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A Marketing Primer For Startups and Small Businesses
OH MY GOODNESS! RU BPMF?
If I asked you what you sell and who you sell it to, what would you say? They seem like two simple and easy questions to answer, right? However, not finding a good fit between your product and your market is one of the most common things that will prevent a struggling startup from becoming a hugely successful business. Hint: If you said something like that “this cool thing” or “the masses” 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 lying around and you’re not ready to take on Google just yet, reading this guide can help clarify your approach.
When you’re a startup, the list of things to take care of and worry about keeps growing every day. The more focused you are as a business, the more likely you are to succeed. For small businesses without a dedicated marketing staff, it’s not uncommon for the 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 you won’t make a living until you actually go out and sell something.
The secret is to find balance in both planning and execution. 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 can afford to offer significant discounts or even give away your product until you can validate these assumptions, don’t pass up the opportunity. Make sure you get valuable feedback (and testimonials and referrals) in return. Look for common characteristics in people who find your product attractive and take the time to really understand what they like. Early market testing and iterative product launches can provide you with a wealth of information that you would never have discovered sitting in that comfy chair in your office.
If your product isn’t flying off the shelves as quickly as you’d like, it may 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 argue that it is the only thing that matters in determining whether you will be successful or not, so much so that Marc Andreessen defines the stages of a company with the acronyms BPMF and APMF (before adjustment of the product/market and then).
What value do I have to offer? Do I know who wants it and why?
These two small questions have big implications. Which challenge do you tackle first: the product or the market? Which is the chicken, which is the egg? We all have a passion: Your passion may be the product you create or the market you serve. Follow your passion first if you’re not already heavily invested in either. The reality is that you probably need to make an improvement, if not a major overhaul, to both the product and the market. So this is a good time to remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place and where you really want to take your business from here.
“What do I have of value to offer?” Analyze your product.
If you haven’t found the secret sauce yet, it’s time to ask yourself some tough questions about your product and company. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you stack up against the competition? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for a SWOT analysis. Please don’t do it alone sitting at your desk. In his book, How to Create an Unstoppable Marketing and Sales Machine, Christopher Ryan says that the number one deadly sin in marketing 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 work with any. Reach out to your competitors and/or their customers as 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 truly understand what makes you different and what makes you better than other alternatives available to the customer, both now and in the future.
Write everything down at this point – you’re thinking green light. Once you’ve gathered a lot of information, you’ll see patterns emerge and you can begin to zero in on some useful insights. And remember, just because you dismiss something now as unimportant based on your current customers, doesn’t mean it won’t be the golden nugget that leads you to the Promised Land with a different target market. So put your brainstorming notes on file. They may come in handy down the road.
“Do I know who wants it and why?” Analyze your market.
What do your current customers have in common? There are some obvious answers like geography or vertical category that are good places to start. If your market is Colorado or Denver, remember that in your strategy and execution. It may be much easier to rank for “green Colorado lodging” than “green lodging,” for example. There are many opportunities on the web, including search engines and social communities that offer geo-targeting. But don’t stop there. What problem are you solving for your customers? What does your perfect customer look like when you drill down? What size are they? How long have they been in business? What common features or problems are you looking to help them with? Write it all down.
Now brainstorm different segments that have similar needs. Start with peripheral markets – other types of businesses up and down your existing customers’ supply chain. Have fun with it. Ask employees, family and friends for suggestions. From all of this brainstorming, you’re likely to find a few key target markets that make sense to test first.
The natural tendency of many businesses is to think that they need a very defined target market because if their market is bigger, they will make more money. This is usually not the case. It is generally easier to stand out in a target market first and then expand into related markets than to tackle a huge generic market with a vague value proposition. Of course, the market requirements are completely different for a VC-funded company with aggressive growth goals than for a sole proprietor who wants to start a sustainability education program for local schools. But either way, it’s important to do some homework to quantify your target market. There’s no exact science to this, but you can get some surprising information by doing some online research and some quick math. Make sure you have a market worth pursuing based on how profitable you can deliver your product and what your ultimate goals are.
“How do I know when I’m done?” Your “customers” will tell you.
Is there a magic formula for achieving product/market fit? Sean Ellis, author of the Startup Marketing Blog, argues that you’ve achieved product/market fit when 40% of your customers say they’d be very disappointed if they didn’t have your product. That means you can take their advice and give it away for free. This works for some companies, not all. Your unique circumstances may be slightly different, but the big pictures remain the same. Before you mass produce your product or spend millions on expensive infrastructure and development, make sure you test as much as you can, focusing on beta versions and feedback loops, and make sure you have a product that love most of your customers. before running to the bank with him.
If you don’t have customers yet and can’t give away your product for free, try developing strategic content that positions you as an expert in your most likely target markets. Use them as a centerpiece for networking, email and social marketing campaigns. Evaluate and compare your answers.
“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 would have already done it. There are do-it-yourselfers and specialist blogs all over the country for people who want a hand. Practical innovation is one of them. We will help you assess your current state and take you to the next level. Because BPMF is not a place you want to be for long.
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