How to get to market
Product Marketing is a wide set of disciplines. Roughly speaking, it’s a mid-funnel activity — though depending on the company, it reaches all the way to the top (running campaigns and leading demand gen activities) and all the way to the bottom (acting as sales engineering) of the funnel. Sometimes it takes over many activities that are typically considered brand, communications, and even product management.
But you can put all of those things into three broad categories:
- Storytelling — Messaging and Positioning
- Launching — Go To Market
- Closing — Sales Enablement
In this post, we’ll focus on the second.
Programming notes: this post is n in a series of indeterminate length on GTM topics mainly for startup people, mainly leadership, mainly coming from non-GTM backgrounds. There’s a list at the end.
What is the purpose of launching?
To get attention!
A Launch is a public declaration that you are open for business, that a product has shipped. It should create an inflection point for which you build anticipation and after which you capitalize on the attention created to acquire customers.
Launches before SaaS, Cloud, and Mobile
In the ye olden days, before SaaS or Cloud or continuous anything, the normal pattern for getting your product to market looked something like this:
- Build something
- Find people to help test it in real life with real data and users under strict NDA, call that pre-release or beta or whatever
- Refine it up to a v1 which barely works but does at least one of the things you promised would
- Release it to marketing [RTM] and stop futzing with it, except in minor ways
- Get some “customers” to agree to let you put their logos in your materials, regardless of whether they’ve paid you a penny
- Create all the docs, support materials, marketing asserts, etc
- Write a press release (which you might have done before you even began building)
- Schedule a launch date which is the day that you tell the world about the product and also the day the product becomes Generally Available [GA]
- Make two sets of briefing slides — one each for press and industry analysts
- Pitch analysts
- Brief analysts
- Get analyst quotes, if possible
- Pitch press
- Brief press
- Negotiate exclusives or other coverage conditions with press
- Send press embargoed press release and assets
- Lift embargoes, press release hits wire service(s), website/page/etc go live
- Release all the sales hounds, if they weren’t already out selling
Launches today come in infinite variety
The goals are still the same — get attention, fill a funnel — but nothing else is.
There are so many ways to get attention and so many models for how a business acquires customers (or just users) now that don’t involve a single point-in-time-launch-event now that oftentimes people don’t even bother.
- Put some software on Github -> tell your friends / twitter / HackerNews / ProductHunt / newsletter -> get adoption -> keep releasing updates
- Build something -> find the “influencers” of the people you built it for -> send influencers free versions / negotiate exclusives etc -> influencers post about it on social media -> customers come to you
- Make a service “beta” or “invitation only” etc -> give access to influencers -> they say how cool it is but no one else can get it -> after you have some big number of people on a waiting list open it up and charge (or not)
- Do a Launch but for a completely free product to create a funnel for a different product, or set of products, or services, etc., to sell to the people who use the free product
As you can see, there’s always some mechanism of getting attention. And there is always some filling of some kind of funnel, even if the end goal of that funnel is not to sell anything but just to get usage (“growth”).
The rest of this post assumes you are going to do a Launch of some kind.
There are proven ways to do every variation of this that you can imagine. You have to decide what’s best for your company, your product, your market, your users/customers, your influencers.
Launching vs Releasing
The following are all different things:
- Alpha, Beta, Pre-release, Preview — some incomplete state of the product where some users or customers might have access to it for testing or baking or burn in or just to create a sense of exclusivity or anticipation
- Engineering or feature “complete” — back end work is “done”
- “Done” — no one knows what this means and they will generally resist having the same meaning as anyone else does
- “Done” — some amount of planned backend, frontend, UI, integrations, docs, labels and dialogues, etc are done sufficiently that you feel comfortable putting it in the hands of paying customers
- “Release” to Sales [RTS] — sales people, or whoever, are free to actively pitch the thing to prospects and existing customers as if it exists and delivers all the value it’s supposed to
- Release to Marketing [RTM] — both the product work and engineering work are sufficiently done, or expected to be done by a certain time without significant deviations from the plan, that marketing can work out messaging and pitches and put a launch date on the calendar to work backwards from
- “Release” or “push to prod” — exactly what it sounds like
- General Availability [GA] — the things is available to the general public for purchase and has been released or feature flagged to everyone (or everyone who’s supposed to have it)
- Launch — a marketing event to generate attention/awareness/fanfare around a company/product/feature/partnership/whatever
The earlier the company, the less process there will be and the less likely anyone will be to have the language in their brains to talk about theses things. Everything will be blended together.
Release to Sales isn’t a term you’ll see in most go to market planning. I’ve found it incredibly useful to be realistic and explicit about sales behavior with regards to product development and marketing timelines, so it can be managed.
If RTS happens at RTM, Sales can get a monetary incentive to land a net new logo that will provide a public quote. But that also means that Sales has to be armed with the pitch, materials, and anything else needed to actually sell the thing, which drives the timeline for creating all of those things earlier.
Introduce the language in the beginning and put it on your calendars, Trello board, Asana tasks, etc. Even if multiple milestones happen at the same time, list them all out and talk about them.
Have explicit conversations about what these things mean. When the inevitable lines are drawn and processes created, no one should be surprised.
You need to be able to discuss the tradeoffs between marketing goals and the time or materials needed to achieve those goals.
“For feature X, we’re going to RTM at Eng Complete and Launch two weeks later by which time UI should be done. But docs might take another two weeks after Launch.”
If you want the tech press to write about the product but marketing gets the details after it’s been made GA and put up on the website, the chances of getting written about have decreased dramatically.
Which is totally fine! As long as expectations are in line with this particular reality.
In the best case, long before the product work is anywhere near done, Product has briefed Marketing and Sales about what is being built, why, for who, etc.
And Product Marketing starts working out:
- Messaging for the new product
- How that messaging fits into any existing messaging
- Who the personas are that the product is built for and will be marketed/sold to
- What the value prop is to those personas
- What the competitive positioning is
- How major the release is
- When/if it will Launch
- What a Launch will constitute of in terms of promotion, campaigns, PR, AR, content, sales enablement, etc
- What the Launch timeline might look like, working backwards from a hypothetical Launch date
- What the trigger will be for setting a Launch date
- What, or when, the GO / NO-GO decisions will be to proceed
- Concrete goals jointly with everyone else, for example: x articles day of, y mentions during the week following, z trials in the month following, n new customers in the quarter following
Decide how marketing important this product is
You need some kind of method for categorizing how much work is going to go into marketing something.
Is this the public debut of the company and it’s first product? Go all out!
Is this a minor feature that’s going to be three clicks deep? Maybe write a blog post and put a blurb into your newsletter.
Here’s one possible framework:
- Minor feature release: release notes, citation in list of new features released in the monthly “what’s new” blog post, citation in list of new features in monthly newsletter, update to relevant docs pages, no updates to product pages on website, no alpha/beta, no RTS, no RTM, no PR, no AR, no updates to sales materials, no Sales training, no SE training, no Support training, GA is whenever it gets released, no Launch
- Mid feature release: dedicated blog post, dedicated section in newsletter, beta period, docs update, Sales training, SE training, Support training, RTS = RTM, no PR, no AR, updates to sales materials, …, Launch = GA
- Major package of features or whole product version: messaging overhaul, dedicated launch blog post, press release, PR pitches and briefing, AR briefings, alpha/beta period with key customers to generate quotes and case study prior to Launch, partner co-marketing, post Launch webinar, website overhaul, new Sales pitch deck, new sales assets across the board, Sales training, SE training, Support training, SEM campaigns starting at Launch, Launch during important conference, Launch = GA, etc etc…
Once a relative timeline of some kind is roughed in, set breakpoints for major decisions that will impact the timeline or whether to proceed.
Some useful breakpoints:
- Drop dead on approvals for logo use, quotes, and referencing 1–7 days before Launch
- Go / no-go on Launch 2–4 weeks before date
- RTM 2–12 weeks before Launch
- Eng completeness check 4 weeks before RTM
If you decide to launch during a conference and the kind of sponsorship you buy (small booth in the back or 20 ft x 20 ft front and center?) is dependent on the launch actually happening, the drop dead date for making a go / no-go decision on the launch is the same as that for making a sponsorship decision, which could be as much as 6–12 months in advance.
Basic Launch Timeline Template [Fork at will!]
Launch day and time are typically scheduled to maximize reach and ability to get the attention of your target audience. Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend in your primary buying geography is a bad idea. But so might be the first day of a busy conference when everyone else will be announcing something.
Content is typically pushed live long enough before embargoes lift and press releases hit wire services or when youexpect articles to come out (which is something you better make a point to know) such that when people reading those things click links, they’ll find the right content.
Pre-schedule and automate as much as possible so you don’t have manually push buttons.
Ask everyone to promote, upvote, fav, retweet, whatever…. but not all at once. Have it go on throughout the day and for the week following. Provide them with phrases, one liners, images, gifs, etc, to use.
If there are going to be post-Launch activities, make sure your timeline keeps going and everything gets scheduled and done as planned.
Common post-Launch activities:
- Webinars, live Q&As, AMAs, Twitch streams, meetups, conference talks, etc
- Deep dive blog posts
- Case studies
See if you achieved what you intended to.
Post-mortem, figure out what went well and didn’t and what you need to change next time.
Launching anything is a company-wide effort at startups. Involve everyone from the beginning. Communicate to everyone. Post-mortem with everyone.
Posts in this series
- Marketing 101 for Engineers: A Functional Introduction
- Marketing 102 for Engineers: Roughing Out a Funnel
- Marketing 201 for Engineers: Messaging & Positioning
- Marketing 202 for Engineers: Launching
- Basic Messaging Template [Google Doc]
- Basic Funnel Metrics Template [Google Sheet]
- Basic Launch Timeline Template [Google Doc]
- Sales 101 for Engineers: A Functional Introduction
- PR 101 for Engineers
- Analyst Relations 101 for Engineers