You’ve spent so much time working toward the release of your new product or update. The last thing you want is for it to be met with negativity or a resounding lack of interest. To avoid all your hard work going to waste, take steps to ensure that the product is truly ready. And just as importantly, be sure that you’re ready to present it to the world in the most effective way possible.
Don’t Rush the Launch Process
Getting excited about the product you’ve developed or the awesome new features you added is natural. Excitement is good, unless it leads to moving too fast and releasing your product to the world before it’s ready. If your product doesn’t work as intended, instead of a customer base that shares in your excitement, you’ll end up with complaints, disappointment, and negative reviews galore.
Microsoft is all too familiar with this eventuality. Their Windows Vista OS update was a famous flop in consumer sentiment. In trying to improve one problem (security), they created new ones with usability that they failed to understand and fix in advance of their big launch. And tellingly, their top competitor Apple latched onto the criticisms and poked fun at Vista in their ads.
A product or update that’s released before it’s ready for prime time will disappoint customers, and give your competitors ammunition to use against you. You’re better off taking it slow, and devoting time to the testing process.
This is especially important if your product has any complexity and requires an intuitive UX (user experience) design to work well for customers, as with software products. The more complicated a product is, the more important considering a multi-tiered launch process is.
Start with an internal launch, where your product is introduced throughout the company and tested out by people in different roles that can each contribute a unique perspective. Move from there to a soft launch to a select group of customers or audience members for beta testing. And only then go for the big external product launch.
This approach requires patience, but it reduces the chances of releasing a flop. And it gives you the opportunity to confirm your product delivers on its intended benefits.
Make Sure Your Product is Ready
Whether releasing a brand new product, working on an update to an existing product, or rolling out a new feature or two, take steps to make sure your product is ready for your audience before the release.
To decide if your product is good enough for a full external launch, ask yourself nine questions:
1. Has it been tested internally?
Internal testing is an important starting point. Employees have an understanding of your target audience and the problems they need solved, and they’re able to approach a product with fresher eyes than the development team can. It’s harder to judge your own work; you’re too close to it. An internal testing phase will sort out a lot of the initial issues with usability or lacking features.
2. What teams were involved in the process?
Including different internal teams in the initial testing phase brings a variety of perspectives and experience. Get the customer-facing teams like sales and customer support involved. They hear directly from customers, so can see how well the new product or update matches the most common needs and issues customers encounter.
3. Has it been tested by people in your target audience?
Beta testing gives you a controlled environment to get the product in front of the kind of people you designed it for. While your internal teams can provide valuable insights, that’s not the same as getting feedback from actual would-be customers.
Sales and customer support teams can help out with this part as well by pointing you toward people to invite to the beta testing group. Offer them free advance access to the product in exchange for sharing their thoughts with you. Set a timeframe, and actively solicit feedback throughout.
4. How big of a beta testing group did you have?
If your beta testing group is too small, the feedback you get will be limited in scope and may not represent what your larger customer base will think. If your group is too big though, you risk introducing a product with many flaws to a large portion of your audience, hurting your brand in the process. An oversized testing group also makes managing beta testing and analyzing feedback an unwieldy process.
5. How representative were the beta testers of your customer base?
Your product may work great for one of your personas, but cause big problems for another. You don’t just need to figure out the right number of testers, you also need to make sure they’re representative of your entire customer base. Aim for variety when recruiting your testing group, and make sure all your most important personas are represented.
6. How long was your beta testing process?
Give your testers time to get familiar with the product, without dragging the process on for too long. And if they come back with a lot of initial feedback, be prepared to go through multiple iterations of testing.
7. Have you implemented the feedback you received?
For all of this to pay off, you need to turn the feedback you receive into action. Before you shift to thinking about an external release, make all the changes your beta testers suggested.
8. Have you tested updates you’ve made based on the feedback?
The updates based on user feedback create a new version of the product that also needs to be tested. Even if the overall changes were minimal, get them in front of testers again to confirm that the updated version of your product does what it’s meant to and that users find it intuitive.
9. Does your product deliver on your audience’s needs?
This entire testing process is all meant to add up to an answer to this question. Keep repeating the process until you reach the point where the answer is a clear “yes.”
Make Sure Your Product Launch Strategy is In Place
Getting your product ready is crucial, but it’s only half of the equation for being ready for a product launch. If no one hears about your new product when you release it, all your work will be for nothing.
Before you take the step of launching your product, ask yourself the following:
1. Do you understand the competitive landscape your product is a part of?
Your audience won’t be evaluating your product on its own; they’ll be comparing it to similar products on the market. Make sure you understand what those other products are and how yours compares.
When you understand where your product fits in the market, you can develop clear positioning that describes what your product does and what sets you apart. That will help with developing the messaging you want to impart to your audience, which will guide all your marketing efforts.
3. Are all roles and responsibilities clear?
Every step in your product launch needs to be clearly assigned to someone. Make sure everyone on your team knows their responsibilities, and is prepared to get their part of the process done.
4. Have your internal teams been trained on the product?
Customer service, sales, and marketing all need a thorough understanding of the product before it’s released. Otherwise, sales will risk misrepresenting it in their pitches; customer service won’t know how to provide support; and marketing won’t be able to create relevant promotional materials.
Don’t skip this step! Even if the product development and product marketing teams know the product inside and out, you’ll be risking a lot of customer disappointment if other teams don’t get proper training.
5. Do you have a promotional strategy?
Consider which channels to use when making your initial announcement. You’ll probably want to do so across several—press releases, your website, email, and in press coverage if you can get it.
Beyond the launch date itself, how will you promote your product? Figure out where your audience hangs out. Work with marketing to create a strategy that mixes paid promotion like pay-per-click ads with organic marketing channels like search engine optimization and content marketing.
Having a great product is the first step to a successful product launch, but marketing it effectively is just as important.
6. How will you measure the success of your product launch?
Know your goals going in. Determine the key performance indicators (KPIs) that best match your goals. And measure consistently as you go. If your metrics suggest you’re not reaching the level of awareness needed or your initial messaging isn’t getting the response you’d hoped, tweak your marketing strategy.
Preparation is Important for a Successful Product Launch
Once you’ve gone through the whole checklist and are satisfied that your product is ready for wide release, it’s time. You may still hit snags and get unexpected responses, but going through a phase of advance testing and strategizing reduces the likelihood of big issues.
Slowing down can feel frustrating when you have big product ideas you want to unleash on the world, but doing it right increases your odds of success, and lowers the risk of embarrassing flops.