Preparing for a Successful Launch
Your public launch of a product or service should be designed to raise the profile of your company. Think of it as a marketing event—a kickoff party of sorts. What you need for a launch is a compelling product or service, plus a handful of early customers providing gushing testimonials.
Don't spend money on a flashy launch party when you have no accomplishments to show off. Spend your marketing budget on making the press and blogging community aware of your product and the companies that are using it, as well as the problems your product is solving and the specific benefits that have resulted from its use.
You should prepare for your launch by answering the following four questions. Which companies are using your product/service? What specific problems are being solved? What associated "pain" is your product/service removing? What have the tangible and quantifiable benefits been to your clients?
Your goal is to provide a clear message about the customer's problems, and the benefits your product or service has provided and will continue to provide. This is what the press should be made aware of when you launch. This is newsworthy.
From those four questions, you'll be able to formulate a few customer case studies that will illustrate the many benefits of using your product. Case studies should tell the story from the customer's perspective. You can offer the case studies to journalists who are working on a story about your company.
There's no magic number of customers or amount of sales you need in order to execute a launch. If you're a privately held company, you don't have to disclose either to the press. You'll launch when you are ready to gain traction and when you have the infrastructure set up to handle an increased number of inquiries and sales. Make sure you're ready, though—many startups sell their product for six months or more before they officially launch.
Pick a point person for the launch. This person will be internal or external, and have a blend of marketing and PR skills. They'll spend a great deal of time on preparing marketing materials such as customer case studies, customer testimonials, and product fact sheets.
They'll also distribute press releases, pitch journalists and influential bloggers, answer frequently asked questions, book customer interviews, and a lot more. The pre- and post- launch activities take months of dedicated time. Doing it right is well worth it.
It might be helpful at this point to tell you more about the key steps from founding to sale to better understand how your own launch process and timeline should look. In the 1990's I got an idea for an Internet promotions company while chatting in line with a man at SBUX.O. Over time, we built a team and funded the company with venture capital, built it up, and a few years later I sold my shares to Rupert Murdoch's NWS. The route I took ended up having 12 main steps. While your own launch process will be tailored to your specific industry and product or service, seeing how one of my companies progressed provides a case study you can use to get started.
1. We wrote the business plan in order to clarify our vision. We wrote our funding pitch in a PowerPoint presentation and our first year's budget in an Excel spreadsheet. We created a formula-based dynamic model so we could plug in numbers for different "what if" scenarios (what if our expenses were higher, what if our revenue were lower, etc.).
2. We mocked up our Web pages so others could visualize how our site would work and how consumers, retailers, manufacturers would interact with it. Always do this. Many people you'll pitch to will be visual.
3. We designed the architecture so others could visualize how we'd do certain product functions such as data analysis and data mining.
Providing a schematic of the backend architecture helped boost our credibility with the potential client's information technology teams that would have to interface with our backend.
4. We got our first round of funding! We sold 33% percent of our company for 18 months' worth of operational cash.
5. We hired key staff: a VP of engineering, a VP of Sales, and a VP of marketing because this company was very engineering- and sales-intensive. We needed to have a solid architecture and we needed to get started on the incredibly long sales cycle for retailers and manufacturers.
Marketing worked on collateral—sales support material like brochures and data sheets—while the sales folks hung out with potential customers and asked for their suggestions on our product design. This helped get the potential customers more emotionally engaged in our success and increased their likelihood of buying a system they had helped design.
6. We secured our first customers (both retailers and manufacturers) and Web site strategic alliances. We raised our profile with trade associations and distributed a white paper we had written that illustrated the future of our business: online, targeted promotions. We positioned ourselves as the experts. This is like declaring victory as you're stepping onto the battlefield. Do it!
7. We launched a 90-day beta test.
8. We got our first consumers using the beta system. We gave countless speeches to manufacturers and retailers. Then we cranked up the PR engine and started getting press.
9. As a result of the above, we got more funding.
10. We demonstrated our product's data analysis capabilities to customers. They were wowed, and we were able to up-sell them to a more premium (read: expensive) service.
11. We expanded our customer base. We released a complete Version 1 of the system. We did zillions more speeches. Whew! That was a lot of talking for me and my executive staff! And we got more press.
12. And yep, you guessed it. We got more funding.
So you see, the launch process is cyclical. Each time there is a progression and growth associated with customers and press, more funding follows. You must repeatedly demonstrate growth with each step of the launch process.
Also, you don't need to pay a market research company big bucks to write a report on you. Like the companies IT, Jupiter, and Aberdeen, there are many reputable and influential (and expensive) groups that can raise the profile of your company.
I prefer gaining credibility from customer case studies, from showing specifically how you are solving problems as opposed to paying someone to write about you. You'll be written up once you've gained traction. So hunker down and get to work! That said, you may need the credibility boost of a research report from a third party if you are selling a six-digit product to enormous enterprises and your executive team doesn't have fabulous accomplishments in their past.
If you have any questions regarding the launch process, I'd be happy to answer them.