(See Part 1 - Market Phase Model for context.)
Ok – you’ve found the customer. You know their needs and challenges. You’re working on product/market fit. You’ve got a handful of referenceable customers. Now it’s just about execution, right?
Not yet. Just because you’ve been able to sell to a handful of customers doesn’t mean you have figured out how to do it in a repeatable fashion, or do it with people who are not the founders. Now you need to investigate your market and figure out the messages, sales tools, materials, channels, employees, processes, and communication channels that will enable you to sell.
How do you do this? Once again, I don’t know. But I can tell you how to figure it out.
If you’re a good product person, you’re really digging into your product now. You’ve got enough early customers and feedback to give you a solid understanding of essential features. Your dev team has uncovered plenty of problems from v1. Things are getting exciting as you can feel yourself moving closer to your vision of product/market fit.
You need to do the exact same thing with sales. Your product is your best sales tool. But it’s not your only one, and if you’re a product person, don’t get caught in the trap of doing only the fun product stuff and ignoring the BS sales and marketing stuff. It’s not BS – it’s essential. In fact, the more uncomfortable you are with sales and marketing, the more important it is for you to start working on it early.
In marketing textbooks they talk about the 4 P’s of marketing: Product, Price, Placement, Promotion. But they miss the 5th and essential one: Positioning. Positioning is how you talk about your product and use that language to unlock the mind of the customer. I’m a positioning guy so I’m biased, but after Product, I think Positioning is the most important tool you have in your sales and marketing arsenal. If you do it well, it acts as a force-multiplier, making every contact with a prospect – via web, email, phone, or in person – more effective. If you do it poorly, you’re making it hard for your potential customers to figure out why they should buy your product.
That last sentence is an important one. Positioning isn’t BS marketing junk. It is the communication equivalent of your product execution. Just as your product is supposed to make it easy for your customer to solve his or her problems, your positioning is intended to make it easy for your prospect to understand and want to buy your product. If they have to work hard to figure out what your value is, or why it’s better than competitor X, or why they shouldn’t just wait, then you’re not doing your job.
Positioning And Your Website
I used to do big positioning exercises where you think about your positioning, hone it down, discuss it with your team, iterate, and finally decide. Uggh – what needless pain and suffering.
Now I strongly suggest skipping the pre-work and jumping straight into your website. Since you’ve already gone through Market Exploration, you should have a website. But hopefully you haven’t spent too much time on it (unless you’re a web-based product or company). But now it’s time to really dig in and SPEAK to your customer. You’ve learned who they are, what they need, how you solve their pains, and what value propositions work for them. And you even have real-world testimonials. Great – package that up and make a website that makes it easy for prospects to want to buy.
For a web business, this is obviously the way to go. For an enterprise startup, this is still the way to go. Everyone goes to your website, even if they hear about you first from an in-person visit. More importantly, the website forces you to think through your positioning and messaging and how you want to talk to your customer. Your sales decks, PDFs, demos, email blasts, and everything else fits into the messaging framework you have to de facto create to build a good website.
This will also expose all sorts of weaknesses in your knowledge of your customers. Do they really buy because of X? Do you have substantiation for claim Y? Do your features really differentiate versus competitor Z? Your website will force you to address these issues. (And, of course, you’ll learn and change and improve over time.)
When you are building out your website, you’ll uncover all sorts of tools you really ought to have. Maybe it’s a 30 second testimonial from a customer, or some key statistics, or a 2 minute self-running demo, or some sample reports. In addition to these tools, what will your sales force need? Clearly a sales presentation, but also testimonials, references, detailed spec sheets, etc. Put together your list, prioritize them, and start building them out. Note that they will all change as you learn more, so focus more on content than on production quality.
You’ve found the customer. You’ve got a great product. Your positioning really communicates your value effectively. Now how do you get in front of customers so they can hear your story?
The tools are pretty standard and well known. The question is “which tools will work for you?” This is an empirical question, and the only way you can figure it out is to try them and see which work.
Create your list of channels / tools. Prioritize them based on your intuition. Then start trying them. Figure out ways that you can test your hypotheses about communication channels as quickly and cheaply as you can. Don’t get paralyzed by thinking you need to do all of them, but also don’t get complacent in sticking only to the channels that have worked so far. You need to try other methods, so start trying them.
What are the channels? PPC (SEO takes longer), email marketing, conferences, PR, blogging, social media marketing, local groups, cold calls, etc.
If you do a good job with Market Investigation, you’ll come out of it with product/market fit, a critical mass of referenceable customers, real revenue, increasing momentum, strong positioning, a solid foundation of knowledge of how to reach your target market, and a team that’s up to speed, succeeding, and building momentum towards success.
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