As a startup, every new product launch or feature release is an opportunity to win over new customers or improve the retention of your existing users. After weeks or months of designing and developing a new product, launching it to the world includes many moving parts—from setting up beta testing to developing marketing materials.
A 2019 survey of product managers found that only 55% of product launches take place on schedule, with 45% being delayed by at least one month. Roll out your next feature seamlessly—and on time—by creating a product launch checklist for your team.
A product launch checklist is an itemized list of all the tasks to complete ahead of a product or feature launch. While the specifics attached to each product release will vary, a product launch checklist can serve as a starting template across every launch so that you never miss a step. This planning tool will support your team in successfully releasing your product and executing a go-to market strategy that increases customer experience and drives user adoption.
A product launch includes multiple steps and multiple teams: the software developer fixing last-minute bugs, the designer finalizing the launch video, and the marketing manager drafting a blog announcement. Team members need to work in tandem to pull off the singular goal of a successful product launch.
Here’s how product launch checklists can help your startup:
Research and assess the current market landscape of your product, identifying key competitors and understanding their offerings as compared to your own. This research will yield insights into how to differentiate your product in the market and promote its unique selling points, through compelling positioning and competitive pricing.
Rolling out a nearly-finished version of the feature to beta users—often internal employees or a select group of power users and early adopters—is an essential part of the launch plan. Beta testing ensures that your startup can deliver a bug-free feature that elevates your customer experience, while detecting any performance issues or usability concerns that could negatively impact broader user experience.
Be clear on the type of feedback you want from beta testers (e.g. bugs, performance, user satisfaction) and provide a dedicated feedback channel where they can share issues or areas for improvement with your team (e.g. Slack, in-app, email). Use this feedback to make any necessary adjustments to the feature, resolve any outstanding issues, and continue to improve the user experience until the feature is ready for a full-scale launch.
Harsh Banwait, the Manager of IaaS Product Management at DigitalOcean, runs a beta for almost every major product release as a way to validate a product’s functionality. “During the development process, we make several assumptions about the intended use of a product, and beta testing allows us to ensure that the product integrates seamlessly into the customer’s workflow and effectively addresses their specific issue,” he says. “Our goal during the beta is to validate the functionality, performance, and market readiness of a feature.”
Banwait and his team at DigitalOcean also ask beta users the following questions:
Beyond feedback, ask early beta testers who have provided you with positive feedback for testimonials that you can use publicly in your launch promotional materials, like your landing page and social posts. Avoid quotes with generic praise and dig for success stories that demonstrate the tangible value that your product provides.
Here are a few questions to ask beta testers to source useful customer testimonials:
Your new feature should have a dedicated landing page on your websites that serves as the focal point for your upcoming marketing and promotion. On this landing page, showcase the new feature, add key details about the product, highlight its benefits, clarify your pricing and positioning statement, and include any of the testimonials you collected from beta users.
Ivan Tarin, a Senior Product Marketing Manager at DigitalOcean, often starts creating landing pages for new products by thinking about who the product is for and who it will help. “The landing page is often used by sales to convey our messaging to users. Also customers doing research will compare different providers’ landing pages,” he says. “For those reasons the messaging on the landing is one of the most important introductions to your products. Running A/B tests on your webpage is one way to find out if your messaging is working.”
Tarin suggests several key components to an effective landing page. “Items that you cannot do without on your landing page include a memorable statement of what your product is about to tie together all of your messaging, like a slogan or your product’s mission statement. Images and diagrams are sometimes better than words at explaining complexity and worth the effort, he says. “Your product’s landing page should also have a place to contact your sales and support teams.”
Ensure new landing pages have the following attributes for the highest conversion rate:
If you have a sales function at your startup, set them up for success and initial sales by creating sales enablement materials. These resources should help your sales reps understand and articulate the benefits, use cases, and value proposition of your new feature to prospective customers.
Tarin suggests that materials for sales are conversation pieces, a way to connect with customers and help them through challenges. “At DO we have an incredible team that focuses on enabling our sales team. When training sales it’s always good to have material on the competition. It will save them time from having to look up the differences and prepare them for inevitable questions that come from customers,” he says. “One thing to keep in mind when preparing materials is that people may have a wide range of technical backgrounds. It’s important to inform at every level possible and provide resources accordingly.”
Tarin also recommends creating sales enablement materials that can be easily customized. “When preparing materials for sales to use with customers, the most important aspect is personalization. At the least, each sales person should be able to add their contact information,” he says. “Sales is great at helping customers reach their potential and every customer has different needs. They should be able to modify their materials to address each customer’s unique situation.”
Here are various types of sales enablement materials to develop for your team:
Ahead of your launch day, meet with your sales staff to walk-through the upcoming feature, explain the sales enablement materials, and answer any questions they might have to confidently pitch the new feature and effectively address any customer queries.
Alongside sales enablement materials, develop product documentation and FAQs related to your upcoming release for your support or customer success team. This step in your product launch checklist ensures that your customer support staff can readily assist customers and answer any questions after the launch. Also, remember to update existing materials to reflect product additions and changes.
Here are a few resources to develop for your support team:
By anticipating and addressing these questions ahead of time, your support staff can provide swift and efficient assistance to customers, ultimately enhancing the user experience and fostering customer satisfaction.
Ahead of your launch, set goals that will determine what success looks like for your upcoming release. Establishing success metrics at the onset of the project ensures that your team has a shared understanding of what the feature is intended to accomplish, and will help to guide decision-making throughout the entire process.
Consider whether your goal for a product launch is increasing user engagement, improving user experience, driving revenue growth, or enhancing the product’s competitive position in the market.
Here are the success metrics that Banwait and his product team at DigitalOcean use:
Prior to setting your success criteria for these metrics, establish a data baseline prior to the release to allow for pre- and post-launch comparison to provide a clear understanding on user behavior and overall product performance.
As part of your product launch planning, ensure your startup’s new product or feature complies with all relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards by undergoing a review with your legal team or outside counsel. Legal review can identify potential legal risks and offer guidance on mitigating them before the product goes live.
The legal team should evaluate data privacy and security, intellectual property rights, licensing agreements, and terms of service. Opt for legal representatives with strong familiarity with your industry so they can also assess any specific regulations that apply to your industry, region, or target demographic… While it might be tempting to skip this step, including a legal review in your product launch checklist minimizes the risk of encountering legal issues post-launch, which could lead to lawsuits or costly fines.
Determine a specific date for the release of the new product or feature, considering factors like your timelines for design and development, plans for beta testing, and resource allocation for marketing campaigns. Once the launch date is set, clearly communicate it to your entire team and any external stakeholders, like your investors.
Setting an internal launch date will create accountability and alignment internally, as well as building a sense of urgency and momentum as you move towards launch day.
Launching a new product or feature is an opportune time to develop a communications plan and leverage PR as a startup. Planning PR for your product launches, including creating press releases and outreach lists, can maximize exposure and increase the positive perception of your brand.
An effective PR plan for an upcoming release should include the following:
Capture the attention of potential users and create buzz around your feature release by creating a marketing strategy that includes launch day—or even launch week—promotional content across various distribution channels.
Your promotional content should be designed to showcase the benefits and unique selling points of the new feature, inspiring your target customer to try it. By incorporating the creation of launch-day promotional content into your product launch checklist, you’ll increase the visibility, excitement, and ultimately, the adoption of your latest feature.
Here are several marketing promotional tactics to develop ahead of launch day:
As part of your launch plan, track and evaluate the success criteria you set originally. By monitoring these metrics, your startup will gain valuable insights into user engagement, adoption, and satisfaction, as well as identify areas for improvement.
Analyzing product launch metrics not only helps in identifying the success of a specific feature release, but also aids in making data-driven decisions for future product development and enhancements. By consistently measuring and evaluating these metrics, your startup can refine your product launch strategy and ultimately drive more successful feature releases.
One critical component of successful product launch checklists is collecting post-launch feedback and iterating on the product. Gather actionable insights from users and internal teams to identify areas where the product can be improved.
Here’s where to gather feedback:
Once feedback is collected, prioritize areas improvements based on their potential impact, urgency, and feasibility. By incorporating user feedback into the development cycle and making data-driven improvements, your startup can build a stronger, more user-centric product that wins you long-term customers.
Check out all of DigitalOcean’s resources for startups and SMBs in The Wave, our startup resource hub, for more product, go-to market strategy, and company-building advice to help your startup thrive.
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