As a CMO & “Launch Boss”, I used to manage launch meetings by function(demand gen, press, analyst, customer marketing, sales enablement, customer marketing, partner marketing,  etc.). We’d sit around the table and members of my staff would take turns updating the team on their focus and priorities for the upcoming launch.  These meetings were traditional. I had always run them this way because that was how I was taught.  But the reality was that these meetings were tedious. Boring. Nobody really paid attention to their colleagues. Instead of working issues, the team reported on their “to do” list. Clearly, this was not the best use of our time.

The purpose of the launch planning process is to break down silos; to align the team; and make “the whole” larger than the “sum of the individual parts.” There had to be a better way to engage the team. I wanted to achieve much more than a mediocre company or product launch. I envisioned a new launch process that would inspire my marketers to get out of their comfort zone, to push boundaries of what was possible, and to learn and apply skills that would help them become the next generation of marketing leaders.

And so, I decided to do things differently.

Learning from NASA

Instead of managing launch meetings by function, I broke from tradition. I started to manage them by “points of potential failure.” Just like NASA does when they launch a rocket. (Check out the recent Netflix documentary: Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine – the launch of the James Webb telescope (2023).)

This made a huge difference in both the quality of the integrated plan, and more importantly, the energy and comradery amongst the team.

Here’s how I did this:

  • I started with a vision of complete and wild success for the launch: what do I imagine this looks and feels like?
  • Then I considered the obstacles and missed opportunities that would cripple our launch.
  • From this list, I created 10 categories of “points of potential failures”. This included things like:
    1. Positioning & Messaging: unclear, misaligned with the market, poorly communicated
    2. Press & Analysts: not properly prepped
    3. Customers: caught by surprise
    4. Sales team: lack of sales enablement materials and training regarding the launch
    5. Content Creation: not having the right quality content that is aligned to the buyer’s journey
    6. Website: poor website design that does not communicate the positioning & messaging strategy
    7. Sales Kickoff (SKO): poor alignment with SKO; ineffective or incomplete sales enablement assets
    8. Partner prep: Lack of partner engagement on launch day
    9. Direct marketing/Campaigns: campaigns fail to communicate customer-relevant messages and offers that are timely tuned to the launch
    10. Insufficient funds: budget does not allow for adequate launch support
  • I repurposed the launch meeting to facilitate cross-functional discussion on de-risking each of these points of potential failure.

I created a full spreadsheet of the 10 “points of potential failure”, and assigned a primary team leader per point. They would be responsible for working cross functionally to guide the discussion on that topic during our launch meetings. To laser focus on issues, each “point” had between 5-10 examples of red or yellow flags we need to think about. Together, we managed to the big picture launch. That was our North Star. We also paid attention to the details — but we did that in real time, not in the launch meetings. We kept track of the status of each item as we progressed through the launch process.

The new and improved launch prep meetings were amazing. Not only were our discussions more creative and impactful, the team gained greater appreciation of the tactics and value each team member contributed to the larger launch. Each of these “points of potential failure” was owned by all of us, not just one department head. Everyone needed to participate to ensure that our Positioning & Messaging was communicated clearly and consistently. This was everyone’s job!  I also included my agencies to attend these launch meetings. I needed them directly involved so they clearly understood the expectations I had of them.

The response to this new format: Instead of dragging their feet to these meetings, team members came with more energy.  Immediately, the process of launch planning greatly improved.

Dry-running Launch Day

The capstone of our planning process included two launch day dry-runs: one at Launch minus 6 weeks; the last at Launch minus 1 week. These were highly tactical, scripted meetings where we literally created a minute-by-minute timeline of launch day and the weeks following launch day.

  1. What time does the press release drop?
  2. What time is our exec speaking?
  3. When will the customer success team inform customers on the announcement?
  4. What offer do we extend on launch day? Next week? Next Month?

No stone was left unturned.

During dry-run # 1 we discovered important elements we had overlooked. By the time we got to dry-run #2, we had the launch nailed. No uncertainties. The potential points of failure had all be identified and de-risked.

The launch became a poster-child of what best-in-class launch prep looks like. This is what I coach CMOs and launch teams on today.

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About the Author

Mike Gospe is co-founder and principal of KickStart Alliance, an marketing leadership consulting team. Mike has 40 years of marketing leadership, having designed and facilitated vision, go-to-market planning, and marketing & sales leadership summits for most of his career. Mike is also a Serial Interim CMO, helping CEOs who are leading their company through a transition in order to double their ARR in 3-5 years. For additional information on best practices for Launch Bosses or managing the cross-functional launch processes, including the “10 Points of Potential Failure” template, please contact Mike.