From the annual unveiling of the new iPhone to the roll-out of a new Gmail feature – or even the introduction of a new menu item at Chipotle – it all falls into one of the most important, and hardest to master, marketing skill sets out there – product marketing. I love watching and learning from the masters at this, companies like Apple and Salesforce, who have built their empires around creating excitement for new products. But, I hate to say it, for every great product launch out there, there are thousands that fall completely flat – especially in B2B marketing.
Marketers for consumer products have it much harder – they don’t have the benefit of an army of sales executives who can create excitement, explain value, and drive purchases. And so they’ve had to evolve to strip out complexity from their messaging. To get in touch with the core rational and emotional values that their products bring, and to sell those values directly to the buyer.
B2B marketers, in contrast, come from a legacy of selling complex technology solutions to sophisticated IT buyers (think 1990’s Oracle marketing – which hasn’t actually changed that much in 30 years.) But today’s B2B buyers – in a SaaS world – are totally different. They’re business buyers. They don’t care about the tech – they care about solving their business problems. There’s no reason why we can’t inspire the business buyer – especially in the current environment where SaaS solutions are solving some incredibly complex and compelling problems for the world’s biggest companies.
And the SaaS product launch can be the foundation for this inspiration.
I would stress that for SaaS companies, not every launch is a big bang launch. With monthly software releases, it’s often about re-communicating your vision or thinking about fresh ways to package your story to the market. So, as you prepare for your next launch – whether big or small – I would encourage you to take a step back and make sure that you’re avoiding the following common pitfalls when it comes to product marketing:
Don’t confuse a feature release with a launch. Product management doesn’t dictate marketing launches – you’re the marketer and should be owning the strategy of what to introduce to the market, how and when. Often, you don’t have to wait for a big software update or release…it’s a matter of taking a smart look at the market and defining something new and different. For example, when I helped launch the Salesforce Service Cloud product line six years ago, we were one of the first companies to really start talking about social media as a component of customer service. As a product marketing team, we sought out social capabilities from different Salesforce product lines, packaged them together through a marketing lens, and then we pinned our entire positioning around it. Suddenly, we went from a nobody in the customer service/call center space, to a vendor that was doing the most innovative things out there. We had had the product features for awhile, we had just never articulated the vision so strongly. Great positioning changed the game. Here are two great examples of positioning – the first is from Google and the second is from SaaS company, Zuora.
A great product launch can drive a lot of inbound interest from prospects, but if your salespeople are speaking your old story, you’ve got a problem. This not only creates confusion and the perception that you’re not organized as a company, but can slow down sales velocity. By doing a kick ass product launch you want to increase deal conversion… not slow it down! So start coordinating with sales early. Hold a training to ensure ALL of your salespeople can tell the story (not just the SDRs), ensure that your sales engineers can seamlessly demo the product, and put together a content kit with talking points, a slide deck and email templates so that your sales team has everything they need to be successful. Not adequately preparing your sales team before a product launch can be costly. It can slow down the sales process and have a very real impact on revenue targets. But remember, sales enablement is a line, not a dot – as detailed in this post.
Honestly, creating an impactful product explainer video takes money and time. Make sure you have both before getting started. A rush job on the cheap will never end well. Also, most creative agencies will offer to write the video script for you, but I usually advise against this. You know your story and customer pain points the best… finding the right talent in-house to create the narrative will ensure the right end result. As you create the video, be putting together your video promotion plan — both internally for sales and externally for prospects coming to your website and social media channels. Carve out budget to promote it on social media, so that it actually gets seen. Socialize it with the analysts, bloggers and influencers covering your space. Feature it on your website and in email signatures. Play it at tradeshows and have sales play it at the start of an important meeting. You get the idea!
Here are two product videos that we recently did at Invoca. This first is focused on our Call Intelligence platform and the problem it solves for marketers. The second communicates that we as a company are invested in making marketers (our prospects/customers) successful.
Product launches can be incredibly complex logistically – especially at large scale. Product marketing is so often the glue that keeps sales, product/engineering and marketing in sync. I’ve seen a lot of hiccups – big and small – happen because there wasn’t a clear owner or adequate detail in a planning document. And “clear owner” doesn’t mean two or three people – it means a single person, accountable for the success or failure of each part of the project. I know, it seems so mundane, but really doubling down on ownership and team accountability can make a big difference in the end result. We are lucky to have tools like Google Docs and Dropbox at our disposal for collaboration. No more version control in Powerpoint is such a good thing. And if you’re working with teammates in other locations, I would highly recommend Highfive for face to face meetings and collaboration.
While following this advice alone can’t guarantee that your product will go down in history as the next iPhone, it will help you compete in a fiercely competitive SaaS market. If you have any best practices, ideas or hacks as it relates to product marketing, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.