There are only four kinds of events in the life of your company that are likely to get covered by the press:
- New Funding
- Product Launch
Incidentally, those are also in the order of the likelihood of the press covering the event. These events are newsworthy because they are also the most important points of your company history.
Of the four, the one you have the most control over is the Product Launch. This is the point where your new product will be unveiled to the world and is your best chance to spread the word. A product is, of course, new only once.
Many companies will put together a launch plan, complete with a blow out launch party. Fewer will put together a comprehensive Go-To-Market strategy that includes the launch as part of the plan. While a good launch plan may make a splash, a good go-to-market strategy can position you to be successful.
So, what makes a good go-to-market strategy?
1. Plan for the Future
A good go-to-market strategy will start well before the launch and end at the first milestone after your launch. An example of the Go-to-market timeline for a company is below:
In this diagram the grey boxes are company milestones and the green circles are activities to help reach those milestones. The phases of the Go-To-Market timeline are broken down into three parts:
- Pre-launch. Leading up to the launch, these are activities designed to help make the launch a success. The Alpha test is a small number of potential customers who help you refine your product. The Beta test is a larger number of potential customers who help you refine your business model. Coming out of the pre-launch phase you should feel confident in your product, first time experience and marketing strategy.
- Launch. This is when your product is available to the general public. You will kick off your marketing strategy (see Marketing for Engineers) and hopefully get press coverage. You should have a party to celebrate this milestone with your team, but don’t count on your party to help your business.
- Post-Launch. After the launch, you are now operating your business. At the least you want to maintain whatever momentum was provided by your launch, but ideally you begin growing and operating your business. This is where measuring your LTV and CAC become critical (see The Most Important Equation for Your Business).
By mapping out your full go-to-market timeline you will be able to think of the launch as a part of your strategy, not an end in itself.
2. Use the Launch to your Advantage
Since the launch is only part of your strategy, it is important that it helps you achieve your goals and is not a goal itself. Depending on the milestone you are trying to achieve, your launch may take on different forms:
- Customer Growth. If your goal is customer growth, you want to reach as many potential customers as possible and let them know your product exists (raising awareness). This will vary depending on your business but remember that very few customers will read industry press (unless they are in your industry). Getting covered in TechCrunch might make you feel great but if you are offering a new service to kindergarden teachers you will not find many customers that way.
- Fundraising. If your goal is to raise more funding, then your launch should expose you to as many potential investors as possible. This can mean speaking at conferences, participating in launch competitions or being covered in industry press (this is where TechCrunch can help). However, fundraising is rarely a goal on its own so don’t lose this opportunity to grow your customers as well.
- Recruiting. If your goal is recruiting, you should try to reach as many potential employees as possible and make it clear why your company is a great place to work. This usually means talking about what and how you do things in detail. For example, you might open source software, publish design plans and give tours of your production facilities. Industry press can help here as well.
You might have more than one of these as goals and if so, your launch will have many different dimensions. The more you try to achieve with your launch, the longer you will need to prepare so begin the planning early.
To ensure that you can measure success after the launch, be sure to set some quantitative goals for the launch. How many customers do you want to have one week after launch? How many articles do you want written? How many inbound job requests? Having numeric goals makes it much easier for you to prioritize and measure success later.
Whatever your goal, make sure your launch helps move you towards it. You only get to launch once and it is a powerful weapon so get the most out of it.
3. Have booster rockets ready
Many companies execute well in the Pre-launch phase, execute their launch well but fail to plan for the post-launch. When that happens the business will stall and the company will scramble trying to regain its momentum.
To avoid that, you should have your booster rockets ready before you launch. Booster rockets are activities and plans that will help you continue to grow after your launch.
Examples of common booster rockets are:
- Paid Marketing Campaigns. These are part of your marketing strategy already and will allow you to continue to acquire customers even after the free marketing from the press coverage of your launch ends.
- Partnerships. Partnerships with other companies can open up new customer acquisition channels and help validate your business.
- Product Updates. Improvements to your product, including new features, keep the product fresh and attract new customers. For example, mobile applications may plan out updates every few weeks after the launch so that the app continuously improves (and increase the chances that users tell their friends).
Just like your launch is not a goal, you should not fire all of your booster rockets at the same time. Ideally you can pace them out so that they fuel sustainable and ongoing growth instead of a single spike.
Getting To Market is Hard
It might seem like this is more effort than most companies put into their launch strategy. You read about companies launching every day who seem to just open up their product to the world and sit back as customers flock to them. If that were the case then many more start up companies would survive.
Most of the successful start up companies you read about today have struggled during the go-to-market phase including AirBnB, Dropbox and even WhatsApp. When you struggle, you will be in good company.
If struggling is part of the journey, then the best thing you can do is plan ahead to give yourself every advantage possible. Your go-to-market strategy can’t guarantee success but it can help you increase the chances of success.
Besides, if you’re going to play why not play to win?