Back when I was a software engineer, I used to think that once the software was up and running, the product was finished. We could dust our hands and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.
In reality, there are a number of necessary steps to take before you can actually release the product and call it a day.
Today, as a product manager, I work with product marketing, QA, sales, operations, and other stakeholders before we actually release the product. And once we’ve finally launched, well, it’s time to start looking at how we can improve the next version.
Before any iterations happen, here’s what it takes to make the product available for customers:
1. Technical documentation
You’ve created software and understand how it works, but that doesn’t mean anyone else knows how to use it. So you have to create technical documents to guide others.
These documents include API documentation, installation guides, deployment guides, “getting started” guides, and all sorts of other specifications about the software. And they all have to be delivered to the customers along with the actual product or published on your company website.
2. Compliance documentation
Depending on whether or not your customer is in a regulated industry, you’ll also need to provide them with compliance documents or other proof that you are in compliance with applicable regulations.
You’ll need to provide documentation on how you developed the product, collected requirements, built and tested the software, and delivered it to customers.
That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but you’ll need to provide those reports so companies can use them to make sure they’re complying with both internal and external standards.
Depending on the industry, there may be additional standards your product has to be compliant with. For example, your product needs to be PCI compliant if you handle credit card information or HIPAA compliant if you handle medical records. GDPR compliance is another important regulation that companies have to be aware of today when handling personal data.
3. Success metrics
Success metrics need to be in place before you release your software in order to measure how it performs.
Take a service like Netflix, for example. Their success metrics might include how many viewers are logging on each day, how many hours they spend watching, most popular programs being watched, or even how many searches users perform.
Those metrics have to be decided up front so you can begin collecting and measuring data to figure out how the product release is going.
Just remember, you also need to update your success metrics over time. Once you’ve figured out which metrics are most meaningful, you can optimize them for future versions of the product or subsequent products.
4. Product launch
The idea behind the product launch is simple: You’re declaring that your product is available for your customers.
There are a number of launch-related activities that have to take place to make it a success. Creating blog posts and white papers, finalizing pricing, putting out an FAQ document, deciding what your promotions will look like — it all has to be finalized prior to the product launch.
All of this is typically led by the product marketing manager, while the product manager is focused more heavily on building the product. However, in a smaller company, one person may be handling all of these duties.
5. Channel Management
There are several different ways your product can be sold by other entities, such as another company becoming a channel partner and reselling your product. In this situation, you have to enable the channel by training them on the product, and providing pricing guides and play books to help close a sale. You essentially have to make sure they are successful.
6. Partner Management
A partner differs from a channel, because a partner isn’t just reselling your product. They’re integrating it with their own product or others and adding value in some way to deliver a solution. Your job is to decide how your product will work well together with the partner’s products to become a working solution. How easy is it to integrate your product with others? Why should they include your product and not a competitor’s? You also have to decide how the revenue will be split between the two of you.
No product launch is perfect, so you need technical support ready to handle customer queries.
A larger company may have multiple layers of tech support, escalating a customer call from one level to the next if it can’t be solved immediately. At a smaller company, there are likely only one or two layers of tech support. This means the first product launch often involves a lot of work in setting up the support process and training the technical support team.
But as the company matures, and products are added, the additional work required for enabling tech support becomes more incremental. Standard templates and business practices are put into place that can be used for multiple situations.
8. Feedback Pipeline
The subsequent version of your product needs to be even better than the first. And the only way to make that happen is by soliciting and using feedback from customers and internal sources.
The goal is to find out what needs to be fixed, removed, or added to the product to create a better version.
If you have an online forum, you’ll likely find a lot of good feedback there. Customers will request enhancements or fixes as they use the product. But spending time getting qualitative feedback is expensive and it doesn’t scale easily. Depending on the size of your customer base, it may be easier to dig for quantitative feedback through quick surveys and looking at the success metrics of your product.
It’s also important that you solicit internal feedback. For instance, the customer support team will have excellent ideas of which are the main customer pain points. The sales team will often talk about features they need to be able to sell the product to more customers. And marketing and engineering are usually on the lookout for new and innovative ideas and features, which make all of these teams good sources for feedback.
9. Handling Inbounds
Once you do start marketing, it’s essential you have a plan in place for engaging with people who express interest in your product.
Typically, sales will lead this process and attempt to close on the inbound leads being generated. If you don’t set this up in time, you will have invalidated all the hard work the marketing and launch teams did to get the customers to knock on the door. Typically, CRM systems such as Salesforce are used to capture leads.
As you grow, every aspect of this process will become more streamlined.
Checklists and frameworks will be developed, standard response templates will be created, dedicated owners will be assigned and the execution will become much smoother. It may not be as dynamic as it was when you were a 15-person startup, but a more automated process is what’s needed as your company matures. As long as you ensure these major points are in place, you’re ready to launch your product.
Building a product is just one part of the product’s lifecycle. A lot of business and operational processes need to be setup so that your product launch is a success.
If these steps are followed your company will be ready when a product launches and you will provide a great onboarding experience to prospective customers.
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