Stage 1 of tech startup marketing involved coming out of denial about the need for marketing. In describing this next stage, I continue to draw on the wisdom of Mark Lorion, CMO of Apperian, and Catherine Juon, SEO and marketing coach for second-stage companies.
In the first stage of marketing your startup, you may have resisted the very concept of marketing. But ideally, at some point, you honed your value proposition, ensured that there is indeed a market for your product, and tested that the market is “ripe” enough to be reached within your time horizon.
The next stage for many startups can be called Do-It-Yourself marketing.
“In the second stage, you may or may not hire someone dedicated to marketing. Either way, parts of the staff—or perhaps even the entire team—start interacting with customers, sharing the product’s capabilities on your website, blogging, speaking with journalists or analysts, engaging with social media, attending events, and more,” says Mark Lorion. At this stage, “we don’t need to get lost in the semantics of titles like marketing, as it ultimately doesn’t matter who is performing these functions. Regardless of what you call it, these contributions perform an essential function—and transition into marketing’s traditional role of storytelling and customer/prospect interaction.”
When well implemented, including using best practices for inbound marketing on your website (essentially what we used to call SEO), you will create the beginnings of a marketing machine. Or as Catherine Juon likes to call it, “your online sales engine.” As she describes it, an online sales engine is “your ability to attract prospects and turn them into customers in a reliable, predictable way.”
“Startups are often highly focused on improving the product and figuring out how to make it highly scalable and patentable. Rarely is there someone on the team equally focused on developing the marketing and sales model,” Juon says. “It’s a major failure in how startups are typically coached. Too often they’re near the end of their funding runway by the time someone gets serious about ramping up sales. By then, it can be too late. It’s the rare startup that has something so earth-shattering that all you need to do is turn the faucet on.”
Smart startups don’t wait until the product is ready to start selling it. To ensure success, they iterate marketing and sales processes in tandem with product development. They start early. One of the best resources on this kind of mindset is The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. He learned all this the hard way and shares his methodology for getting product and market feedback in some ingenious ways, including incorporating the idea of creating a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.
As defined by Wikipedia, “an MVP is not a minimal product,6 it is a strategy and process directed toward making and selling a product to customers. It is an iterative process of idea generation, prototyping, presentation, data collection, analysis and learning. One seeks to minimize the total time spent on an iteration. The process is iterated until a desirable product/market fit is obtained, or until the product is deemed to be non-viable.”
The idea behind creating an MVP is that customers are interacting with early versions or prototypes and helping to shape the product with their feedback. This interaction with customers dovetails nicely with marketing, as you seek to learn more about who wants your product and the features they actually want (as opposed to those you may think your customers want).
Learn more about how Evolved Media tackles the challenges of b2b technology marketing. Come back to read the final blog in this series.
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Mark Lorion is CMO of Apperian, a company that sells solutions for securing and managing mobile applications for enterprises. Mark has led marketing at a variety of other companies including the analytics and data visualization provider, TIBCO Spotfire. He also blogs on startup marketing challenges and techniques.
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Catherine Juon coauthored Internet Marketing Start to Finish, launched a digital marketing agency, and is now an independent marketing and growth consultant for startups and life science companies.