The Messy Politics of Coordinating Product Launches
Product launches are powerful. They can modify the way business is run even if only by a bit. And because of this power, they are often politically charged by stakeholders with different agendas.
That makes coordinating them an opportunity for political disaster. But the better you can coordinate communications across teams, mediums and audiences, the more impact you can have.
Know your stakeholders
Product: your product team most likely surveyed or interviewed customers on what it is they need, and they often have the best use case in mind when they design and manage the build. Because of this insight and ownership, they are a wealth of information that you’ll need to align yourself with closely from the onset of your launch planning. However, because of their proximity to the product, they can also harbor an attachment to it, and insist on having a say in how your job gets done. Be wary of that, yet respect your Project Managers!
Marketing: you. Your job is to drive all channels of communication around the release. You have to develop relevant stories and train each of your internal teams on them as well as spearhead the creation of content, emails and in-app communications to reach your customers, prospects and greater audience. You can make the greatest product launch—or the worst—the fate of the product is in your hands.
Customer Success: product releases and UI changes for current customers are often double-edged swords. Customers can be weary of changes, as it can affect their daily workflow, but they can also be excited about new features that can improve their business and help accelerate their growth. Customer Success, as an internal voice for your customers, will have sensitivities around the timing and language of your release.
Sales: new features can open the conversation to new prospects, solidify a market positioning and highlight development progress. Sales needs to know who the new product is best suited for and to communicate the new features effectively to prospects through emails and demos. The clearer you can be with them, the better.
Support: needs to be knowledgeable about new features for when inquiries arise. They may also need to update your help center. Although support is on the front lines, they sometimes get left out of the loop. It’s important to communicate your expectations to them.
Coordinate your product launch deliverables
There can be tons of items to deliver along with your product launch. From press releases to customer emails and website updates, there’s a variety of tasks. And the biggest trouble is that they all happen at different times and across different teams.
To make sure the right parties are involved in coordinating each aspect of an effective product release, download the Product Launch Plan Template for tracking purposes:.
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Develop your storylines: sit down with your product lead and get the brief notes on all of your updates. Then sit down with each responsible product manager to get the details and images of each product. Translate these details into short-form customer-centric stories focusing on how the product makes your customers better at their jobs. Refine your message and be choosey of your words. Each story should be the length of your average marketing email.
Press release: coordinate with your Marcomms and/or PR team early. Press can take a while to set up, so this may be one of the first things you will do. Focus these communications around a storyline and angle that is interesting and of relevance to your wider industry or culture.
In-app communications: consider your product story. Think about where this new feature begins and ends in your customer’s workflow. You’ll want to initiate your in-app communications at the beginning of that workflow rather than your top-level dashboard. Depending on what kind of tool you’re using for in-app communication, this could have to happen very early—if dev work needs to be done, or very late—if you have a codeless solution like Appcues.
Blog post: blog posts are most often done in one of these 3 ways. Determine the format that works best for you, and write it to that tune. Or if you’re coordinating with your content team, you’ll have to define your persona and use-case through an outline to hand off.
Sales collateral: you’ll want to coordinate with your sales team to get a sense for how valuable this new feature is to prospects. If it qualifies as collateral worthy, you’ll want to produce a one-sheet or piece of collateral that highlights the new product’s usefulness. Usually new features don’t warrant their own documents, but they often require past documents to be updated and can sometimes inspire new ones that include your new feature.
Customer email: work with your Customer Success team to determine which features you want to email your customers about. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to over-announce than under, but you may want to exclude customers by activity, industry or pricing plan. For tips on writing release emails, see here.
Prospect email: when coordinating with sales on your email to prospects, consider whom the update is most relevant to, and target it towards that persona. Also consider how you will distribute the emails. Will you mass email via a tool like Customer.io or have them come from sales reps individually by adding a template into your team’s Sidekickaccounts? Figure out your sales team’s preferred style and go with that.
Internal training: as spelled out earlier in the post, each team has unique needs in relation to your new feature. Depending on your company, product and/or product marketing usually takes the lead on this. It’s often best when both parties are involved with product demonstrating the tool and marketing adding color with relevant stories. It may be wise to conduct trainings towards your actual product release date, as so much of the work you’re doing prior will sharpen your perspective towards each team.
Website updates: when you add a new feature to your website, it often gets included somehow onto your feature page. New features can be awesome for SEO, so consult your keyword build or with an SEO expert to figure out how to optimize your positioning.
App/Play store updates: consider SEO for your App Store descriptions as well. You’ll want to build upon the story that you have established and entice your App users to update.
Analyst briefings: it can be worthwhile to keep your key analyst in the loop with new product updates that have a wide impact on your industry. You’ll likely want to wait to pitch analysts until after you have some data and quotes from customers to prove that the feature is having impact.
Help center updates: you’ll want to pass off your notes from product to your support team and help them identify value as well as how-tos and potential FAQs.
Stay organized with a product release planning spreadsheet
Luckily, not all of these items will go into every product release. But often there’s a number that are relevant. I’ve had success using a product release planning spreadsheet to track each item, relevant docs, and involved parties.
Here’s a modified version of what I’ve used in the past, and I think it will help you too.