A product marketing leader and has built brands + functions across high-growth SaaS, B2B, and media companies.
A CMO walks into a room. (No, this isn’t the setup for a punchline — far from it).
He says, “our VP of Product said Product A will move out of Beta on May 6th. Tell me about everything that’s going to happen in that single day. I want, nay, NEED, a glamorous launch with marketing activities that run the gamut.”
Well, here’s the thing. May 6th might not be the date the product should be launched, albeit a nice idea. Too frequently before a single-day launch, a major bug is identified, the product team wants to polish it more, or the development team’s timeline was overly optimistic. Or the product simply doesn’t command a strong enough value proposition yet.
At this point, all teams are working overtime, sales training has been scheduled, and maybe you’ve aligned the launch success to an unmovable internal or external event. As the Product Marketing Manager, you’ve been to Starbucks three times in one day and your family is ready to file a missing persons report.
Regardless, you buckle down, push through and work until the final buzzer, and… it doesn’t end up being that needle mover that your CMO hoped for. You better get a fresh Expo marker, there’s a drawing board to go back to with your name on it.
Wave Goodbye to The Big Splash & Hello to Phased Launches
This process described above is the single-day launch, designed to make a huge splash and, hypothetically, go off without a hitch. We’ve all read about them, dreamed about them, maybe even been part of them. Successful single-day launches are immortalized in textbooks, glorified in marketing blogs, and popularized on social media. They’re the launches that launched a thousand case studies.
Less often, you’ll hear about those that fail, albeit being a more common occurrence. While fast-paced, dramatic, and thrilling, single-day launches don’t always have sustainable results. Too often, PMMs pull 18-hour days before launch, only to find out the tech or demand isn’t ready. While losing their minds trying to find a better plan, they lose steam, credibility, and any pre-rollout hype they’ve garnered.
I know this because I lived it: early in my career, I launched a product for a company with only one competitive differentiator. After spending six weeks working with the product team on the launch, from UI integration, to sales enablement to growth strategy) the product wasn’t fully market-ready, and I pitched a phased launch. Focused on short-term ROI and making a timely conference announcement, they insisted on forging forward with a single public launch.
The big, splashy launch succeeded — at first. It grew from 0 to 100 customers in less than six months but quickly took a downturn. In the second half of that year, all but 25 customers churned. The product had to be migrated into our core product as we worked to salvage our reputation as a whole, which was tarnished by the ripple effect of a rushed rollout.
A lot of lessons were to be gleaned from this experience, but one remains the truest: The “big splash” rollout is often a big mistake. Methodical phased launches lead to higher success rates, lower churn rates, offer minimized risks, as well as dramatic increases in both your ROI and personal credibility. Had my team taken the time to perform a phased launch, we could have improved the product offering with early feedback, understand and leverage the value more, and gradually ramp up customers and revenue in a sustainable, steady model.
While it’s tempting to create a marketing tidal wave, smaller, incremental waves are more effective for building a sustainable product and revenue. Phased launches, admittedly, are less riveting. But they’re the far superior choice if your goal is not just to make a giant splash, but to steadily grow revenue and improve brand reputation over the mid and long term. Most recently, everyone’s favorite audio app, Clubhouse, took a similar phased launch approach while introducing their concept to small sectors of the public. And in case it’s not glaringly obvious, their strategy appears to be working.
Clarifying Your Rollout Strategy With A Phased GTM
Alright, so you’re determined to successfully pull off a phased launch — now what? The first item on the agenda is to come up with a high-level framework for how the launch will run. This is valuable for holding those initial key stakeholder meetings to get buy-in to the concept.
I’ve created a sample Enterprise SaaS phased Launch template, which incorporates 5 stages (Beta, Early Access Cross-Sell, All Customer Cross-Sell, Public Launch, and Growth). It’s worth noting that a phased launch could have far fewer or more phases (I once ran one with 9). Selecting the ideal number of phases varies by product launch.
1. Define The Phase – Provide a high-level overview of activities and brand each phase (Beta, Early Access, Cross-Sell, Public Launch, etc.). Assign roles to key teams and what specific roles they will play overall success of the launch (Product, Sales, Marketing, etc.).
2. Outline Key Activities – Ensure everyone is aligned on what happens in each stage.
3. Assign Phase Owners – Accountability is important. Make sure that everyone knows who is responsible during each phase. Given there are multiple teams involved in successfully launching a product, I’d recommend stack-ranking ownership by phase. That way, each team understands their remit and recognizes the significance of their input throughout the GTM.
4. Provide Estimated Phase Durations – After getting initial strategy sign-off, keep everyone on the same timeline by creating a Gantt chart and circulating it internally. Contextualize the timeline by clarifying that dates may change if early phases aren’t showing the target results.
5. Set Exit Phase Requirements – An often overlooked, but critical, step for mitigating risk. Provide KPIs that absolutely must be hit before moving onto the next phase. For example, a requirement to exit the Beta phase and move to the Early Client Access phase could be “90% of major bug fixes are resolved.” Make sure these requirements are attainable so the team isn’t struggling to hit the deadlines.
6. Phase Goals – These KPIs should directly map to what defines each phase’s success. Each phase goal should be leading to the overall GTM goal, which is likely tied to revenue, number of new customers, and retention rate.
Once you’ve defined the overall framework, you’re on the right track towards having a successful product launch. And the best part is, you’re not hindering yourself from still achieving the glory that’s usually associated with a single-day launch.
With an increased focus on each stage of a phased launch, you cultivate a richer plan as you push through the funnel. Now, armed with product KPIs, use cases, and testimonials that lend themselves to content and communications, you have the ammunition your entire organization needs to move forward confidently and as a cohesive team through every phase.
A phased launch based on customer insights breeds stronger opportunities to create buzz around what you’re rolling out. You’ve decreased risk, increased cross-sell success, customer satisfaction, and long-term value while letting customer acquisition develop organically. So while it may take you longer to acquire your first 100 customers, after six months, you’ll find yourself with far more than 25.
Now, put that in a textbook.
After building product marketing teams from the ground up for 3 organizations, each with its own successful exits, I’ve cultivated an out-of-the-box, yet packageable, approach to product marketing. By challenging the status quo, I’ve championed consistent revenue through phased launch programs, and want to help you build yours.
If you’re interested in receiving a customized phased launch template, don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected]
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