Erin Gunaratna

Erin GunaratnaShare

VP, Product Marketing, Chargebee
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Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

Just like not all launches are created equal, not all companies will take the same approach to categorizing or prioritizing launch tiers. However, there are certainly patterns out there. Here are the most common variables I’ve seen:

  • Audience: Will this launch open you up to a new set of prospects, or is it most meaningful for current customers? Is it broadly applicable, or specific to a certain vertical or geo? Will it matter to executive sponsors, or is it oriented towards day-to-day users? 
  • Impact on the market: Have you invented a totally new solution to an existing problem? Or, does this feature already exist on the market today (and perhaps you’re playing catch-up to your competitors)? 
  • Impact on your current offering: Does this launch fundamentally change your overall story, or is it another step on the path you’re already on? Would you have won more competitive deals or retained more users if you’d had this feature before?

Based on answers to those questions, you can then assign launches into different tiers. Again, this will look different at every company, but here’s a general framework for thinking about it:

  • Tier 1: The monumental stuff. Brand-new, first-time-ever, leapfrog announcements. You’ll probably spend significant time training internal employees about this stuff. You might do a press release, major website overhaul, new pitch deck, analyst outreach, or make big investments in demand generation. Tier 1 launches change the game and often require a lot of downstream changes. 
  • Tier 2: The stuff worth celebrating. Major steps forward on an existing path. You might get the word out to your existing customer and prospect lists through emails, webinars, social posts, trade publications, or user groups. These launches are not going to catapult you into a new category, but they’ll likely make your current prospects and customers very happy!
  • Tier 3: Incremental improvements or catch-up features. These things are important to your overall portfolio and to your day-to-day users, but they don’t change your overall marketing strategy. A lot of companies use their product to help get the word out about tier 3 features through pop-ups or other helpful notifications.

But, with all frameworks come exceptions: PMM is usually responsible for both internal and external launch activities, and you might consider a given launch in different tiers internally versus externally. Having a launch tier framework is super helpful most of the time, but you should be willing to be flexible on the specific tactics based on the nature of a specific launch.

Here’s an example: say that you’ve received high user demand for a feature that your biggest competitor already offers. Internally, this launch is a big deal: it will likely support better retention, and you’d definitely want your customer-facing folks to know about it! But, you may not want to “go big” with it externally, since you wouldn’t want your competitor to point to your press release and say, “We’ve had this for 3 years, and they just launched it last month”.

Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

In my answer to the “not all launches are created equal” question, I laid out some options for communications channels to pursue based on the tier that you assign a given launch. (This best applies to B2B SaaS organizations, since that’s the sector in which I’ve spent my entire career.)

As far as demand generation or running paid campaigns goes, I don’t have personal expertise in those areas, so I can’t provide insight into how to choose advertising channels. But, the best thing you can do as a PMM if you don’t own that function is to give the people who do own it as much information as possible so they can make some decisions: all your persona research, your SWOT analysis, ideas for keywords to research, your competitor list, etc.

Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

When I interview candidates for PMM positions, one of the “x factors” that I always look for is humility — but not just because I want to hire good team players. 

People with intellectual humility know that they don’t always have all the answers, which gives them the openness to new information and new ideas that is so key to long-term PMM success. If you don’t have intellectual humility, you’re at risk of making assumptions that can come back to bite you later on. 

So, my top 5 “don’t”s are all assumptions to avoid:

  1. Don’t assume you know everything (or really, anything) about how a customer would articulate the value they get from your product. Talk to people! Listen to the words they use and what they say when you ask them about their problems. Ask your current customers what their favorite thing about your product is. They’re often better marketers than we are (don’t take it personally).
  2. Don’t assume everyone at your company believes a launch is important just because you do. We’re lucky to have a vantage point in PMM where we see the strategy behind a feature, the impact we expect from it, the competitive landscape, and the customer value. It’s easy to get excited once we know those things. But if you don’t drum up excitement within your company, how do you expect to do so with your customers? Make sure to give your colleagues outside PMM context where necessary.
  3. Don’t assume that you should do something just because you’ve done it that way before. I love a good framework, but don’t use your launch tiers as a crutch to avoid creativity. 
  4. Don’t assume that a launch is a one-time thing. The moment a product moves from POC to real is incredibly exciting, but your customers’ attention doesn’t always line up with your launch calendar. Don’t get distracted by your to-do list or by shiny objects once your press release is out. The game is really won on the ground. Do refresher sessions with your team. Repetition is okay. 
  5. Don’t assume people are waiting with bated breath to hear about your latest announcements. We can’t all be Apple, with an army of superfans counting down the seconds until our next launch event. Especially if you’re in the B2B space, you’re always going to have to compete for people’s attention — they have their own jobs to do!

I’ll finish off this answer and build on #5 with a mantra that I find myself returning to over and over again: Your marketing isn’t for you — it’s for your customers. Tell them what THEY are going to get, not just what YOU are doing. Simplistic example, but consider these two subject lines. Which email would you be more likely to open? 

  • “We launched a thing!”
  • “Your life is about to get a lot easier!”
Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

Oh, to be so lucky as to have a long beta period for everything! A beta is a blessing!

When planning for any launch, we don’t know what we don’t know. Beta periods are fantastic because they give us, as PMMs, the opportunity to make those “unknown unknowns” known.

If I were lucky enough to have a new product on deck with a comfortable beta period, here’s how I would approach creating a launch strategy:

  • Rally your early adopters to participate in the beta. Work with sales to find friendly customers who are willing to try the product and give you feedback. As part of the beta terms, get them on board with participating in a press release, customer story, webinar, or consenting to logo usage upon launch.
  • Timebox the beta, but be willing to be flexible. Three to six months is reasonable to start, but that brings me to my next step:
  • Don’t schedule a launch until you’ve converted betas into paid engagements. You need real win stories and real revenue first. If zero customers convert after the beta term, you have no data points with which to train your sales team. Do your win/loss interviews and reassess.
  • Put your converted betas to work! One of my favorite parts about beta periods is that if they go well, you go into a launch with a set of lighthouse customers who can help you tell your story.

To answer your follow-up question, my hope is that your product would only change significantly between beta and launch as a result of something you learned during the beta. Don’t be afraid of that — there’s nothing wrong with responding to customer needs. Document what you learned and use it to justify future beta periods for future launches. :)

Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

I cannot claim expertise in FinTech or in the DACH market, so my best advice here is to research launch plan frameworks and pick one. Product Marketing Alliance, Pragmatic, and Sirius Decisions all have their own frameworks and launch plans, though they’re behind logins. See if you can set up a free account and go from there. There are also plenty of great Medium blogs and posts out there that you should be able to access for free as a starting point.

Once you’ve done some research and chosen a blueprint, your biggest hurdle will likely be in arguing internally to follow that blueprint. Organizational inertia is a real thing. Be ready for some pushback that sounds a lot like “We’ve always done it this way, so why should we change?”

As far as how you make the internal argument, I would say, “Let’s follow this blueprint for our next launch, and then reassess.” You don’t need to institute a big sweeping change as your very first act. Show the team that you’re open to feedback, but that you also have skills and ideas that will help level up their work.

This won’t be the easiest task, but it sounds like the company brought you on to build out the PMM function, which means that at least one person in a position of power already understands the value of PMM on some level. Find that person and enlist them as your advocate. You shouldn’t be alone!

Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

Seems like whoever asked this question may be a bit familiar with my world over at Yext! :)

In the 6+ years I’ve been lucky to work here, we’ve transformed from a single-product location listings company to a search platform. Saying this transformation has been easy would be a lie. It didn’t happen all at once, but rather through a series of steps — some big, some small. To our executives’ credit, the vision has been clear since the beginning. This means that our employees generally understand the context and the big mission, which has made incremental changes feel less scattershot and easier to navigate.

If you’re in a company that is also undergoing a transformation, the biggest piece of advice I will give you is that you don’t need to communicate the full vision to every external audience from the very beginning. The majority of your product marketing, your sales materials, and your GTM team’s time should focus on how you can solve your customers’ problems today.

But, there are big benefits to sharing the overall vision when the audience and the time is right. At Yext, we have a vision deck that lays out the trends we see in the market, upon which we’ve based the vision for our product roadmap. A small team is qualified to present it in an Innovation Day-type setting. For customers who are interested, it’s a fantastic supplement to a sales cycle, especially for innovation-minded buyers.

Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

Honestly, the less “flashy” launches are often my favorites, because these releases may have a smaller audience than a major launch would have, but if you do them right, it’s sooo fun to watch those audiences lose their minds out of happiness when they hear about a new feature that will make their lives easier!

I made some recommendations for specific communication tactics on Tiers 2 and 3 in my answer to the “not all launches are created equal” question. Generally, the name of the game with these launches is to meet your audiences where they are. That often means using your product itself to get the word out! Here are a few ideas:

  • In-product notifications, banners, pop-ups, or walkthroughs. You don’t want to be disruptive to your users, but don’t be afraid to share the news. This is a good opportunity for A/B testing how modals or banners might work best for you in-platform.
  • User-focused communities. If you’re lucky to have an online community like Trailblazer or our Hitchhikers program at Yext, the people in those spaces are often your most engaged users — so don’t miss out on the opportunity to get them excited! And of course, in post-COVID times, I look forward to once again being able to share the news at in-person user groups.
  • It may sound simplistic, but I also love a good old plain-text email to current customers or prospects who are in an active sales cycle. Even though we’re product marketers, sometimes making something look less “marketing-y” can help it bubble up from the noise.
Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 20

I think it’s very familiar in PMM to be combing through everything the night before a launch and feel a little anxiety!

We typically handle this “pre-mortem” work in two ways:

  1. Strategic: Document and address the risks as they come up. I have a “Risks and Considerations” slide in my launch deck that I use as my scratchpad for everything that surfaces during launch preparations. Generally, I raise these with the appropriate stakeholders and try to work through them as they come up, rather than waiting until right before a launch.
  2. Tactical: I think my team would tell you that I am notorious for being in “See Something Say Something” mode in the days before a launch. This is where I try to put my customer hat on and walk through the full set of launch assets as though I’m seeing them for the first time. Nobody likes making last-minute changes, but it’s always helpful to look at how everything connects. Not rocket science, but helpful to remember nonetheless.
Erin Gunaratna
Erin Gunaratna
VP, Product Marketing, ChargebeeJanuary 19

I’m lucky to partner with a great Enablement team at Yext, so I cannot take credit for everything I mention in this answer! But, we’ve treated our best enablement efforts sort of like a “compliment sandwich” — start with the simple message, then open the hood to see the context and relevant details, and close out once again with the simple message. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I think it’s very common in PMM to be afraid of sharing too much detail — we all know how busy our colleagues in sales are, and we want to keep them focused on spending time with customers, rather than distracting them with too much content. But, we shouldn’t hide things from them. They are smart people!

Another strategy here (once you’ve enabled them on the core messaging, of course) is to make sure they know that details are available and where and how to find them, rather than making them learn all the details right from the outset. This allows them to decide when they’re going to check in and learn on their own schedule.

Credentials & Highlights
VP, Product Marketing at Chargebee
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In New York, NY
Knows About Product Launches, Go-To-Market Strategy, Influencing the Product Roadmap, Sales Enabl...more