The 12 stages of taking a new product to market
Taking a new product to market is a daunting task and it can be hard to know where to begin. Start by truly understanding customers and competitors to find the story that only you can tell.
This is an updated version of a blog post I originally wrote for Intercom’s blog, which you can read here.
During my time at Intercom, I led the go-to-market efforts from start to launch for two of their biggest releases: Articles, an integrated knowledge base for self-service support, and Operator, the bot for better customer experiences. Since then I’ve lead product marketing strategy at Olivine, helping our clients take their products to market.
The 12 stages of taking a new product to market
In another post I explain that great product marketing starts long before the product is built. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until beta testing to involve product marketing!
The 12 stages are:
Problem statement and solution story
Develop announcement campaign
End to end user testing
Measure and improve
Read on for a quick and dirty description of each stage.
1. Understanding customers
Product marketing must be in touch with both the customer and customer-facing teams to answer questions like:
What jobs are customers hiring us to do?
What are the most frequent feature requests?
What workarounds or unintended use cases are happening in the product?
Product marketing pours over the answers and then leads the go-to-market teams to collect data and synthesize it into digestible information for the product manager to incorporate into the roadmap. This was accomplished by gathering closed-lost data from sales, conversations with support, and industry trends to list and prioritize feature requests that represent the needs of the GTM teams.
2. Competitor research
“What story can this product, and only this product, tell?”
Product marketing conducts competitor research to understand which features are must-haves for customers to buy or switch (called “table stakes”) and which ones could help tell a compelling story. What functionality is industry standard but fundamentally flawed? What must be built to have a working product that competes? What should be built to differentiate the product and leverage the platform in a way that is completely unique? What story can this product, and only this product, tell?
3. Problem statement and solution story
“The solution story is a vision for the future that helps influence what gets built with the goal of achieving this story.”
Once something makes it onto the roadmap and it’s time to start working on it, the product manager writes the problem statement–thoroughly outlining the problem that needs to be solved, but with no indication as to how it should be solved. The product marketer responds with the solution story–if resources were not constrained, this is the story we’d like to tell that convinces people to buy or switch. The solution story is a vision for the future that helps influence what gets built with the goal of achieving this story and since it has consensus from product, we can revisit it to help prioritize feature scoping and resolve conflicts about priorities.
4. Product positioning
“You cannot create great product messaging until you understand the product positioning.”
Once feature scoping is complete, product marketing creates an internal resource for people in the company to understand what it is, what problem it solves for customers, and how it fits into the market—where it wins, where it loses, and how it’s different. You cannot create great product messaging until you understand product positioning. It’s accessible to anyone in the company and gets referenced by new hires, folks on our sales enablement team or anyone trying to better understand the product.
5. Product messaging
Product messaging is what is shared with the outside world. This is how you describe the product, it’s benefits, and how it works. To create this, product marketing drives a messaging exercise.
“The best messaging is created in collaboration with product, design, sales, and support.”
The best messaging is created in collaboration with product, design, sales, and support. The result becomes the cornerstone for formulating all product messaging used by demand generation, content, PR, and sales.
6. Beta testing
“Crafting the beta invitation is the perfect opportunity to field test your messaging.”
Beta testing is not just for product managers! Product marketers work with the sales and product teams to identify the right customers to join the beta. It’s important to find the right balance of use cases, company sizes, industry clout, and customer need since these beta testers will become your first testimonials. Then, crafting the beta invitation is the perfect opportunity to field test your messaging. Understanding their experience and feedback informs your announcement messaging.
7. Develop announcement campaign
Crafting an effective announcement plan depends on the product, industry, and target customers. Common tactics include:
LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
Email, in-app, and changelog
Product landing page
Updates throughout website
New signup/purchasing flow
New help articles
Updated sales resources
8. Product QA + marketing asset milestone
“A key component of a launch process that companies are often missing is the “Marketing Asset Ready” milestone.”
Product marketers are nothing if they don’t know their product. Contributing to testing (i.e. breaking) the product is required for your own understanding and also helps the team make the best possible product. In addition to assisting with product QA, product marketing should introduce the “Marketing Asset Ready” milestone, a key component of a launch process that companies often miss. The “Marketing Asset Ready” milestone It’s a list of features or actions in the product that will be showcased in marketing materials. By providing this ahead of time, the product team can prioritize improvements that will get real estate in marketing assets, in turn helping marketing meet their deadlines. Then the parts of the product that will not be shown in the announcement can be polished closer to launch.
9. End to end user experience testing
“Too often, your customers experience your org chart.”
Too often, your customers experience your org chart–just because separate teams are responsible for segments of the experience does not mean the experience should feel segmented. Product marketing must drive a seamless experience from first touch all the way through to product activation.
Is the experience starting with an ad (demand generation), leading to the landing page (product marketing), on to the shopping cart (growth), then landing in the product consistent? In preparation for the Articles launch, everyone responsible for visual design and content—brand design, product marketing, content strategy, product management, product design, and engineers—reviewed the experience from start to finish to make sure the “handoffs” were cohesive, clear, and concise.
10. Training teammates
Product marketing drives the internal training process. For small to mid-sized companies, I recommend “town hall” style with lots of opportunities to ask questions. For large, distributed companies I recommend producing a video and a public Q&A Google doc.
“Messaging and positioning needs to be understood by all teams so that every customer has a consistent experience.”
No matter the format, the product manager should demo the product and the product marketer should share the pitch to communicate the value and how it compares to the competition. Messaging and positioning need to be understood by all teams so that every customer has a consistent experience. To help with this, I recommend creating “battle cards”, a cheat sheet for what sets the product apart, where it wins and where it loses along with tips to handle each.
11. Execute announcement
“The day of the announcement product marketers should keep their pulse on press coverage, social channels, and customer support.”
The day of the announcement is always exciting, and the product marketer should lead the launch team to execute the announcement at the right time, in the right order. To be prepared, it’s best to create a full launch day checklist with clear owners, reviewers, and contingency plans. Communication should be clear and in real-time (war room or video call if everyone isn’t in the same location).
Once it’s live, you’re not even close to done. The day of the announcement (and forever more!) product marketers should keep their pulse on press coverage, social channels, and customer support questions to make sure everything is running smoothly—just like product managers monitor product usage and performance.
12. Measure and improve
“The day after the announcement is when the hard work begins.”
The day after the announcement is when the hard work begins. Product marketing should measure announcement reach, signups, revenue, and product usage to continuously find opportunities to drive business goals and improve future go-to-market activities.