Why product launch checklists don't work

product launch checklistA common request I hear is for a product launch checklist.  When I ask how the checklist will be used, I either get the “That was a stupid question” look or the response is “I don’t want to forget something important”.  Checklists work great for chores. Make your bed. Brush your teeth. Take the garbage out. Not so much for product launches. 

The reason is that a product launch checklist – a todo list if you prefer – makes sense in the context of a specific product launch strategy. Generic product launch checklists that are downloaded from the web are built with a set of assumptions in mind that may have little in common with your next launch or are so broad you don’t know what you should focus on.  Let me illustrate my point.

When you launch the first version of your software product your goal is to get buyers to become customers. Through heroic measures you manage to launch and get it out the door. The product is good but operationally things could be a whole lot better. Important deliverables are forgotten. Communication to the field is spotty. Finance has difficulty booking early sales. Shouting and finger pointing ensues.

To address the problem you assemble a product launch checklist. You visit each operational department and get their perspective on what is needed for a product launch. The checklist contains all the deliverables and activities you want to remember for the next launch. Then comes the next version of the product. It’s improved and expected to grow revenue to new heights. You pull out the trusty product launch checklist and follow it with confidence.

The launch event occurs and selling starts. Then something unexpected happens. New buyers are converting to customers but you discover that existing customers are not upgrading to the new version. Why? You followed the checklist. Your team is happy with the deliverables. There is significant value in the new version for existing customers.

The problem is that the product launch checklist was created within the context of a strategy of launching a new product to a new market segment. It doesn’t take into consideration that existing customers are a different buying target with different wants and needs. In this situation there are two distinct targets to influence: those who are buying and those who are upgrading.  They have different buying criteria and require a different approach.

Start by determining the goals of the launch, taking each target within the market segment into consideration. Choose the best launch strategy to maximize the goals for each target. Then build your product launch checklist to focus on the deliverables and activities needed to achieve the launch goals.

David Daniels

David Daniels


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