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‘backing into your market’ after you’ve built something

It’s no surprise the topics of building ‘minimum viable products’, ‘lean startups’, ‘customer validation first’ and hundreds of other themes continue to take center stage in the startup scene.

For the majority of startups, there are usually (yes, this may be a sweeping generalization) two types of founding partner teams; The technical team partners and the business team partners. And it’s really no wonder — us biz folks hang with other biz folks, and tech folks hang with tech folks.

30% of startups fail due to an unbalanced founding team (SBA)

The market is swarming with organizations trying to address this issue on all levels — after all, that’s a relatively ‘simple’ failure point but what makes it complex, is the relationships required to solve it. (more on that later, I’m sure).

So great tech minds come together and build something that feels like it’s addressing a market gap. And great Biz minds come together and map out a solution, go sell it and validate it, and then start the difficult hunt to have it built. Assuming you are bootstrapping your startup, both founder teams are faced with unique challenges.

Or commonly, tech folks build a solution on contract while retaining rights to the code, enhance the product further, and then try to build a market around it. In this case, that’s the scenario I’m going to address.

I met a very smart and talented technical fellow a few weeks ago (Joe) who also had a great sense of design and usability. He was also very ‘business minded’ (I was impressed) and had had a successful startup exit in the past.

Joe built this nifty application that was a very simplistic way to create a form and distribute communications across multiple individuals in multiple locations, no code required. He figured his market was non-technical small businesses, and based on his own contract work, was tired of coding the same thing over and over again

So Joe puts his situation forward: 1) I have an app, 2) I’ve tried connecting with webmasters and small biz, 3) I’m not sure how to get customers in this market even with the freemium model and, bless his heart, he even tried cold calling (can you say R-E-S-P-E-C-T)?

I threw out some quick ideas based on his application description, his website messaging and small business target market which included connecting with groups, associations, SMB channels of relevance, aggregated biz communities, etc. The first places you’d start validating your application viability.

He had tried those with minimal success, and proceeded to give much more detail about what his application could do. As a result, what I saw was a business solution that consolidated several customer service issues for mid-size customers, not small business. And, his potential competitors were profitable organizations who hadn’t yet offered a full service solution yet, in which he was well positioned to do.

Given this additional information, the single most important thing Joe could do now was to back into his ‘real’ market to determine who his target customer should be, to identify his competitive strengths, and to re-define his messaging based on what he learned.

If you find you’re in a similar situation, here’s how you start:

 Market/Competitive analysis/who are they?

  • To validate who your customer “should” be, take your solution components (along with each problem), and find similar companies that solve one (or more) of the problems you’ve solved.
  • Ancillary competitors count too, since the purpose of this exercise is to get a market view of your app now, and its possibilities based on how it fits into the current market
  • Dig into your competitors customer list (usually you’ll find a who’s who) and get a sense of their company size, vertical, etc. All the data that would apply to your solution.
  • Look at the pricing, revenue models (per use, one time, etc.) for each competitor’s offering

 Let the data guide you to a broad stroke

  • Compare the solutions (not just the features).
  • Compare the customers, pricing, service, what the customers have in common, what they say are important to them, etc.
  • Add the information into the same spreadsheet to get a big picture view of where you could fit based on all the information you’ve gathered – the results will likely astound you.

Messaging/positioning

  • Re-work your value proposition and messaging based on your results
  • Identify the problem and the solution in a way that will immediately resonate with the customers of your competitors and be specific about your value proposition
  • If necessary, update your site messaging so it’s consistent (this is a quick hit, not weeks of delay – after all, you’re still learning but confusion is the biggest sales enemy).

Cut your teeth

  • Pick 3 potential customers somewhere in the middle of your chart (as the saying goes, burn the ones you don’t want so you can learn what you need to).
  • Keep honing your pitch based on the feedback you receive and track it. If the message doesn’t resonate, go back to the homework and repeat with smarter data until you hit an 80% confidence level you’re on target.

Get started with your target

  • Translate the above into your key messaging. Post the tools needed to convert mild interest into actionable interest (data sheets, customer ROI, pictures, what have you – all based on what you learned).
  • Focus on Problem, Solution, Value Proposition
  • Consider choosing a customer to develop a case study, referrals, etc. to building your market credibility.
  • Start first with the original competitor’s customers to convert their business. They already understand certain pain points and it’s likely they will be your easiest sale.

My reward? This response:

Amazing. Such good advice. Thank you. I’ll get to work.

Facebook comment = email reply (Whew!)

It’s true I’m a social media and digital nut. Not only personally do I find it incredibly difficult to rip myself away from my favorite channels, but I also consult for various clients helping them understand how to maximize social and digital marketing from creating a strategy or campaign, to establishing protocols that get the most out of it. 

While so many social channels are still truly in their infancy, they are quickly figuring out how to make the engagement lifecycle easier and more integrated which is critical to longterm success. (Well, within their own channel anyway….try creating a social media campaign that cross-markets using several channels (such as Facebook AND Twitter), then having a management and tracking plan in place that doesn’t consume a full time resource! (More to come on that I’m sure). 

I have my communication preferences just like everyone else and when I started using facebook personally, I was pretty resistant to the whole concept of: 

Share -> Notify -> Sign In -> comment -> sign out and move on -> get another comment/poke/post -> Sign in, etc. 

People started having ‘semi-live’ conversations within a topic and it was certainly Facebook’s point to keep people signed in longer and doing more. But frankly, not for me.  

I would literally reply to an invite/post/comment saying email me@. If it didn’t work the first time, I would be forced to use the word PLEASE, PLEASE email me@ 

So I did eventually get over that 🙂 however MOST importantly (and the big news!) is that I’m so thrilled that I don’t have to get over it at all!! With the new reply-to email to comment on posts, I get to stay in the same places I want to online, and to my beloved email inbox! 

Yayyy!!!
Yayyy! (Just reply to FB activity in your inbox!)

THANK YOU FACEBOOK. 

Really, really, really, thank you! This tidy and handy little feature is a setting adjustment in your account – just select your notification preferences (comments, updates, etc.) with your email preferences. If you’re a super-active FB individual and you go around poking people and sending little apps and having real time conversations (or your friends do!), it’s a great way to keep up with the ‘conversation’. 

Now, when you’re at work and your boss walks by to make sure you’re  not burning company time by socializing with your friends on facebook, you’re covered!

Smart move, facebook! As organizations crack down on (unofficial) social media time spent in the office, you’ve made it much easier to keep engaged without getting ‘found out’. And for those of us who just LOVE the handy little feature because it’s how we want to manage our engagements, we’re so much happier!

BTW, let’s not forget how much easier this makes it for several people within an organization to manage a company presence…A definite consolidation trend for 2010. More on that another time.

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