After reading through Chris Guillebeau's post on what happens in a typical product launch, I thought "wow, that sounds really familiar" and "wow, I really should have done that". There are a few things that we did right in the initial product launch, and a lot that went wrong. However, each additional product release flipped this around - at the end of the cycle, we had built a process around the many tasks that *have* to occur, leaving us time to work with new ideas to push the product launch even further to an even wider audience.
We had five rules when preparing and delivering the product news to our fans, whether they were customers, prospects, partners, or colleagues (they want to see what's going on)...
- Be nice - In the copy, discussions, etc., try to be nice during the entire process. Things go wrong, internal and/or expectations aren't always met, delays happen, etc. Remember, you'll be doing this again, likely with the same people. Be nice. It's all a learning experience.
- Learning experience - You won't do it right the first time, nor will you do it right the last time. Things change, customer's needs wane, partners have less time than anticipated, dates shift, etc. Don't chalk up these individual hiccups as failures - if the product launches, that's a success - rather, learn from these bumps to make sure they are addressed in future releases.
- Help them help you - Make it incredibly easy for feedback from everyone. Whether it's inside or outside the firewall, find a way to make it incredibly simple to provide input on the process/launch/copy. Surveys, web forms, phone calls. Try them and tweak them. People want to help. Especially when they have a stake in the outcome.
- Define success - What makes a product launch successful? The fact it went out the door? That noone was injured during the release? That 605 people hit the site on the first day? Define all the metrics that make this product launch successful. Then, review #1 - #3 above.
- Get everyone involved - This is hugely important. Kinda like #3 above, but before and during the launch. Try to get as many people, insiders and outsiders alike, involved in the process. Maybe get your CEO involved to get her thoughts. Talk to the programming folks to find out what they think works. Chat with the customer that's been around the longest, then compare those notes with the most recent customer.
All this takes time, and a lot of planning. But, over time, you'll find the entire experience unbelievably rewarding. I agree with Chris' statement:
By the way, I don’t claim to be an expert in any of this, and a number of my processes are highly inefficient. I have been working on fine-tuning some of them, but I also believe that it’s better to make something awesome that is not hyper-optimized than to continually refine something that only a few people care about. In business language, I generally value effectiveness over efficiency.