This post originally appeared as a guest publication on Kevin Goldberg’s blog as Your Latest Launch Increased the Gap Between You and Your Customers
It is so easy for Product Marketers to be caught in the product launch cycle. It is not uncommon for product marketers to be known as “the team that launches stuff”. Even more dangerous is the mentality to forget a product one it has launched to focus on the next launch.
One of my mentors used to say that this behavior is akin to the Apollo XI taking off and having everyone in the Houston Command Center go back to the lab, as the rocket is pushing upwards and has not even left orbit. Can you imagine the astronauts? “Houston? Hello? ….Houston? ….anybody there?”. Well, that’s exactly how your product feels.
This launch-as-the-finish-line mentality is very dangerous and very prevalent in many technology companies. I saw his behavior at Microsoft, with one of the most public signs being Steven Sinofsky leaving the company on November 12th , just a few days after launching Windows 8 on Oct 25. Launch a product, claim success move to the next big thing.
Instead, we should think about launches more like modules that are being added to the space station. A product launch joins the other products in your portfolio and ultimately in the ecosystem, hopefully to help the life of your astronauts, the customers.
Astronauts cannot survive only with the latest module; they need the entire space station to survive. Similarly, your customers need the whole product – a complete solution made by multiple products, services, partner offerings, etc. Don’t lose that focus.
But here is a nugget for you to think about: every product launch increases the gap between you and your customers. What gap am I talking about? Remember how you felt when the iPhone 5 was announced? Your iPhone 4 was no longer current, you felt left behind.
I remember clearly how after we launched Visual Studio 2005, the focus moved almost immediately to Visual Studio 2008. This while most customers were on Visual Studio 2003 and millions of developers were happy with VB6. And while the team was thinking about Exchange 2013, most companies around the world were sending and receiving emails using Exchange 2003 – a 10 year gap.
It’s not the fault of product marketing that a gap exists, we want to push innovation forward which inevitably creates a gap. Just as marketers are sometimes too far ahead of customers, they tend to fall behind. A couple years ago when we moved back to Austin we were at our doctor’s office when the lady at the front asked if we could call our doctor in Redmond to get our files faxed. My daughter asked “Dad, what is a fax?”. That’s a generational gap.
As you are thinking about your next product launch, consider working beyond the launch to understand what the market will look like 12 months later. What will your customers be using? What will be their technology adoption reality? What up-sell or upgrade opportunities can you see? What about customers using older versions of competing products – are those good candidates for a targeted campaign? How will you increase customers’ satisfaction and profitability for your entire customer base?
My six recommendations to ease the gap between you and your latest product launch:
- Avoid thinking of product launches as the culmination of your work, they are only a milestone
- Think about product portfolios and ecosystems (whole product), that’s what customers care about
- Take care of your astronauts and provide them with a safe landing with guidance, migration tools, education and support
- Understand the technology adoption behavior of your customers: from early adopters to laggards
- Be mindful of the gap and the reality of your customers adoption page and their urgency (or lack thereof) to upgrade
- Provide bridges that make it easier for customers to upgrade to the latest version