All of that fit into our roadmap and made our products so much better. Matt became the go-to for that product. Whether it was from the executive perspective, the analyst perspective, the sales perspective, he became the note of all the information and got pulled into so many different things.
So as PMMs, use that to your advantage, be that Matt, and have all that information. But it takes that legwork to get there.
Land (and re-launch)
Excellent, you've launched, you've now come to the end of your timeline. You've either hit your goal or you missed your goal. So we're done, right? It's good, it's chill, we all go home finished and we have a beer.
Not so much. Take a second and take stock of what you've learned. What have you figured out from this launch? Where do you plan to go from here and what comes next? Every single launch should make us smarter and more effective as product marketers.
Post mortem with the team
Whether that means you totally freakin’ crushed it and are on top of the world, or you were just so close, take time to post mortem with your team.
Take a step back, carve out two or three hours, sit down with that launch team, and understand what went well and what didn't go well. As marketers, we often overlook post mortems but it's used so well by engineering teams today. It's not about pointing fingers and saying that "Chris did a really, really bad job and didn't close any deals".
It's about figuring out what we did not do to close those deals? Did we not enable the teams correctly? Did we not have the right collateral? Did we mess up the messaging? Did we launch it too late? What can we as a team do better to fix those gaps going forward? And understanding that that post mortem should be a very transparent, open, and honest exercise.
Again, not pointing fingers at each other and saying you didn't do this, you didn't do that, but what can we as an organization collectively do better?
Keep talking to customers
Don't forget about your customers. Just because the launch is over it doesn't mean that they stopped using the product and go home and not pay you money. Especially in the world of SaaS, where retention is the game, we have to remember our customers. So keep talking to them.
- What are you doing now?
- Have we fixed those gaps?
- Have you solved the pain that you were getting after?
- What do you need to integrate this to?
- How can we be of service?
Keeping that dialogue with your customers will go a long way to setting you up for bigger and bigger cheques down the road. They'll upgrade, they'll add users, they'll add functionality, they'll use your API, they'll get more and more invested into your product, the more and more you invest in them.
Make sure you don't forget about them. These are the folks that paid you when nobody else would pay you. For those of us in larger companies, where we have 10s of thousands of customers, you can still use this. Keep conducting focus groups, keep doing surveys, listen to those users and get that feedback.
We often fall into this trap of, "I'm at a big company and I've already figured it out. We have product-market fit". But there's always things you can learn from users and there's always new opportunities you can uncover.
Adjust and pivot
Take all the data you've learned from your feedback sessions with customers from your post mortems and make adjustments and pivot. For companies that have done this exceptionally well, they figured out a gap and they've adjusted their strategy, whether that's companies like Segment, or whether that's companies like Uber, they've all figured out when they're doing something wrong and they've shifted to go the right way.
Don't be afraid to adjust and pivot.
Plan your next launch (ABL)
Finally, coming back to it, ABL, plan that next launch, think about getting that team together again, maybe switching out folks who are better suited for the next launch and plan it. It'll take you a while to get there but get in a habit of continuously launching, continuously going out to the market and saying, "Here's what I have to offer. Here's why it's valuable. Here's why you need this".
It might be a feature, it might be an entirely new product, it might be a go-to-market strategy, get in that habit of continuously launching.
When we talk about adjusting and pivoting, one of the most challenging things to do is convincing a product manager to adjust their strategy. When you think about launching, and you think about post-launch, one of the most powerful ways to do that is with data.
So thinking through that post mortem, thinking through customer data and thinking through feedback can be a great, great tool to help folks pivot. A great example of this would be us at HelloSign.
Adjust and pivot: an example from HelloSign
When we launched our product last year, it was a workflow tool, and at the end of the launch, we discovered there were two really large holes.
One, it took too long to get to customer value. It took our developers weeks to get to that ROI point where they went, "Oh my god, this is the best thing since sliced bread". Whereas with our e-signature product, it took minutes.
We discovered that it was too hard to get running. Once you got to that, "Wow, this is the best thing since sliced bread", you had to start all over again and it was painful all over again.
There was no way to have any sort of templating feature and so we took that data back to product reoriented, redid the entire onboarding experience, built a brand new template library, and now users can go from nothing to fully up and running in minutes. They can fill out their I9, their W4, their NDA, almost with their eyes closed, whereas before it would take them forever.
They would have to go to our support docs and then they'd have to email in and then they'd have to complain a little bit about how it didn't work, because let's be honest, it really didn't work. So think about adjusting and pivoting and use that to your advantage.
Oftentimes, we're never going to get it right on the first go. But maybe the sixth or seventh time we're going to nail it.
Let’s recap on what I’ve covered in this article, I talked about:
- Launches and why as PMMs, those are our secret weapon for bringing together all sorts of different personalities, diverse schools of thought into a room and focus it on one single objective.
- Building a launch plan, understanding what the problem we're solving is, how bad that pain is and the benefits customers get.
- Building a cohesive messaging statement, and ensuring that we arm the right people with it.
- A timeline and making sure that we plan backward in order to hit that goal.
- Setting the right expectations in pre-launch and making sure that everybody is aligned on guiding principles and success metrics.
- Making micro-adjustments mid-launch, figuring out where we need to change and where we need to shift based on information we're getting from customers, and from closely monitoring our data week over week.
- Taking a step back once we're done and post-mortem-ing, understanding the gaps, figuring out the opportunities, and then planning our next launch.
My hope is that not all of this will be immediately applicable. We all work in different industries, in different companies. Some of us are B2B, some are B2C. Some are web only, some are API driven. But these elements should be like building blocks.
Take the ones that make the most sense to you, and use them as you grow your company. The ones that don't make sense, store them in the toolkit for later, who knows, maybe at your next role it'll make sense.
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