Managing B2B Product Launches and Releases

Mary Sheehan leads product marketing for Adobe’s Advertising Cloud and previously led the function at SocialChorus. In this guide, she describes how to prepare for, coordinate, and measure product launches of all types, from routine releases to major new offerings.

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Questions covered in this guide

How do you define product launch?

A launch is a moment when you want to communicate something important to a customer audience – a product launch – can be a defining moment for the company, a brand-new company, or a long-awaited new product in a market. It can also be a culmination of several smaller features that impact their users’ daily lives, bundled together to make a big statement. 

What are the different types/levels of product launches?

Tier 0 or Tier 1 – pull out all the stops – a tier 0 launch is your most significant announcement of the year, hands down. A tier 1 launch can be a couple of times a year, even quarterly, if you’re rolling out a new product or a big module. Everything should be firing for this tier 1 launch for you to communicate about this new product. 

Tier 2 – more modular – a few times a quarter. You have all the same things you’re thinking about, but there’s more emphasis on the internal and owned vs. earned piece. 

Tier 3 – continuous – these releases tend to be unlimited and teams handle them differently depending on their audience. 

What activities are appropriate for each of the different types/levels of product launches?

How do you manage product launches in an “agile” world to build incrementally but launch with impact?

One option: don’t talk about the vision while you’re building the stepping stones – the “stepping stones” won’t be noticed as you release them along the way, and then you make a product marketing splash once the whole thing comes together. Everyone internally has been in on it, but externally people don’t notice it until you put the story together.

Another option: start with the vision (but it’s riskier) – you could say, “here’s what we want to build, and here’s all of the steps for how we’re going to go to market.” It’s hard because those timelines are always longer than you think they’ll be. If you say that’s what you’re doing, but then you don’t deliver on it within a short period, people won’t remember it because they have a short attention span. 

Best of both worlds: keep the vision in a small circle in the early innings – make sure the executives and other people internally understand what you’re building. You could share it with your top customers under an NDA if you have a customer advisory board. Don’t make the announcement public until it’s at least in beta, where people can use it within a 60 to 90 day period. 

Who’s responsible for a product launch (what if you don’t have a dedicated product marketer)?

Product marketer if you have one, product manager or another leader if not – this often depends on how big the company is. If it’s a small company, it could even be a founder.

When should a company invest in formalizing a product launch process?

As soon as you start bringing new development to market – it’s never too early to start this process. As soon as you start thinking about your first launch or have big releases on your roadmap, you should be thinking about “how important is this launch A vs. this launch B,” which can help you formulate your process. If you’re only launching three to four things a year, you may not need to think about it, but with software and B2B there are always those tier 2 and tier 3 features that need to be communicated. 

How far in advance should you start launch planning (for different types/levels of launch)?

Tier 0 or Tier 1 – 12 weeks, maybe 8-10 weeks at a startup (if there’s less bureaucracy around approvals, etc.)

Tier 2 – 6-8 weeks

Tier 3 – 2 weeks. If you try to plan further in advance with tier 3, you tend to get frustrated because many things shift. 

What are the steps in the launch timeline?

Build your company’s checklist; there could easily be 50+ tasks for a tier 1 launch. 

Here are some of the big themes:

Strategy and messaging – 8+ weeks before launch:
  • Drill into why you’re doing this launch and get all of the internal approvals
  • Set key performance metrics and goal
  • Develop positioning and messaging
Promotion plans and execution – 2-8 weeks before launch:
  • Create a press strategy
  • Create an online marketing plan (SEO, SEM, display)
  • Create a content strategy
  • Get your screengrabs ready (this is often weirdly hard!)
Customer and prospect communication plan – 2-4 weeks before launch:
  • Update content for the website
  • Prepare email announcements
  • Update help center content
Sales enablement – 2-8 weeks before launch:
  • Internal FAQ/communications docs
  • Sales training or certification
  • Update decks/slides
  • All hands announcement
Internal communication – 0-2 weeks before launch:
  • Internal sales communication (email, meetings etc.)
  • Company-wide announcement

What key document(s) do you create for a launch?

A master checklist – I like using a Google spreadsheet and haven’t found anything yet that I like better than that. I’ve tried to use Wikis or project management tools like Monday.com, but I still think Google spreadsheet is the best way to go. Everybody has their action items, and you have a way to say, “did you do this?”

What technology tools factor into a launch?

An in-app messaging system  a tool that allows you to communicate with your uses while they’re logged into your app, like Pendo or Amplitude.

An email automation tool – something like MailChimp for a small company; Marketo for a larger company. 

A content library management system – Highspot at larger companies; a folder system like Google drive at smaller companies. 

Who needs to be involved in the launch process? 

Think about the DACI – Driver, Accountable, Collaborators, Informed

Driver – The core team (weekly meetings) – product marketer, product manager, an enablement/solutions person, a Customer Success person, maybe an engineering manager. The enablement/solutions person normally corrals the salespeople and does training.

Accountable – usually the managers of the people in the core team, who will ultimately be on the hook if this goes well or not. 

The collaborators – they don’t need to be in weekly meetings, but maybe they’re in a monthly meeting and are a part of some brainstorming meetings. This could include more leaders, “friendlies” from other departments, e.g. salespeople, other marketing functions depending on the relationship (e.g. content marketing), the broader product management team, engineering, UI/UX design, and PR/AR (in-house or a firm).

Informed – everyone else who’s customer-facing. All the sellers should know that the launch processes are coming. Customer success people should also be informed.

What other factors around your company/product/customer should be taken into account when creating your company’s launch policies and plans?

If there are privacy implications – loop in a legal person if you anticipate privacy will matter (e.g. If your company is Adtech) or some other potential legal/compliance concern.

If it’s something brand new – involve design early in the process for all the assets. Make them your best friend because they’ll make your life so much easier if they don’t feel like you’re just throwing something at them. 

What metrics do you measure, and what does success look like?

Product impact – ideally, it has some revenue impact. What generally happens is that the new feature doesn’t have an additional cost to it unless it’s a brand new product, so you need to think about what the value is. Are you going to monetize it separately? Would people pay more for it (a premium version), would you gate access to it?

Product adoption/time savings – look at how many people are using the new functionality, how frequently, and how long they’re using it. Or if it’s an enhancement to a current system that saves time, how much time does it save for your customers?

Launch metrics – have goals around blog reads and shares, email open rate, sales collateral downloads, PR goals. Set a baseline and track against that.

What are the most important pieces to get right?

Set the right foundation – get the right team together and establish a solid plan and goals at the very beginning.

Understand the risks around your launch date (to prevent slippage)  ask the PM how confident they are that they’ll hit the launch date and what their track record is. You might also want to ask around to other people that have worked with that PM to find out if that particular PM hits their launch dates typically. Don’t put yourself in a position to explain to the sales team that the launch date is constantly being pushed back.  

What are the common pitfalls?             

Internal launch communication – it’s easy to under-communicate around a launch, as there are so many moving parts. Be repetitive to make sure everyone gets the message.

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