If there’s a hot seat moment for a company, hands-down it’s product launch time. This is true in established enterprises but doubly so in a B2B startup bringing out its first offering. The stakes couldn’t be higher. You have to gain traction and start reaping returns on months — maybe years — of product development or risk winding up an ‘also ran’ or, worse, a ‘never was’.
A product launch is not a single event. It’s a process of aligning the entire organization to deliver an outstanding customer experience from start to finish. That’s why it needs to start well before the product itself is finished: the lead-up time is critical, and so is disciplined follow-through. You have to build awareness, communicate a unique selling proposition, and equip your sales team to beat the competition.
A product launch is not a single event. It’s a process of aligning the entire organization to deliver an outstanding customer experience from start to finish.
A proven framework can help you make the most of the time you’ve got — and make up for any time you may have lost — to ensure you have the key things covered.
Be ultra-clear about who you’re selling your product to
In the best-case scenario, a company will know the ideal customer profile (ICP) for a new offering before product development begins. That’s not always how it goes in the real world, of course — and even when it does, the market and the product can evolve in ways that require ongoing (re)confirmation of your ICP.
There are actually two things to think about here. The ICP identifies the types of companies that would make ideal buyers because they need your solution the most, are willing to pay for it, and have the budget to do so. Within those companies, you also need to know who forms the buying group — your target personas. But it’s best to start with the ICP.
Begin by defining the attributes that make up an ideal customer organization. These can include:
- Company size
- Buying group
- Needs/pain points
- Technologies they use
If this list of potential customers is big, it’s important to prioritize. You don’t want to dilute your product launch by targeting everyone, so you need to be crystal clear on the ‘most ideal’ subset of your ICP. (This is not the same as your target audience or total addressable market: it’s truly just about your ideal customers.)
If this list of potential customers is big, it’s important to prioritize. You don’t want to dilute your product launch by targeting everyone…
Position your product as a different way to solve the problem
Once you’ve defined your ICP and have a sense of the buyer personas inside the organizations you want to reach, you can move on to developing product positioning. As Al Ries and Jack Trout put it in their seminal book on the topic, “Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”
A common challenge here is that product development tends to fixate on features, but to position a product in a compelling way you need to translate its features into benefits. That means understanding the problems your prospects face and how your product solves them.
You can do this by answering five key questions:
- Audience: Who are you trying to reach? (And here you have a ready answer because you’ve already worked out your ICP and buyer personas.)
- Category: What “bucket” do you want your audience to put you in for comparison?
- Benefit: How will you make your buyers’ lives easier by solving their pain points?
- Competition: Which other companies say they can solve the same problems?
- Differentiators: Why should someone pick your product over the competition?
The answers you arrive at will form the foundation of all of your messaging going forward. Question 4 and 5 may be most critical of all: you really need to understand your competition (both direct and indirect) to clearly differentiate your product from theirs.
…you really need to understand your competition (both direct and indirect) to clearly differentiate your product from theirs.
Create powerful sales tools and collateral for the product launch
To communicate your positioning externally, you need to create content that speaks to buyers at every stage along their journey. But you also need internal content for use by your sales team so they can sell effectively.
Common external content pieces for a B2B technology product launch include:
- A data sheet or spec sheet that details your solution
- Use cases showing how your solution solves specific customer problems
- A keyword-optimized web page(s) built out of your positioning
Internally, your sales team will likely need:
- Presentations that can be used in initial and follow-up meetings
- FAQs that anticipate buyer questions
- Training materials or a playbook laying out how best to sell the product
Both of these lists can include many other things, of course, from videos to demos and blogs to white papers. Make sure you know what’s needed most, because you don’t want to overcommit and take on too much — for the sake of your team (whether in-house or outsourced) and also because launch timelines are unforgiving. Missed deadlines can be disastrous.
To answer that question about what’s needed most, reflect back on the buyer’s journey. You want to make sure you have content that answers buyer questions at each stage — and that no one stage is over-weighted or missed. I recommend focusing on one or two pieces per stage and ensuring they complement and reinforce each other rather than come across as random pieces that don’t tell a coherent story.
Build awareness and be authentic to your audience
The final stage in product launch marketing is about going out and grabbing attention. This can be tough when your budget is limited, which is nearly always the case for startups. But most B2B tech startups don’t need to win the whole market: you really just need to land your first few customers. In other words, you can afford to be targeted.
But most B2B tech startups don’t need to win the whole market: you really just need to land your first few customers.
Paid media is often seen as a necessary vehicle for awareness-building, but it can be very expensive and not always effective for early stage businesses. Even if you do have the budget, it’s important to carefully select outlets where your ICP finds their information. Don’t try to be everywhere.
The good news is there’s a lot you can do with earned and owned media. While often overlooked, earned media can be more effective and authentic because paid media may invite skepticism — after all, you paid for what’s being said about you. Dedicating time to securing coverage in key publications or speaking at industry events can increase your credibility. But, again, invest in exposure where your audience hangs out.
On the owned media front, make sure your web site is optimized for search — and that when prospects land there, you provide the information and experience that makes them feel like you get their needs and challenges. Depending on your ICP, social media channels may also work well organically. Keep in mind that both web and social platforms take time to build, so get a head start before you launch.
The advantage of a product launch framework
Your company will have invested a lot of time and resources in building its solution, so when it’s time to launch, you don’t want to cut corners or assume that “because we built it, customers will come”. A carefully planned product launch is vital to your organization’s success, with focus on the four key elements I’ve been discussing. Following a clear framework can give you an advantage in a market that is filled with competing solutions and messages.
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