If you’re in any line of product management or product development, you’ll be familiar with the argumentation process around defining the product launch. The concept of a “pre-announcement” is something as old as the job of product marketing, with all forms of the process being tried by companies over the years. You have the Apple-like “no announcement til launch day” approach on one extreme, and the “announced before any of it exists” vaporware announcements of which there are hundreds of examples.
In this post, Steven Sinofsky shows how unclear it can be whether the decision to pre-announce is a good idea. There are clearly advantages but also plenty of downsides. He calls out how the pre-announcement always can serve as a forcing function for a company to make something happen – either customer decisions, dev team shipping speed, or to boost PR when a competitor is ahead.
I’m particularly interested in the thoughts on approaches in business SaaS. SaaS models have made the hype-attention-release cycle flatten out from the once-per-year type of release cycles of the box software era. The continuous release cycles of most SaaS companies leave fewer pivotal major releases to pre-announce. But also, in the business software world, the “shininess” factor of big new features isn’t as attractive as it once was. This rings true in my experience, especially as our average customer gets larger:
SaaS totally fixed all of this, or so we think. Today there is almost no upside or downside to pre-announcing when it comes to deals since once you have a customer you have them for what actually works right then and there—customers bought the product for what it does right now and the stability that comes with that. Still the desire for a company to show off this value subjects us all to popups, emails, and overlays alerting us end-users to amazing new capabilities that were all once the domain of launch events and trade coverage.
Today’s reality is that customers are becoming more annoyed with changes to business SaaS products than they feel value and would like to return to a more regularly scheduled delivery cadence with pre-announcements. No one likes a morning surprise of “who moved my cheese” in a product for getting work done. On the other hand, if we think quarterly updates are what customers want, then consider Patch Tuesday. For expanding/growth products frequent updates are fine (product market fit assures us of that). I would say no one has really figured out the right way to deliver either upgrades or launches for SaaS in a customer and purchaser-friendly manner.