July 19, 2016
Ep. #22, Crunch Time
In this episode of To Be Continuous, Edith and Paul discuss 'crunch time', work-life balance in the startup world, and the efficacy of the 8...
Whether you’re launching a beta product, into GA, or working on your feature releases or enterprise product, there’s a series of steps you should take. Similar to incident response planning, Cloudflare's Head of Product Jen Taylor shows us how launch planning requires criteria scoring, goals, a team, a budget, a series of MVP assets, and next steps with marketing, product, and sales.
Hi, I'm Jen Taylor. I am so excited to get a chance to talk to you all today about launches, because let's face it, launches are a very exciting moment for us all. It's an opportunity for us to bring together all of the efforts that we have worked on as product people, as engineering and as marketers, all of those insights and understanding, and think about "How do we take all of that and get it in the hands of the customers and help them be successful with it?"
When to start planning your launch. I recommend that you gate it and tie it to the product development process, and I say that because that is ultimately what is going to inform what it is you're launching and when it is you're going to be able to launch it. But it's important to think about when within the context of that product development process do you start planning your launch. Do not start it at the end. This is a very common mistake that I see a lot of folks make initially out of the gate, is to think about "I'm focusing on getting the product done, I'm going to get the product done. I'm going to think about the launch now." If you wait to that point, you're going to find yourself hitting the space flatfooted.
The best time and the best place to start thinking and partnering with the product and engineering and other folks across your organization about what the launch is and how you're going to go about doing it is much earlier in the process. Once the team has gone from spec'ing and scoping what they're actually going to build to actually starting to get it into development, it starts to come to life. This enables you to be a part of those conversations that Indy was referencing. The ability to be in those conversations, understand the insights to then inform the positioning, the packaging, and what you're going to do from there.
So, what kind of launch do you need? They're effectively two, if you polarize them, two kinds of launches. The first is what I call a "Big Bang Launch." This is great if it's your 1.0, it's a big splash, you're ready to make the moment and you want to have a huge impact. It's also great to do once you feel like you confidently have product market fit, because what you're trying to do here is drive a massive amount of awareness and adoption and engagement.
On the other end of a spectrum is what I consider to be a soft launch. Soft launches are great. If you are in stealth mode but you're slightly stepping out and you want to start engaging and getting the product in the hands of real customers, if you want an opportunity to test and play with some of your messaging and your attach, if you want to start thinking about launching a beta or other things where you actually start to build momentum. Soft launches are also great as you continue to grow and scale as a company, and as you iterate on the product to continue to engage with and expand the message of what you're delivering with more moments for your customers.
OK, so figure out what kind of launch you want, but then also figure out how you're going to go about launching it. Typically, again, to polarize it into two opposite extremes. One is to actually make a moment. Again, the classic here is Apple. Have a big conference, get everybody in a room, and again most people in the world today are not Apple. But the idea here is to create a standalone event and a moment where the sole focus is your launch. This typically correlates well to a big bang. On the other end of the spectrum is what I consider being part of a moment, and this is actually the example I use.
Here's Matthew Prince who actually launched Cloudflare at TechCrunch, and this is a great opportunity if you're doing a softer launch, if you have a smaller launch budget to work with, and if you actually are working on building and engaging an existing audience that is already there. So, how do you make a decision on this one? To some degree it's "How big a bang do you want to make? How big a budget do you have?" But more importantly, "Where are you going to be able to find those users?" Whether it's the decision maker, the buyer, or the end user. We've talked a lot today about personas and getting to know your users. The example I often use when I'm talking to my team is "I hope you know the user well enough such that if you took them out for lunch you know what they would order."
What you're trying to do here from a moment perspective is figure out what is going to be most meaningful to them.
Where are you actually going to be able to find and engage them in a moment that is meaningful to them? OK, so you've got a moment, you're being a part of the moment, then let's think about what the launch actually entails.
When most people think about a launch they think about the bang, the sizzle, the soft launch, or whatever. But if you ultimately think about what it is you're trying to achieve when you launch a product, it's about beginning the customer journey and helping them think about how you're going to help them be successful with your product and your business. Just as building, developing, and delivering your product is a cross-functional effort between product engineering, design, sales and the entire universe. Actually facilitating it successfully, executing on your launch, is exactly the same.
Now as I dive into this framework a little bit I'm going to talk about things from a functional perspective. Many of us live in smaller organizations where we may not, for example, have a customer support organization. That's OK. You don't need a customer support organization, but you need somebody within the organization who's going to wear that hat.
Now, the first step is driving awareness. This is a lot of the conversation we've been having here today. The last conversation about "How do you build a messaging framework?" Building the messaging framework, building those assets, thinking about "How do you tie those things together?" It's a big part of driving that awareness. So the examples I'm using here are actually from our Cloudflare Workers launch, which we launched about a year and a half ago as a soft launch beta, and what we did here is we actually used it as part of our existing birthday week announcements. We actually had a presence, we added assets to our website, we added positioning and we posted to social. We basically took that messaging framework and started to find ways to populate it, both in terms of the places where the customers live, as well as in infusing it deeply within the context of the identity and the footprint that we have in the context of social as well as our own website.
Now the important thing is the second step, is making sure that once you've driven awareness and you've created that call to action, when the customer comes to your site they have the ability to take action.
Because ultimately what you want to be able to do is help facilitate and translate that awareness that you're driving with the launch to actually driving some attachment and execution.
Typically this is the place where there is a deep interaction between the launch and the product itself, so again, within the context of the work that we've done with products like Workers, it's making sure to do things like "Can the customer log in and create an account and start working with the product, or sign up for the product?" Or if you're not there yet, "Can they sign themselves up and put themselves on a beta queue? Can they actually find a way to take action and get plugged into your machine and your product?"
Now, once the customer is a part of your ecosystem and once the customer is adopted and actually started using your product, the critical part is also making sure that you're helping them get successful. Because when you go out and you craft the messaging, and you have the launch, you're articulating a very clear value proposition to your end users. In order for them to become and stay a customer of yours, they're going to need your help understanding and getting successful with your product. Because two things, once you've acquired the product and you acquire the customer, you want to make sure that they have everything they need to be a customer that you actually retain for the long haul. Second, you want to make sure that they're able to be successful and become an advocate for you and their use of the product.
Now of course, getting successful and staying successful are often two different things. Even the most well-intentioned design of product, development of product, design of messaging, and designing of resources often creates moments and gaps. So it's critical that you also have an opportunity for your customers to reach out to you and express to you when they're struggling. Now, the place where I've seen folks struggle most with this is they're like "Of course, I'm going to put up a help bot or I'm going to put up a chat room." Don't forget to staff it. This is actually a place where I've seen a lot of folks struggle, because it's not a simple effort, but it is critical to building that trust and depth and usage from your customers.
For those of us who exist in the product marketing world, this also ends up being a great repository of insight and information about who is using our products, what is working for them and what is not working.
This is also fertile ground if you want to think about "How do you reach out and learn more about how people are using our products?" This is actually a great place to get and stay plugged into the organization.
Now the final step is making sure that you can continue to grow and help that customer be successful for the long haul. All of us when we're launching are beginning our customers and our products and our companies on a journey, our goal is to think about "How do we continue to extend and deepen that relationship as we deepen our products and deepen our companies?" Don't forget not only to think about the launch position and the launch messaging, but what are the other assets that you're going to create to help keep people engaged? How are you going to inform them about the success that other customers are having with case studies? Or, how are you going to help them be successful in understanding what is possible through things like newsletters that highlight developer recipes, or other things like that? Similarly, don't forget to leverage your community as you grow.
One of the most powerful things as you grow is deepening your relationship with advocates in the industry, your customers, and helping your customers help your other customers become successful.
Feel free, leverage those customers, help ask them to help other people in the community become successful. Leverage them as speakers at your events, and other events similarly.
One of the most important things though, as you think about your launch, and you think about this framework, is to expect the unexpected. Because as all of us know from working in software technology products, things rarely go to plan. Plan ahead for things going awry. What really helps here is when everybody is calm, cool and collected early on in the launch process. Define very clear criteria for when you're going to ship the thing, and how and when you're going to launch it. Then identify a key decider within the organization that in the instance that we need to make a call, is actually empowered and equipped and everybody agrees, is able to make a hard call if and when they need to make it.
Then from there, continue a regular checkpoint cadence. Check in. "How is the quality of the product doing? Where are we with the marketing and positioning? Is the website up? How is the attendance at the launch going?" Use that as an opportunity to just make sure things are staying on track, and then also be honest with yourselves. Launching is exciting and we all get passionate and focused on what we're able to do here, but also be honest with yourself. If you're in a place where the criteria that you had set out at the outset of the process is not being met, don't do it. They always say you only get one opportunity to make a first impression, so be very thoughtful about what you're doing.
Similarly the other challenge that I've noticed a lot of companies struggle with is basically launch paralysis. They get so excited about it, but they also get so focused on perfection. Don't let good be the absolute. Don't let perfection get in the way. Make sure that you actually get the product out there in the hands of the customers, because that is a huge step in the journey, in learning and growing.
Then finally have a plan B, have a plan B that everybody agrees to upfront because again in the event that you need to change course you want to understand what you're able to move back up to. For example, if you're going to launch in a moment and you're going to leverage somebody else's moment, but you are not on track to actually hit that event. What would the next event be? Then be able to think about how you could reorient your effort to that moment. Again, put this framework in place early in the process when everybody is calm, cool, and collected. It gets a lot easier when things get hard.
Then once you do launch or as you're launching, instrument and try, learn, tweak and repeat. For me I think of this both as a quantitative and qualitative process. We've talked a lot today about instrumentation and making sure that you are thinking about the channels and the metrics and the things that you're looking at to look at the success of your launch. Instrument your assets and your outreach and figure out what is actually working and not working in terms of driving awareness and conversion.
Equally important to a quantitative analysis of your launch is making sure that you have a qualitative process internally to regroup and learn and grow as a team. As I mentioned a few moments ago, successfully launching a product is actually a cross-functional exercise, and it's important to give the team an opportunity at certain milestones to come back and talk about what's going well and what's not going well so they can continue to iterate and work together. This is especially important as you think about the total life cycle of helping a customer be successful.
So if you're successful with your launches, the good news is your life is going to start to look like this. If you start to launch a product, you'll launch a subsequent release of a product and you'll start to launch a secondary product. Using this as an opportunity to learn early and often about what the shape of the launch machine within your organization is going to look like is critical. Again, use it as an opportunity to learn and iterate, because you're going to get a chance to run the engine on that machine again and again and again. So, congratulations. Your award for success is the opportunity to keep doing it. Doing it again, and again, and again.
But finally, I want to leave you with one last thought, which is, use your success to make more success. Keep in touch with your customers. Use these as touch points and opportunities to build and learn, and build those rapports and those relationships with those customers. Leverage customers as your advocates, leverage them as people within the community that can help write tutorials, help train, run an event. Customers actually build and learn from each other much more easily than they build and learn from you. That trust and that shared bond that they have from solving and struggling with similar problems is very deep and very powerful.
Then finally, as you're continuing to engage with and learn from your users, listen for and look for interesting stories. Because these are the places where you have real interesting credible moments to think about, "This is the problem we were looking to solve. This is the problem that we actually put the solution for, and this is what we're actually able to achieve."Those interesting stories, even though they are the quirkiest and the most off the wall end up being the things that, again, really resonate with the broader market.
Again, launch is an incredibly exciting and successful moment, but critical to start early in the planning process and to partner deeply and across the organization to help think not just about the message that we need to get in front of our customers, but how do we use this as an opportunity to start the journey to help our customers be successful.