You’re doing it all wrong. You can’t push your development team to work one whole year on a product and then give your marketing team only three weeks to do their magic and successfully launch it.
A Concerned CMO
Most startups never become more than startups because in the earliest stages of the game, they are completely obsessed with one thing: the product. This product, they are convinced, is destined to alter the fate of humanity! But no, it doesn’t, because only after it is too late, do these singularly-focused companies discover that their marketing and sales teams cannot find a way to present and move this thing – this cursed product!
(And forget about pricing, retention and investor feedback – when you have tunnel vision on a product, everything on the periphery turns to chaos.)
We can put an end to this kind of myopic nightmare. My experience tells me that successful startups are divided into two types:
- Those that stumble upon a great product at a great time. These are the rare companies where even though their performance is mediocre, inexplicably fortunate things just happen to them.
- Those that engineer a product keeping marketing, sales, retention, business and investors in mind from the start. These companies do not compromise, do not relent and do not launch until they find the product that meets their multifaceted criteria.
Based on my observations and experience with the second type of startup, I created a simple checklist that allows you to develop and launch a product that will sell like hotcakes. My Product Launch Readiness (PLR) checklist is simple – by design. Why?
Because startups have the natural tendency to be so in love with their own ideas, they convince themselves they are on the right path no matter what. The countless pitches their founder spouts sound so mundane to the listener, yet on and on the founder goes, insisting on detailing what they believe the listener does not understand, and then shrugging and throwing his hands in the air – “But… our product!”
The PLR checklist is designed to help you help your teams and the startup leaders you work with to “get real” and face the facts.
When it comes to evaluating Product Launch Readiness, I take a very strict, proactive and thorough but efficient approach.
As simplified and logical as this checklist is, it originated thanks to the new obsession keeping me up at night: Building emotionally-centric funnels for companies that are going funnel-centric. You can read about the latter here and can plan on reading about the former soon, but let’s cut to the chase.
Take a look. You’ll see four dimensions:
- Business and Investment
- Product and Success
Note that there are no mandatory fields included in the checklist. Because every industry and business is different, I leave it up to you to decide what is mandatory and what is not. Note also that there are no more than twenty criteria under each category. Short but comprehensive is the name of the Product Launch Readiness game – which clearly is no game to you, or to your investors.
How to Use the Checklist
Dimension 1: Business and Investment
Answering Yes or No in the Business and Investment dimension, about everything from potential adoption rates and disruptive power, will shed light on the viability and profitability of your product. How you tally up here will give you insight into how potential investors will see you. I cannot urge you enough to put on your Bionic Glasses so you can see your product through a thousand different pairs of eyes.
Dimension 2: Sales
Now, in the Sales dimension: You have spent all your time, money and talent on creating your product, but if the sales team cannot walk into a room and easily show potential customers how to work the damn thing, what good is it? This is a very straightforward question, but you have no idea how many startups ignore it. And what about the Business 101 concept of creating a product with built-in upsell potential? You go to a baseball game and are upsold a soda to go with your hot dog. You may believe your product is superior to the basic hot dog, but if you’ll only ever offer one superior thing, you can expect investors to keep moving right along – to your competitor – as they should.
Dimension 3: Marketing
Ah, the Marketing dimension – my personal favorite. Your product might be a highly specialized valve that only big oil companies will buy, which is just about the furthest thing from sexy, but remember: Marketers have to be able to manufacture desire. As a CMO, I’m pushing especially hard for Yes answers in this column. Is the product interesting? Will it generate high growth and word-of-mouth? Will that un-sexy valve stand out as unlike any valve that came before it, and merit conversation around the water cooler? It had better.
Dimension 4: Product and Success
When running through the Product and Success dimension, note: A product’s job is not just to be cool and provide value, but also to subtly remind users and customers that they cannot live without it. A product cannot just attract customers; it must retain them. Beyond customers, the product must impress stakeholders and generate opportunities for growth. One-trick ponies are destined for the glue factory.
Bottom line: If you want to build a company that feels viral on the inside – to employees – and goes viral on the outside – via customer evangelizers – use this PLR checklist. Get everyone involved by giving them a simple Yes/No say, and you’ll create an atmosphere of clarity, purpose, incentive and excitement that will spread like wildfire.
Use this checklist in the earliest stages of your product design after a few iterations of the product have been prototyped. This proactive approach will save time, effort and money, which in turn will boost morale, cut turnover and draw future investors. See too many No’s for comfort? Stop: Do not Pass Go for $200 (do not pass Go for $2 million)! Nothing forces you to eliminate excuses and dive into figuring out why the No exists, faster than the No existing.
No is a fact, and its presence on this checklist cuts your work out for you. Get to it.
Also a fact: Product launches are never stress-free. Sales and marketing teams in B2B environments usually have it worse – at least the B2C’ers have done some market research – they’ve run a few focus groups. But either way, all too often you meet marketers in these rush-to-start startups who have received brilliant products, yet are still scratching their heads: “How in the world do we market this? This makes no sense. Nothing about it is intuitive.”
I know some people might think that for their customer base and industry, an exciting product launch or one that instantly shuts the competition down, is impossible to achieve. I get that it’s rarely easy, but I do know that it is always possible, even if your company hasn’t found its magic formula yet. There are plenty of examples of successful product launches, where what would normally be considered the worst possible market to create a viral, easy-to-move and easy-to-understand product is taken by storm, by a newcomer who took on the challenge – just think Salesforce and Slack! And then consider this: If you think an amazing product launch is not relevant to your quadrant, in truth, it means the rewards have the potential to be that much greater.
The PLR checklist aims to prevent the lack of vision, unity and accountability that turns so many potentially great startups into failures. It helps eliminate a mindset and management style that cannot make it in the modern age of online marketing and sales (i.e. “But that’s not what we envisioned: We don’t understand why there was such a disconnect between our fabulous product and its delivery. It just fell flat.”).
Investing in the time to count your Yes/No responses early on sheds unnecessary weight in the form of features, bells and whistles and so on before you get your product to the starting gate to launch it. For example: The PLR allows your team to discover and focus on features that will help move the product – such as adding a dashboard that will interest additional stakeholders other than the obvious user (such a feature will promote business expansion) – rather than spend time on the server response rate when your user pulls a report.
Speed is everything these days, in terms of getting ahead and staying ahead of the competition, and product leanness effects speed. Questions that are dumped on a product after the fact – by your sales and marketing teams, and obviously, by customers – create confusion, muddy the waters and slow your game.
I’m not saying you need to fill in each box of the PLR checklist, or that you need to reach 90% Yes-status before beginning on product design and testing, but you do need to achieve mostly Yes’s in a certain number of these boxes to ensure things will go smoothly.
If you can fill your Product Launch Readiness checklist with Yes’s, your product will make sense to people. It will engage them emotionally. They will want to talk about it, word will spread and traffic will grow. From there, you’ll find it easier to raise money moving forward.
Try this checklist, and then, hey, why not take it with you to your next investor meeting and use it as part of your pitch? Report back to me: Did you get the money, or not? Is your product the next to go viral? I hope so. I want to hear all about it.