Strategies For Successful Product Launches

Strategies For Successful Product Launches written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Mary Sheehan

Mary Sheehan, a guest on the Duct Tape Marketing PodcastIn this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Mary Sheehan. She is an accomplished product marketing leader who has held marketing leadership roles at Adobe, Google, and many startups. Mary is also the co-creator of a new course with Reforge and hosts the popular Women In Product Marketing podcast.

Her new book The Pocket Guide to Product Launches: Get Confident, Go to Market, and Win, is a quick-start guide to nailing your first product launch, whether you are a product marketer, product manager, or founder. 

Key Takeaway:

Timing is crucial in product launches, especially in companies with diverse teams. Mary provides a framework for successful launches, emphasizing strategic readiness, understanding the market, and creating impactful messages with efficient execution. Additionally, she highlights the importance of building the right product, considering customer needs and feedback, and continuously iterating and improving based on user insights. It is important to align the team with what you’re trying to do to execute a well-planned launch strategy.

Questions I ask Mary Sheehan:

  • [01:46] Why you’re qualified to write a book about product launches? Tell me a little bit about your product launch history.
  • [02:39] Where do people get product launches wrong?
  • [03:31] Is there something that wasn’t being said in the product launch space that you really wanted to get into this book?
  • [05:11] What are the steps involved in a product launch?
  • [07:25] What role does an existing customer play for a product?
  • [10:16] How do you bring innovative things to market that people don’t know they need yet?
  • [14:58] What is the timing aspect to launch a product?
  • [16:24] In larger organizations, is there a head of the product launch that is trying to bring everything together?
  • [17:20] How would you suggest that this book applies to small business owners and solopreneurs?
  • [19:25] What is the hardest part about launching a product?

More About Mary Sheehan:

  • Get your copy of The Pocket Guide to Product Launches: Get Confident, Go to Market, and Win
  • Listen to Women in Product Marketing
  • Connect with Mary

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(01:04): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Mary Sheehan. She’s an accomplished product marketing leader with deep experience held marketing leadership roles at Adobe, Google, Google, you know who I’m talking about, and many startups. She is also the co-creator of a new course with Reforge and hosts, the popular Women in Product Marketing podcast. And we’re gonna talk about her new book today, the Pocket Guide to Product Launches: Get Confident, Go to Market and Win. So Mary, welcome to the show.

Mary Sheehan (01:40): Thanks, John. So good to be here.

John Jantsch (01:42): So let’s give the listeners a little bit of context for why you’re qualified to write a book about product launches. Tell me a little bit about your product launch history, maybe like your greatest hit or anything you wanna share.

Mary Sheehan (01:54): Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a great question. So I have done product marketing, which is really known for product launches for about 15 years now. Run over 250 launches and I’ve done product launches at companies like Google and Adobe, and several startups that you mentioned, as well as in a lot of consulting for series A and series B companies. So yeah, I’ve launched a lot of advertising technology products in my day and recently I joined the Adobe Lightroom product marketing team leading that up. And we just had a big launch for a product called Dinos with that. So yes, I’ve done a lot of launches in the B2B and consumer space, so thought I’d write a book, .

John Jantsch (02:36): Okay, so awesome. So let’s start off on the negative. Where do people get this wrong?

Mary Sheehan (02:40): ? Oh boy. Yeah, well launches, there is a whole section on where you can go wrong and what you can do about it, right? But I think the biggest challenge is actually getting the timing right. So especially when you’re working at a tech company, often there are cultural differences between the product and edge team and the marketing team. And in order to get those humming together in perfect alignment, it’s quite an undertaking. So I think that is a really hard part about just figuring out when you’re gonna launch, sticking to the timeline so you can make the biggest impact. That’s what I see as a big challenge.

John Jantsch (03:15): Who knew? Who knew timing was a cultural issue? . So we’ll revisit that again. So what, I guess why, you know, what compelled you other than you’ve got this deep experience and you wanted to share it. I mean, is there something that wasn’t being said in the product launch space that you really wanted to get into this book?

Mary Sheehan (03:36): Yeah, so at the time when I started writing this, I really felt like product marketing was kind of this learn on the job type type of mentality. There wasn’t a lot of content out there about product marketing. So after leading a team for the very first time, I realized, wow, if they didn’t have a Mary to share this experience, they would’ve been creating things, you know, from scratch, really reinventing the wheel. So I saw a real market need that, you know, hey, people are trying to run their first product launch, whether you’re a product marketer, a product manager, or founder of a small business, why not just make it easy and give you the templates and everything to get started? And so the idea of this book is really kind of modeled after a Harvard Business Review guide where you can just take it in a weekend or in a few hours and also have a bunch of templates so you can get started. I just felt really felt like with a, with the right tools and frameworks, you can do this and it can be a lot easier than just trying to figure it out on your own.

John Jantsch (04:33): So when people think products, they think, you know, physical box, you know, prototype. But what about information products? I mean a lot of people launch things that are not, you know, tangible physical things. I mean, would the framework, does the framework still apply kind of to any type of launch?

Mary Sheehan (04:50): It applies to any type of launch, yes. And a lot of my experience is not with the, you know, not with something you can hold in your hand. It’s a technology that you’re reading about. Yeah. Or even something like a white paper or an ebook. So this can really work for anything that you are launching.

John Jantsch (05:10): Why don’t we start with, and we can maybe get into a couple of different, but kind of quickly, like what are the sections, you know, what are the steps involved in? It’s like first you do this, then you do this, kind of maybe give us the outline.

Mary Sheehan (05:22): Yeah, absolutely. So the first thing that I like to do is just get the plan. You know, get everything in order, you know, look at the checklist, look at the things that you need to accomplish. And the first piece of that plan to really fill in is around strategic readiness. So no matter what your product is, you really need to understand who you are launching to, what your target market really is, and really understand that audience really well. You need to align the team that’s helping you. Maybe it’s just you, but aligning anyone that’s gonna help you with any content creation and set some goals. You know, I really think that without goal setting, you’re really not, what’s the point of what you’re doing and what’s the point of what you’re launching? So after that, creating a plan and strategic readiness section, it’s about thinking about how you are actually going to bring this to market with the positioning and messaging as well as what we call the channels that you are going to be marketing to and making sure that really aligns back to your customers, your target customers. And then finally just executing it, getting that timing right and getting that message really out there.

John Jantsch (06:24): So maybe this, maybe you’re gonna say, well that’s not really a part of the launch, but what about actually getting the product right? , which is probably goes before the launching, but certainly has implications, right, ?

Mary Sheehan (06:38): Yeah, absolutely. So no, I do think in the role of product marketing, it’s really important to make sure that you have the right product. And actually one of the questions I ask up front in the book is, should you be launching this? Are you ready? Do you solve a problem? What is your financial target and model for this? So I do think that there is, you know, a huge effort that goes into the beginning of this, whether, and sometimes launching is actually about launching, so you can test and get that feedback. So you might launch something as an alpha or an mvp, minimum viable product. So you can really understand that.

John Jantsch (07:14): Yeah, so I, I have launched many products myself, they’ve all been information products, courses, things like that. Cool. And I’ve had some real winners and some real losers. And one of the things years ago I learned that if I actually developed my product with my customers, like do you really want this? Does this make sense? , does this solve a problem? What, you know, what role does a customer, you know, existing customer base play? I mean, how involved should they be in just what you said? Is there really in for this?

Mary Sheehan (07:45): Oh, 100% agree with that. And I, if I look back on any of my launch fails, it’s totally been that we’ve either missed the mark on their customer or we moved so fast that we just left them in the dust and didn’t think about it. So I totally agree with that. And so I do think that there should be a really considerable effort in understanding if this product has product market fit. And you do that by talking to customers, by understanding, you know, if this is something that they would actually buy and use, getting them to really invest in user testing. You know, is this something, you know, what is it about the experience that you’re bringing them in on? Is there anything confusing about it? So yeah, one chapter is actually all about getting to know your customer and scrappy ways that you can research and connect with them so you can make sure that you’re not only launching the right product, but talking about it in the right way too.

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(09:57): So one of the dangers in that sometimes is they don’t know, you know, what their prob, you know how to that this is gonna solve a problem or what their problem actually is. You know, the cliche comment, you know, Henry Ford said, if I ask people what they wanted, they said a faster horse. So , how do you know, how do you bring innovative things to market that people don’t know they need yet?

Mary Sheehan (10:20): Yeah, that’s such a good question and I think that we’re coming up against this really with Gen AI. You know, it’s so many things that are out here that weren’t here six months ago. Like I would never have known I needed text to edit to get these beautiful images. So I think prototyping in kind of early phases is so important. And what I think is even more important though, is understanding what their challenges are, right? And so they might not be able to articulate to you what they want in terms of a new product, but they can tell you what their pain points are. So you can watch their user workflows, you can actually go, you know, see them where they are and see, you know, whatever type of product it is, if it’s at the consumer space, go to their house, see how they’re actually doing different things, what they’re eating, how they’re cooking, or you know, in the tech space, how they’re using their technology. Are they using it on their phone? Are they using it on their desktop? So understanding their challenges I think can be a way better way to actually say, okay, this is a need. They don’t know what will fix this necessarily or they’re doing this crazy work around. But we do understand that’s a core challenge that we can solve.

John Jantsch (11:20): Yeah, I, I love to tell people nobody wants what we sell. They want the problem solved. . Exactly. If those, if you could connect those two, they’re great, but otherwise, you know, they don’t want it. What if I get it wrong? Unfortunately, I can’t think of a great example right now. Maybe you can in your history, but of people that went out and said, here it is, blah, blah, blah, and the market said, well I don’t get it, or that’s, I don’t need that, but I need this. And they pivot. So with the actual product, I mean, any thoughts on, you know, how to, you know, to maybe even build that in like that could be a possibility. Know how would you address that?

Mary Sheehan (11:55): Yeah, oh, and I always say, if you haven’t had a major launch fail, you probably haven’t been doing it long enough , so even right, right. Best plans you’re gonna, that’s gonna happen. So I would say fail fast. I mean, admit it, you know, and I think what, this is what’s so important, like I mentioned about goal setting, having those goals and starting to track that so you’re not just, you know, launching it and saying, okay, great pop the champagne, we’re done here. Really tracking and seeing if you’re hitting those metrics and if you’re not, what is going wrong? And really trying to identify that so quickly. So one, one launch fail example I had was, um, we went to market with a product, had tested it with this user group. It was amazing feedback. And when we went to market, we actually realized no one was buying it because we’d only been talking to the users, not the decision maker. And it did not fit into the decision maker’s stack at all. So, you know, it took us a little bit of time to figure that out. But once we did, we basically pulled it and decided we needed to go a totally different track and it morphed into something else that, you know, our actual buyer would purchase as part of their marketing set. Yeah. So a admit it, move on, figure out how to fix it, and sometimes that’s maybe repositioning or you know, it could be in any number of things that you need to fix.

John Jantsch (13:09): Yeah. And one of the things you, and this is probably particularly true of smaller organizations, you know, it’s a lot of times I think larger organizations have their goals all mapped out and they have like , you know, what’s next and what’s next. But I think the point you make there is launch is just the beginning in some ways and not the end, but it sort of implies that. But the, you know, some of the biggest gains that I’ve experienced is to actually pay attention to not only who is buying, but how they were using it and then what they needed next. And it really, you know, and of course I’d already sold to them, so selling them more was gonna be even easier. So, you know, you kind of alluded to that, but it’s not just metrics of like, is this selling or not? It’s how do you build onto it?

Mary Sheehan (13:53): Yeah, absolutely. I think tracking sentiment, how they’re using it, what they, you can improve on, how you can iterate from here is great to be able to kind of map that in as part of your process. Yeah, I kind of think about the product launch process. It’s on the cover of my book, it’s a mountain , the at the peak is the launch, but on the other side you’re descending down that mountain, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and a lot of things to really figure out until you, you maybe find that idea for the next launch.

John Jantsch (14:19): Well, and to carry that metaphor a little farther, I live in the mountains and you know, one of the things that happens when you climb, a lot of times you’re like, oh, there’s the top. And then you get close and it’s like, oh, that was a false peak , there’s a much higher climb, you know, to continue. And I think a l I, that’s how I use that metaphor all the time for business. Cuz you know, j just when you think you’ve made, it’s like, oh no, there’s, you know, there’s the next peak. Yeah. Or the real peak.

Mary Sheehan (14:42): Yes. My wallpaper here shows that as .

John Jantsch (14:45): Yeah. So, so you said that this was in some ways the, when I asked you about how, you know how to get this wrong, you said timing and team and you have a whole section on that, although it’s the last section, but talk a little bit about the timing aspect and what you mean by that. Because it’s not just like, oh, fourth quarter is the best time to launch. I mean it’s more complex than that, right?

Mary Sheehan (15:10): Yeah, definitely. So yeah, one aspect of it, of course is like what is the best time to launch seasonality wise or when, not in the middle of summer where everyone’s on vacation and won’t hear, you know, anything about this. But that’s one aspect of it. But the more important aspect of it is product readiness and marketing and aligning that. So sometimes, you know, a tech company’s product managers and engineering teams are used to just shipping things whenever it’s ready. But when you partner really closely with marketing, it becomes a conversation about making sure that you’re amplifying all of your resources together at the same time to make that big splash. So that might include having new advertising creatives, a whole new website, refresh events, you know, all these kind of things that if you partner together really well. So that means that the product can’t go early, which happens a lot and it also can’t go late or otherwise you don’t have anything to talk about at the big event. So actually

John Jantsch (16:03): Two weeks after the trade show, right? Yeah. .

Mary Sheehan (16:06): Yeah. Not gonna be, yeah, if you’re launching at CS and you don’t have anything to launch with, that’s not gonna apply. So actually connecting those dots is pretty complicated and making sure that you have milestones along the way and really tight team communication is a way that I found that has made it more successful.

John Jantsch (16:23): So in larger organizations like Google or Adobe, I mean, is there a head of the product launch that is really trying to bring all of those together?

Mary Sheehan (16:31): I think at any size company there should be a point person. So whether it’s the product marketer or the product manager or even the founder, if it’s, you know, if you’re a small team, I think that there should be one person that’s sort of manning the entire end-to-end. But obviously there’s so many partners, you know, depending on the complexity of the launch that help and kind of assist. But I’ve always found one point person to be best.

John Jantsch (16:55): So do product people hate marketing people? Is that what you’re saying?

Mary Sheehan (16:58): No, I think that you can, to be best friends, I think sometimes you walk in the door and product people are like, who’s this marketing person? But I think showing that you have, you’re trying to help each other, you’re trying to actually work towards the same goals. And that’s how, that’s, you know, this podcast could be about making product managers your best friends. , that’s my goal too. .

John Jantsch (17:20): So we have focused a little bit on larger organizations. A lot of listeners to this show are small business owners, founders, maybe solopreneurs in some cases. How would this, how would you suggest that this book applies to them?

Mary Sheehan (17:35): Yeah, absolutely. And I have several people that have reached out to me that have small businesses that have said that this has really helped them. And I think that, you know, at the heart of it, it’s going to be the same thing. You’re going to have a plan, you’re gonna try to understand who your customer is in, you know, deepest way as possible, and then you’re gonna execute on that plan. So what this actually provides is a way of thinking about that and a way of constructing a framework to input all the things that you know about your audience, where you can reach them and how to do it in the most cost effective way. So it’s really about just thinking, hey, maybe you’re not gonna do a huge trade show event, right? But maybe you’re gonna make flyers or maybe you’re gonna have a smaller event where you have a booth or maybe you’re gonna go do, you know, a big launch at grocery stores if you’re selling cpg. Good. So depending on, you know, what type of product it is, just, you know, really thinking about that end-to-end attorney for your customer and where it makes sense.

John Jantsch (18:30): You know, in, in a lot of ways, as I listen to you explain that, I mean, you really could take this framework and apply it to some sort of internal initiative too, right? I mean, let’s say we’re going to like switch from, I don’t know, one CRM to another or something like that. I’m, I mean, you still want to have a plan, you still want to get the buy-in from the people that are gonna use it. , you still wanna get feedback. I mean it really is, we’re not, I mean I think it’s more universal than just a product launch, so to speak.

Mary Sheehan (18:57): I totally agree. And sometimes when I’m doing bigger projects at work, if I’m like, you know what this is, I need to just think about this as a launch and it kinda all makes sense. So

John Jantsch (19:06): Yeah, and it’s kinda like journey mapping almost. It’s like what are all the, you know, stages, you know, what are people feeling at this stage, what they need to hear, you know, to go to this next stage. So it, I think there’s a lot of applications just in a, as a general business framework.

Mary Sheehan (19:19): Absolutely.

John Jantsch (19:21): So you may have already answered this, but I like to leave people with, you know, what’s the hardest part about launching a product?

Mary Sheehan (19:29): So I think the hardest part about launching is nailing the timing and nailing the customer message. And so I think that, you know, putting some thought into both of those, you will be a lot better suited to launch than you’re just winging it.

John Jantsch (19:46): Yeah. Well Mary, I wanna thank you for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. Where do you wanna invite people to connect with you? Certainly to pick up the pocket guide to product launches.

Mary Sheehan (19:56): Thank you. Yeah, you can find me on Twitter @marysheehanpmm or on LinkedIn. And the book is called A Pocket Guide to Product Launches. It’s available anywhere you buy books, Amazon, particularly . And I also have a podcast too, like you mentioned called Women in Product Marketing, if you’re interested in hearing more.

John Jantsch (20:15): And your current work is really around consulting with folks on product launches. Is that,

Mary Sheehan (20:21): Yeah, so currently I’m working full-time at Adobe and so I’m running product on

John Jantsch (20:25): Oh you still,

Mary Sheehan (20:26): Okay. Yeah. And the, I have taken a little bit of a backseat of consulting nowadays, but more, you know, happy to have a conversation with anyone that’s interested.

John Jantsch (20:35): Okay, well what’s the top secret not yet announced except for on this show product coming from Adobe.

Mary Sheehan (20:42): I can’t say a word John, but look out , there’s some great things coming. ,

John Jantsch (20:47): Awesome. Buy Adobe stock. That’s my advice. So, so thanks again for taking a few moments to stop by the podcast and hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days out there as soon on the road.

Mary Sheehan (20:56): Sounds great, Sean, thanks so much.

John Jantsch (20:57): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it @marketingassessment.co, not.com, dot co. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketing assessment.co. I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network.

HubSpot Podcast Network is the audio destination for business professionals who seek the best education and inspiration on how to grow a business.


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