Launching a new product is one of the most exciting, stressful, and potentially expensive things you can do as a CMO, so how can you make sure you do it right? We sat down with Yoni Solomon, former CMO of Uptime.com and Director of Product Marketing at G2, to pick his brains on what he’s learned about launching a product.
Talking points include:
We originally spoke to Yoni on an episode of CMO Diaries, and a write-up is now available for you to read below. Since this conversation, Yoni has moved into a new role as VP of Product Marketing at Gympass. Congratulations, Yoni!
Planning product launches as a CMO and a product marketer
Hi, Yoni, welcome back. How are you doing today?
It's good to be back. How's everything going?
Things have been good. Busy, but that's always a good thing. You've been busy as well, which we're gonna talk a bit more about today.
Yeah, it feels like there's a lot going on with The Alliance and with Uptime. Things are moving and growing quickly on both sides.
It's great to be busy, but it can be hard to find enough time in the day for sure. And today we're going to talk about something that's probably one of the busiest things you can do in marketing: building a marketing strategy to launch a product. You've got plenty of experience with launching products both as a CMO and a product marketer. Do you want to take us through how you've usually approached marketing strategies for product launches?
Sure. For background, I'm CMO at Uptime.com today, but I'm a product marketer at heart. I spent the last 10 years working in a variety of product marketing roles before moving over to Uptime.
What we're going to talk about today is my first major product launch, not as a product marketing manager, but as a CMO, and the similarities and differences between those two approaches to launching a product.
Awesome. So let's go through how you've approached product launches in the past. What plans did you need to put in place, and what kind of cross-functional alignment did you need, what kind of market research did you do? It's got to be very different as a CMO when you're organizing all these different teams and stakeholders.
Sure. As product marketers, we go through the launch process to make sure that we’re effectively messaging and positioning, planning, releasing, training, and reporting on new product activities in alignment with sales, product, and marketing.
And so for me, as a product marketer, I've prided myself on living in the intersection: we're not quite product management, we're not quite sales or CS, and we're not even quite marketing either, right? Not in the traditional brand or demand gen sort of way.
But at the same time as a PMM, you're all of those functions at once. It's your job to package up the new capabilities that are being rolled out and essentially make sure that you're working with each of the three points of that pyramid effectively to ensure that we're rolling out together with consistency and focus.
You're in the mix, doing all those different functions.
I thought I was! Here's the thing: as someone who's been a PMM for 10 years, I really thought that I was living at the intersection and that I was going deep until I launched my first product as a CMO and I realized how much deeper there is to go in regards to product capability launches.
So what was the biggest surprise when it came to developing your product launch plan? Any unique pain points or difficulties with stakeholders?
The biggest surprise, and maybe even a humbling point for me as a marketer, was that for the last 10 years, I've spent so much time focusing on product management to make sure that I really understood the capability and how we were going to price it, package it, and message it. I was also spending a lot of time with sales and with customer success, to really make sure that they were trained and enabled and had all the tools that they needed to do their thing.
I would say I spent 10 to 20% less time focusing on marketing. Just because they were typically the people on my marketing team, I think I would sometimes take it for granted as a PMM that everybody knew exactly what they needed in order to be successful on the marketing side. Lordy, did I realize when I came into the CMO role, that there's so much more work that needs to be done on the marketing side.
If there are any product marketers reading today, I recommend that you focus more on enabling your demand generation teams with the right ad assets, units, and target audience segmentation. Work with the content team on keyword clusters to draft the best-of-breed content that'll rank well. And then get in the weeds with technical marketing to make sure that image names, meta descriptions, and all the SEO stuff that we take for granted on a landing page are optimized.
More often than not a product marketer’s simply looking at the copy and the image and asking themselves, “Is this on brand is this on message? Yes,” and then moving on to the next thing.
As a CMO, I realized how much deeper we need to go into this marketing practice to make sure marketing is set up for success.
The all-important go-to-market continued phase
We often think about content marketing as being a very long-term process, which doesn't seem to gel with a product launch where you want loads of attention right from the launch date. How did you approach something like that, rather than something like social media, where you’ll have lots of stuff for immediate release?
I think there's a long tail and a short tail. At the point of launch, it’s about making sure that you have a blog going live, and a PR plan in place with syndication to publications that you want to be featured in. If it's an important enough product launch, you can seed some earned media and get a story out there that'll rank well. Those are some of the bigger things that you can do up front to get some flash going in regards to your product launch.
From there, we enter a phase called “go-to-market continued”. I have a five-stage product marketing launch process that goes through ideation, build, soft launch, and go-to-market launch. Go-to-market continued is the final phase – everything that happens after you've gotten this product up and running. That's when you need a roadmap of six to nine months’ worth of content that you're going to churn out in support of the new capability.
In my experience, when products fall flat six months after launch, it's typically because we forget about the go-to-market continued phase – we've already moved on to the next thing. There's always a new project coming through, and sometimes that can pull focus from the thing we just launched, which still needs to be nurtured for the next six or 12 months.
Countdown to launch
We might be getting ahead of ourselves – let’s talk about what we need in place before the launch. When did you start planning the new product launch at Uptime.com, and how far in advance did your plan need to be in place?
You need to be highly aligned to the product roadmap – there shouldn’t be any surprises. I’d been working on Uptime.com’s Real User Monitoring tool for quite some time before the launch, so I knew well in advance that this was coming down the pipe. At that point, I was working closely with engineering and product.
When we were approximately three months out of launch, that’s when product marketing started to do its thing. We started to work on messaging and positioning, and we sat in on usability testing sessions with customers to get a sense of how easy this tool was to use and what problems it was helping them solve.
From there, we started to bake our messaging and our positioning. We started with our message house, worked that through to approval, and then started to map out our launch plan. We were building launch materials, website updates, landing pages, and ad assets. We were also working with our growth team on segmentation, running PPC campaigns, and getting all of our marketing ducks in a row.
Then, of course, there was sales enablement. This was a new tool, and our sellers were going to be on the front line talking this through live with customers, so making sure that sales felt really confident about the capability before anything went live was paramount in that pre-launch phase.
I prefer to train my salespeople two weeks before the launch, and that training will typically encompass two elements. There’s a live session, where we hop on a Zoom, do a demo, and talk through different scenarios together. Then we follow up with some internal resources and an exam.
The reason I like to do this two weeks before the launch is that, in my experience, if you do it the week of the launch, marketing and especially product marketing are distracted with trying to make sure that everything is ready to go. It can often feel quite frazzling to enable a team the same week that you're rolling something out.
On top of that, if you haven't given your sellers enough time to digest this information, it almost feels like they’re cramming the night before an exam, which scientifically never works – you're not taking any of the info in. I'm living proof of that as someone who used to cram quite a bit before exams. A two-week stretch gives them enough time to read up on the product, digest the materials, say the words out loud a couple of times, and have some practice sessions.
Working backwards, I like to have all the messaging, positioning, and landing pages done a month before launch. The reason being things are liable to change. If we have any last-minute usability testing or insights that come out of beta, I want us to have enough time to bake that into the landing pages in a way that doesn't create a total firestorm for people.
I've lived that life where there's a last-minute tweak, and you have to hop into your marketing automation platform three hours before a send is scheduled. It just becomes, again, a total firestorm. I would say if you can have everything locked in six weeks before your launch, it's going to make a world of difference for you on a personal level in terms of stress and anxiety as you get ready to roll this capability out.
Let's talk about stressful times. When does the countdown start to the product launch? When do you put out the final fires ahead of the launch date?
That’s the final week punch list – I'm notorious for building these things. I like to give myself a final runway of five business days where we start to really get our final assets together, and we make sure emails, press releases, blog content, and all that stuff is ready to go before we hit send.
Once you've hit send, what happens next? Are you sitting back with a glass of champagne, or are you glued to the monitors watching those numbers tick up and bask in the post-launch glow?
I think we’ve talked about this before – I'd love to work on taking more time to celebrate, and we've gotten better at that as a team. But champagne aside, once everything goes live, you hope for the best and start to measure your progress day after day, week after week.
From there, if you're serious about sustained success and adoption of this capability, it's time to enter go-to-market continued. We start to talk about the first big campaign we’re going to roll out in support of this product. Perhaps it's a webinar, in which case we need to start getting an agenda together, reaching out to speakers, and figuring out what our angle is going to be. In a way, the work has just begun once the product is launched.
Measuring your launch’s success
In terms of monitoring whether you’ve had a successful product launch, adoption numbers are going to be an important metric. Are there any other metrics you have to take into account?
Absolutely. Adoption metrics and customer feedback, of course, are what you're going to be following from a product management perspective. But as product marketers, we live at the intersection of three teams – product, marketing, and sales – and there are KPIs that all three of those teams are trying to achieve as a result of your product launch.
If we're arming growth, demand gen, and content with all these assets and materials, I want to be watching marketing source revenue as a result of those campaigns. If this is new product development, and we're trying to acquire new customers as a result. What are the campaigns that we're launching, and how are we going to measure success? The best way to do that is to source revenue from those product marketing activities.
And then on the SEO side, I want to look at keyword rankings. That will also inform future content, especially if we're struggling to make it onto page one.
Last but certainly not least, on the sales and on the customer success side, at a baseline, we're looking at certification completion and how well they understand the product.
But really, the thing that you should be looking at is closed-won revenue from that new product activity. You want to see an increase in win rates, especially if this is a capability that's meant to differentiate us from our competitors.
Dissecting successful product launches and failures
Do you have a wash-up meeting to assess whether you’ve had a successful product launch? As you said, you've got more launches coming up soon – how do you refine the process and see what's worked and what hasn't?
At G2, we loved to do these things called retrospectives. We would typically do them if something went horribly, horribly wrong. When things went right, we didn't tend to do that, and perhaps that was a mistake on our part. We would mostly be looking at the metrics to try to get a sense of whether things went well.
But when things don't go well, I would say no more than four weeks after launch, when it's still fresh in everyone's mind, you want to pull together your cross-functional team and walk through the launch process step by step. You need to have an honest conversation where the weak links are.
Maybe messaging and positioning were really good, but sales felt unprepared and are still not very confident in their ability to sell or even talk about this product. That tells me that we have to focus on fixing the sales enablement and training part of our product launch process.
Or perhaps product management doesn't even realize that their product was launched in the first place and they're asking for an update, in which case you’ve got to get way closer to the product management team.
There's always another launch coming around the bend, and if you don't fix those functional issues in your go-to-market processes, they tend to compound and get worse over time. That's no fun for anybody.
Even with the successes, it's worth having retrospectives to see what went well and what we can do better because what's good can be great, and what's great can be amazing.
For sure. It also creates a culture of celebrating success, especially when there are different teams involved and they're not always working with each other outside of launches. Sometimes we miss that, especially in remote-first environments, where we're not getting those raw moments in the office.
When launches are going well, pulling that cross-functional team together to talk about the things that went well and celebrate and credit those who contributed feels like a really important culture piece that product marketing can contribute to.
Lessons learned from product launches
So what are the lessons you've learned from launching this new product?
Number one: continuing to live at the intersection is paramount, even if you're a CMO. Now I live at the intersection of product marketing and sales, but I also represent marketing. Continuing to live between those functions and being super aligned on the business objectives that each is trying to achieve is extremely important.
Number two: really doubling down on marketing enablement is key. We sometimes take it for granted that because they’re so close to product marketing, the marketing org should magically know exactly what's going on and what to do. We spend so much time supporting product management and sales, so let's not take our siblings in marketing for granted. If we forget the members of our own team, that creates problems down the road.
Number three: we need to be pulling together retrospectives for the bad but also for the good. If it's bad, it allows us to reflect on the elements of our launches that we could be doing more effectively so that we don't keep running into the same problems every single time. If it’s good, we can hone in on the elements of our launches that we are really good at and celebrate cross-functional success.
You know, it continues to be a journey in this product marketing and CMO life that we're living.
And we’re thoroughly enjoying going along on this journey with you. Thank you for joining us for Yoni.
Like what you read from Yoni about product launches and got-to-market strategies? Well, our affiliate community , Product Marketing Alliance, has a course led by Yoni: Go-to-Market Certified. Take your product launch skills and go-to-market strategies to the next level, today.
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