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A Marketing Primer For Startups and Small Businesses
Oh God! RU BPMF?
If I asked you what you are selling and who you are selling it to, what would you say? Two straightforward questions that seem easy to answer, right? However, failing to find a good fit between your product and your market is one of the most common things that prevents a struggling startup from becoming a wildly successful business. Hint: If you say something “That’s a good thing.” or “the people” In the above statement, you have a big challenge. I hope you are well funded. But if you don’t have a big bag of cash and you’re not ready to take on Google just yet, reading this primer can help clarify your focus.
When you’re a startup, the laundry list of things to worry about grows every day. The more focused you are as a company, the more likely you are to succeed. For small companies without a dedicated marketing staff, it is not uncommon for product marketing focus to be limited to a few paragraphs in the business plan. The short-term priority quickly shifts to ringing the phone or getting traffic to your site—in short, generating leads. You can sit in a comfy chair and create market research surveys and product feature sets until you’re blue in the face, but that won’t make you a living unless you get out there and sell something.
Finding balance in both planning and execution is the secret. If you’ve already made some educated guesses about your market and filled in some product holes with assumptions, congratulations! You have to start somewhere. If you don’t want to offer significant discounts or give away your product until you’re able to validate those assumptions, don’t pass up the opportunity. Make sure you get valuable feedback (and testimonials and references) in exchange. Look for common traits in people who find your product appealing and take the time to understand what they like. Early market tests and iterative product releases can give you a ton of insights you’d never discover sitting in that comfy chair in your office.
If your product isn’t flying off the shelves as quickly as you’d like, it might be time to re-examine both your product and your target market and make sure they’re a match made in heaven. In fact, some people would say it’s the only thing that matters in determining whether you’ll be successful or not – so much so that Marc Andreessen defines the company’s stages by BPMF and APMF (before and after product/market fit).
What do I have to offer of value? I know who wants it and why?
These two small questions have some big implications. Which challenge do you face first – product or market? Which chicken, which egg? We all have passions – your passion could be the product you build or the market you serve. Follow your passion first if you haven’t made a big investment yet. The reality is that you will need to do some fine-tuning, if not a major overhaul, of both the product and the market. So now is the perfect time to remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place and where you really want to take your company from here.
“What do I have to offer of value?” Analyze your product.
If you haven’t found the secret sauce yet, it’s time to ask yourself tough questions about your product and company. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you measure competition? Yes, ladies and gentlemen – it’s time for a SWOT analysis. Please don’t do this sitting at your desk. In his book, How to Create an Unstoppable Marketing and Sales Machine, Christopher Ryan states that marketing’s number one deadly sin is “lack of self-awareness.” You can help avoid this sin by involving others, including your employees and your customers. Find out what your partners think about you – and your competitors if they are working with any. Contact your competitors and/or their customers if appropriate. Listen to the people or companies you want to be your customers. Don’t just think about your end product – think about all of your internal processes that go into delivering the end product. The goal is to understand what makes you different and what makes you better than other options available to the customer now and in the future.
Write everything down at this point – you’re thinking green light. Once you’ve gathered a wealth of information, you’ll notice patterns emerge and can begin to narrow your focus to a few actionable insights. And remember, just because you tossed something out as not important to your current customer base right now, doesn’t mean it won’t be the golden nugget that will lead you to the promised land with a different target market. So keep your brainstorming notes on file. They can come in handy down the road.
“Do I know who wants it and why?” Analyze your market.
What do you have in common with your existing customers? There are some obvious answers such as geography or vertical square that are good places to start. If your market is Colorado or Denver, remember this in your strategy and execution. For example it can be much easier to rank for “green hosting” than “Colorado green hosting”. There are many opportunities on the web including search engines and social communities that offer geographic targeting. But don’t stop there. Are you solving problems for your customers? What does your ideal customer look like when you dig deep? What shape are they? How long have they been in business? What common characteristics or problems are you trying to help them with? Write it all down.
Now consider different segments with similar needs. Start with peripheral markets – other types of companies up and down the supply chain of your existing customers. Have fun with it. Ask for suggestions from employees, family and friends. From all this brainstorming, you’ll find some key target markets that make sense to test first.
The natural tendency of many companies is to think that they need a more broadly defined target market because if their market is larger, they will make more money. Usually this is not the case. It is usually easier to excel in one target market first and then expand into related markets than to address a vast generic market with an unclear value proposition. Of course, the market needs are completely different for a VC-funded business with aggressive growth goals compared to a sole proprietor who wants to start a sustainable education program for local schools. But either way, it’s important to do some homework to determine the size of your target market. There’s no exact science to doing this, but you can get amazing insights by doing some online research and quick math. Make sure you have a cost-effective way you can deliver your product and it’s worth going to market based on what your end goals are.
“How will I know when I’m done?” Your “customer” will tell you.
Is there a magic formula for achieving product/market fit? Sean Ellis, author of the Startup Marketing Blog, advocates that you’ve achieved product/market fit when 40% of your customers think they’d be very disappointed if your product didn’t exist. Assuming you are able to follow his advice and give it away for free. This works for some businesses, not all. Your unique circumstances may be slightly different, but the big picture is still the same. Before mass-producing your product or spending millions on expensive infrastructure and development, be sure to do as much testing as possible—focusing on beta releases and feedback loops—and make sure you’ve got a product that most of your customers will love. Before you run to the bank with it.
If you don’t have customers yet and you can’t give away your product for free, try developing strategic content that positions you as an expert in your potential target markets. Use them as a hub for warm networking, email and social marketing campaigns. Evaluate and compare their responses.
“What do I do now?” There are many options.
It all sounds good, but the reality is that it is not an easy thing to do or everyone has already done it. There are blogs for self-starters and experts all over the country for people who want a helping hand. Practical innovation is one of them. We will help you assess your current situation and take you to the next level. Because BPMF is not a place you want to stay for long.
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