What are the most common hurdles you encounter that prevent launches from achieving their goals and conversely are there challenges you prepare for that never really materialize?
Although I’ve managed over 250 launches, not a single one has gone perfectly. That may sound crazy, but know that most of the time when something goes wrong, only I or a small number of people internally catch it, and the customer is never the wiser. Also, as I mentioned in another post, once the launch is done, it's not over. There are plenty of ways for you to reach your launch goals with a "Rolling Thunder" technique of content momentum.
Here are some common things that can go wrong with launches and how to prevent them:
A team (or person) internally didn’t know the launch was happening, they’re furious.
Prevent it: Build the RACI, have it approved, and constantly ask others if anyone is missing.
Salvage it: Check to see if they were on the communications and point them to it. If not, explain your process and how you may have missed them. Apologize, but don’t grovel.
Some marketing materials aren’t ready on time
Prevent it: Manage the GTM checklist and hold collaborators and vendors accountable.
Salvage it: Send out a list of what is finalized with all of the links to assets. Give deadlines you can hit on the remaining pieces of collateral. Understand how critical the late materials are, what is necessary to salvage, what can be cut, and what can wait until after launch.
The website updates didn’t launch at the right time
Prevent it: Micro-manage the day of launch checklist - make sure everyone knows exactly what they’re doing at exactly what time.
Salvage it: What can I say, it happens! Try to get it up as soon as possible, find out what went wrong, and communicate a post-mortem.
The press team flubbed - there's a typo, or something worse
Prevent it: Make sure they are buttoned up on timing and messaging well before the launch. Make sure there is one point of contact.
Salvage it: It really depends on how big of a flub. There are some things that are out of your control. If your external press team really dropped the ball somehow it may be time to look elsewhere.
You sent the wrong email or direct mail
Prevent it: All I can say is check everything twice - and before you “press send” on a large client or internal communication, make sure that someone who isn’t sleep-deprived from launch planning checks all your links, addresses, grammar, and other pertinent details.
Salvage it: When I was at AdRoll, We once sent the wrong physical package to a group of clients in a sequence - it was a “welcome” box to a group of prospective clients, not new clients as intended. We sent a “we flubbed” email, and got a ton of great responses, and a high conversion rate on the campaign! Maybe it was a good idea after all ;)
Biggest hurdle I would say is having everyone aligned around the same timeline and goals. If only marketing is onboard with your predefined launch date and success metrics, with either product or sales lagging behind, your launch will not go as intended. Getting everyone in the same room early and often helps to align on goals and timing.
Phenomenal questions and subsequent responses.
To add to this, I would say that there are several major factors that prevent product launches from being successful:
1. Lack of communication across departments : this is often one of the most challenging problems you can face due to conflicting personalities, and individuals being head strong or too proud to come to a common understanding. If departments aren't aligned, serious complications can arise during launch, and the outcome can be disasterous.
2. Not having a clearly defined checklist. I have seen too many times PMs or other department heads launching products with the notion in their head that they have "been there done that", and thus go into the launch completely unprepared. Checklists are crucial for keeping everyone on the same page, ensuring that even the smallest details are met, and being sure that the product is ready for the market.
3. Failing to prepare for failure (pun certainly intended). While we always want to believe that each product launch is going to be successful, it just isn't realitic to think that you'll nail a launch 100% of the time. Having a plan of action for when things don't go according to plan is a great way to bounce back from the poor performance, and to get ready for the next iteration of what you are accomplshing.
Of course, improvement is always viable, and there are always ways to deal with hurdles to ensure that launches can go as planned.
I completely agree with RJ. One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is determining launch KPIs without a full understanding of who your target audience/market is. I have a clear example of this where product marketing was brought in just a few weeks prior to launch of a product, and the leadership team had put together lofty sales goals based on our current portfolio (as this was an upsell product).
After spending some significant time understanding the benefits and value of the product, and learning more about the potetial market, we determined that the the product was high-value for a very specific segment, and a nice to have for the remaining portfolio of business. Unfortunately, we came to this conclusions weeks after launch date, whihc was already predetermined and decided by the larger group.
If we had done a better job of understanding the target market and why it matters to them, we could have set more realistic launch goals. We obviously did not, so completely whiffed and had to track back and reevaluate the situation.
Lesson: make sure you spend the time needed to truly understand who will benefit from your product and why - even if this means pushing back your launch. Then armed with this insight, make sure there are clearly aligned goals and KPIs across the various teams involved (marketing, sales, product, product marketing, executives, etc.)
From my experience in Enterprise SaaS, I would add that companies often inflate the burn-in time for a new software solution to be successful in the marketplace and along with it, how long the sales cycle will be. Quite often they believe that there are a bunch of prospects lined-up to buy when in actuality, there are few. In Enterprise SaaS, there is often a need for a variety of good references which also stall the process.
First thing is - I'm glad you mentioned "Launch Goals". It's great you're doing this! Not every PMM/PM does, so having these is awesome, and helps ensure that your launches are successful.
Now, one of the biggest hurdles I've faced in many launches, have to do when products/features are built without the right market/buyer research. We send them out to market, thinking that the world wants it, only to find out that there was no real work was done and the launch falls completely flat. It's why being part of the entire lifecycle of a feature/product, from concept to launch, is so important. If you build a feature because your loudest customer asked for it, but you haven't done any work to see if the general market wants it, your launch can miss many of the goals you set.