What does the word ‘launch’ mean in your company?
Does it mean you’ve announced that you’re going to be selling a product in a few months’ time?
Does it mean you’ve decided it’s safe to move from a pilot (trial) to selling the real thing?
Does it mean you’ve shipped to your first customer?
Anyone who has ever launched a product knows how difficult it is to line up everything to be ready at the same time. So the more control you have at launch the easier it is to meet everyone’s expectations.
We find that for a major launch it can be really helpful to break things down into discrete parts.
We use the terms ready-to-tell (the market), ready-to-trial, ready-to-sell, and ready-for-service. Some of these dates might coincide but if you work on products with long sales cycles they may be many months apart.
is the point at which you can announce the product to the market. The pressure is to go early to maximize the PR (Public Relations) value and catch the eye of any ‘early adopter’ customers. It may be many months before you launch so you need a certain level of confidence that everything will go to plan. Or you need to be pretty vague with your dates e.g. “we’re launching in the next quarter”.
is the point at which you ask customers if they would like to trial the product. It has to be working at some level but there may be elements (e.g. billing, support) that are still not ready. However, the sooner you can start trialing the sooner you can get feedback to make any necessary fixes. In B2B markets the approach is often to run a pilot with a small number of select customers who have signed non-disclosure agreements. If things go wrong you can limit any PR damage. Ready-to-tell and ready-to-trial may be swapped around or even the same date.
is when the product can be sold to customers. In B2B markets there can be long ramp-up times to install your product which means it can be sold in advance of being fully available. In B2C markets customers are often willing to pay a deposit to go on a waiting list to get the first version of a sought after product e.g. the latest model of a luxury car.
is the point at which the product is fully operational – this is usually the milestone used on a roadmap. This is the point at which it can be sold to multiple customers and used by them all.
So let me give you a gift – when someone is talking about a launch, what does it mean? The answer … whatever you as the product manager want it to mean. 🙂
Director, Product Focus