My first product launch was absolute chaos.
The launch date was moved back once and forward twice. I started a week’s worth of work a day before it was due. The few precious hours of sleep I got the night before release day were full of stress dreams of missed deadlines and botched launches.
Thankfully, the launch was a success. But afterward, my body felt like it had been hit by a truck. It took me days to recover: My muscles were in knots from all of the stress, and I had weeks of sleep to catch up on. The morning after the launch party, I remember thinking to myself, in an exhausted and over-caffeinated daze, “There has to be a better way.”
Turns out there is. And after poring over product launches from top companies, reading countless product announcement emails, signing up for multiple free trials, and scrolling through miles of product landing pages, I’ve finally figured it out.
The product launch is the make-or-break moment for your product—and often, your company. It’s never going to be a stress-free walk in the park. But if you take the time to plan, you can avoid the most common pitfalls and stressors many SaaS startups deal with pre-launch.
This blog post will walk you through why you need to plan your product launch, the steps you should take to make pre-launch planning as smooth as possible, and a few suggestions on how to build your product launch timeline with our Product Launch Planner.
Why you need to plan a product launch
Planning is the most important step you can take to make sure your new product launch goes smoothly. A flawless product launch gives your product a better chance of succeeding in the long term.
When you’ve spent months developing the perfect product, it’s easy to overlook the launch. But making a great product isn’t enough in a competitive SaaS startup landscape—with so much competition, it can be hard to capture your audience’s attention. That’s why you also need to launch your product in a way that generates buzz, builds excitement, and, ultimately, sets your product on the road to success.
In addition to having some breathing room for course corrections and being able to roll with the punches if unexpected roadblocks, there are several other advantages of advanced planning for a product launch.
You have time to do (more) customer research
If you’re thinking about your product launch, you’ve most likely already established product-market fit and talked to your potential customers to confirm that your product fills a need in the market. But there’s still lots you can learn from your customers.
How do they describe their pain points? Getting a sense of the tone and vocabulary customers are using can help you fine-tune your own messaging, which you can then incorporate into your launch materials (emails, blog posts, value prop, etc.)
What products are they currently using to solve their problem, and where do they fall short? Pre-launch customer surveys can help you understand more about your competition and where your product fits into the market. What frustrations do they have around current solutions? How does your product address these? How much are your customers paying for their current solution, and how much value would they associate with a better one? Ironing out these details prior to your launch can help you position yourself strongly right out of the gate.
Where can you reach them? It’s important to know where your potential customers go for information. What blogs/publications do they read? What conferences are they attending? Social networks, popular industry newsletters, and targeted ads can all help you spread the word about your launch—but to be most effective, you need to go where your audience is, and asking them directly is the easiest way to find out where that is.
You can achieve internal alignment and get buy-in from all of your teams
Internal alignment around your product is the key to product-led growth. Before your launch, it’s important to create alignment among your different teams: Marketing, sales, customer service, and the dev team should all be on the same page when it comes to key messaging, the metrics that matter, and goals for your launch.
Promoting communication across all teams prior to launch will also help keep your entire company invested in your product’s success and help you spot problems early on—it’s a good way to break down communication silos and help collaboration across departments.
You can notify your partners and stakeholders
Keeping external partners and stakeholders in the loop early shows them that you value your relationship. With open and clear communication, you can get your partners on board and use them as early product testers to receive valuable feedback and uncover potential issues. Plus, updating your partners early on means they can use their platforms to spread information about your launch through social media posts and guest blogs.
How to launch a product: A step-by-step guide
Now that you understand why you need to plan a product launch, the next question is how. These 10 steps combine the psychology of excitement with tried-and-true release tactics to help you deliver your most viral product launch yet.
Step 1: Define your objectives and key results
First things first: What will a successful product launch look like to you? Do you want signups? Downloads? Views? Take some time to think about how you should be measuring success, then identify your north star metric. This metric should inform both the language you use to talk about your launch and the way you view your final numbers.
Once you’ve determined which metrics you’ll be measuring and optimizing for, you should set some goals. Try to use historical data if possible—for example, if you had a similar launch that got you 400 signups, then 400 or 500 signups is probably a good goal to start with.
Your goals should be ambitious but attainable.
Step 2: Get team-wide alignment
If you can only do one product launch tactic well, it should be this: Make sure your entire team is aligned on the importance of the new product, the messaging around it, and the goals of the launch.
Your sales team will be the ones talking directly to prospective customers, so give them all the tools they need to succeed. This often takes the form of a one-pager summarizing everything sales needs to know in order to successfully sell the new product—including value prop, the problem the product solves, how it stacks up to the competition, etc.
Next, make sure your customer support team is well-versed in marketing messaging. This will provide context to the support tickets they’re likely to receive in the future (i.e., “Your product promised X but didn’t deliver! 😒”)
And don’t underestimate the importance of educating the rest of your team, even non-customer-facing folks in engineering and dev. Understanding the value of the product and how customers respond to it will better inform future developments.
What’s more, team-wide alignment will get your whole team excited and invested in the launch. This type of energy invariably results in better design, better customer interaction, and a stronger social media presence when you finally blast out the product launch.
Step 3: Create a timeline
Now that your launch goals are defined and your teams are on the same page, it’s time to create a launch timeline. Ideally, you want a timeline that covers all important product benchmarks and also gets down into the nitty-gritty of each team’s deliverables prior to launch. That way, each team will know what their deadlines are and how those align with overall launch goals.
Our Product Launch Planner can help you get started.
Step 4: Decide on messaging
Product messaging is both an art and a science. Generally speaking, the language you use to talk about your product should be clean, concise, and consistent.
To determine what your messaging will be, talk to your product team and product marketing manager. Think about what sets your product apart from the competition, what customer pain points it solves, and so on.
Dig into any support tickets or customer feedback channels you might have to find out how your customers talk about the problems your new product will solve—then use that same language in your launch copy.
Once you’ve settled on messaging, it’s important to convey it to your marketing and sales teams. This will help ensure that the language you’re using to communicate with your customers is consistent across channels.
Step 5: Create a product launch landing page
Your new product should have its own landing page on your company website. This page should be where you drive your traffic in the steps to come.
Keep this page short and sweet. Don’t overload people with too much information—focus only on what potential users need to know about what your product is, what problem it solves, and who it’s for. Similarly, avoid unnecessary or superfluous calls to action—devote your CTAs to a single action.
Pictures of your product, an explainer video, and quotes from beta users are all great ways to increase page conversions. Use ‘em if you got ‘em.
For example, here is a screenshot of the landing page we used for launching integration with Salesforce.
This style of landing page has been effective for us because it gives an overview of the benefits and the features included. We end with a CTA to “talk to a product expert” so that visitors know that we can answer in-depth questions.
Step 6: Publish a product launch teaser on your blog
Once you’ve hammered out your goals and messaging, you should start teasing your product launch.
In the weeks leading up to launch day, seed your blog with content that addresses the problems that your new product is designed to solve.
For example, before the official launch of Appcues Checklists for user onboarding, we published a post explaining the psychological benefits of using checklists to guide the completion of complicated tasks.
Pre-launch content works by priming your audience; when people are invested in the problems your company is trying to solve, they’re more likely to see the full value of your new product.
You should also publish on launch day or shortly thereafter. Use this blog post (ideally written by your CEO or product team lead) to talk about your company’s vision, the pain point you set out to solve, and how this new product will address that problem.
Be sure to include a CTA to try out your product, and link it to the landing page you built in the last step.
Step 7: Build an in-product tutorial
You knew this one was coming . . . it’s in-app messaging time! And yes, even great products need a little user onboarding.
In-product messaging doesn’t have to be complicated (in fact, it shouldn’t be). A few concise and thoughtful tooltips here, a modal introducing your new product there—these little bits of communication can go a long way toward reducing churn and making sure users stay with your product long enough to realize its value.
Step 8: Launch on Product Hunt
Launch snobs be damned—Product Hunt is still the best place around for launching a new product. It offers an opportunity to get massive exposure to an entirely new audience for free.
To give yourself the best chance of success on the platform, be sure to include eye-catching graphics and a strong title and tagline.
Oh, and don’t expect an early night’s sleep—post your product at 12:01 am PST. That way, you get a full day’s exposure on Product Hunt.
Step 9: Send announcement emails
Product Hunt is great for reaching a new audience. But your existing audience needs some love, too! (Make new friends but keep the old, right?)
The best way to reach out to your existing audience is through their inboxes. Send a carefully crafted announcement email to the leads in your database who you think will be most receptive to your new product.
One way to do this is to first segment your database by blog subscribers, content signups, free trialers, and existing customers. Then, further divide each of these segments into smaller ones, based on topics of interest. This strategy lets you tailor your subject lines and email copy for maximum effect.
As every marketer knows, an email’s subject line can make or break its success. Make it too bland, and it will get overlooked; too salesy, and you’ve bought yourself a one-way ticket to the junk folder. Aim for a subject line that catches the eye and teases out the idea of your launch but leaves the reader wanting more.
The body copy should be punchy and to the point. Start with a strong hook that sets the stage for your big announcement. Then, briefly explain the problem and how your new problem will solve it. Finally, wrap it all up with an irresistible CTA that directs the reader to the landing page you made in step 5.
If you’re looking for more information and real-world examples of great product announcement emails, read our post, The 14 best product launch emails for re-engaging customers.
Step 10: Launch!
That’s it; you made it—launch day is here! Celebrate and enjoy the rush of knowing you did everything you could to set your product up for success. And tomorrow, maybe sleep in a bit—you’ve earned it.
Creating your timeline with our Product Launch Planner
Your product launch timeline should begin three to six months out. But if you’ve passed that mark, don’t sweat it—the Appcues Product Launch Planner can help you figure out what to prioritize. It’s easy (and totally free).
Answer 8 questions to get a detailed, personalized timeline to your product launch, including suggestions for when to post on your blog, publish on social media, and supplement your announcement with targeted paid ads.
If you have a shorter launch lead time, the planner can also help you focus on key steps. It’s better to hit the basics than try to do everything at once and stretch yourself too thin (and risk letting important things fall through the cracks).
It’s never too early to start thinking about your new product launch
The farther in advance you start thinking about your launch, the better. No plan is foolproof, but with enough time, you can roll with any setbacks and adjust your launch accordingly.
Plus, having a clear plan for your product launch can help your product, too: As you begin to plan, you’ll gain valuable insights into your customers, your team, and your goals—all of which can impact the work you do on your product in the final stretch.