We touched base with a few seasoned SaaS Product Marketing Managers to dig into how they execute successful product releases. Here they tell us what a successful product release looks like and the keys to being successful, how they work with product management, how they manage particularly challenging releases, and how they define and measure success. Enjoy!

What does a product release look like at your company, and what are your keys to success?

Product marketing managers resoundingly push to avoid launching on the book-ends of the week (Monday & Friday), and steer clear of holidays and long weekends. On launch day they usually try to schedule marketing splashes for the middle of the work day due to the many global time zones of their customers.

Once they have confirmed the ideal launch date, they work backwards and plot out a timeline roadmap of the key milestones that need to be accomplished along the way. Common milestones include deadlines for:

  • All written copy
  • Looping in design for asset creation and branding assistance
  • Looping in developers and agency partners for website changes, paid campaign direction, press releases and other external communications and advertising needs
  • Internal launch for user acceptance testing and their own user access to the feature to familiarize themselves with it

The keys to being successful are multiple, but our gurus clearly identified the following six practices as being non negotiable:

  1. Rigor around regular cadences of internal communication
  2. Strong organizational chops
  3. Consistently setting clear expectations, responsibilities, and timelines for all parties involved
  4. Full understanding of the problem the release is solving for and the value it provides to users
  5. Enablement resources for the go-to-market teams
  6. Predetermined KPIs (with benchmarking where possible) and measurement methods setup prior to launch

How do you work with product management and what steps do you take leading up to a release?

The general rule of thumb is that the larger the release, the sooner Product Managers should involve product marketing. A strong product team knows this and loops PMMs into weekly meetings, Slack channels, feature testing design reviews at the appropriate time. They also ensure that product marketers are included in the discussion and determination of an agreed release date.

Product Managers size releases based on associated marketing effort required (large releases have a longer checklist of things to write/update/execute compared to smaller releases). That means that when the roadmap is passed to the PMMs, their understanding of the size of the release allows them to better plan and prioritize their work.

Prior to launch the PMMs present the roadmap to their go-to-market teams (Sales, Support, Success) so they in turn know how to position each release and are never surprised when new functionality hits the application.

Tell us about a particularly challenging product release you’ve experienced. What were some lessons or takeaways?

After some discussion, we decided to share this particular experience as it resonated with all our PMMs.

“On launch day, we realized that most of the deployments had successfully updated and had the new feature, but a handful had failed. My conundrum was should I announce something that not all customers had access to? I had a conversation with the delivery and engineering teams to discuss options and the ultimate choice was between running a manual update so all deployments show the new feature - which would require about 20 minutes of unexpected downtime across all deployments - or prioritize the customer experience and wait for the next scheduled deployment later that evening. We agreed to prioritize the customer experience and not cause disruption which meant that I had to reschedule all internal and agency marketing activities and efforts and push the launch tasks to the following day. Disruptive for me and our marketing team, but not for the customers, who always come first.”

Some insights from our PMMs on how to prepare for or mitigate if this happens to you:

  • Have operating principles for situations like this. One of our PMMs told us they have a Charter which formally stresses the desire to avoid causing intentional downtime in the application when at all possible.
  • Always think in the shoes of the customer. There’s really no need to elaborate on this further. The customer experience comes first, and that should be the north star guiding decisions like these.
  • Be flexible and understanding. The truth is technical hiccups happen, and it’s no fault of a person or group. Remember you are part of a team, and you’ll find ways to re-jig your schedule so that launching a day later is no sweat off your back.
  • Have 30 minutes or so carved out the morning of the release so all included parties (delivery, engineering, design, product, and marketing) can smoke test and have time together to ensure everything is going as expected before people go on with supporting launch tasks or other work. It’s a fun and short kick-off when a release goes smoothly!

How do you define a successful product release? Are there any KPIs you keep your eyes on?

Defining success factors depends on the release's strategic objective. For example, the success factors for each of the following objectives will be different: “the goal of this release is to increase qualified leads”, or “the goal is to decrease churn and increase retention”. Once the objective has been clearly identified PMMS will have clarity on both what to track and what they will define as success criteria.

That being said, there are some general guidelines:

  • Technically, you want a release that’s as frictionless as possible. Meaning the deployment was successful, the feature is supported/available on all versions, browsers, devices, and regions. You can track this by your delivery team inspecting the release pipeline and performing some user testing yourself.
  • Emotionally, you want a release that your go-to-market teams can seamlessly and excitedly speak to customers or prospects about in an impactful way. You can track this by their general word of mouth, performing some win/loss analysis, and shadowing their calls.
  • Behaviorally, you want a release that is adopted quickly and inspires new and improved habits in the application. You can track this with tools like Full Story or Amplitude.
  • Finally, you want a release in which the supporting collateral is quickly and highly consumed (social posts, email campaigns, articles, videos ect). You can track this with tools like Hubspot, Hootsuite, and Youtube among many others.

Thanks for reading!