How to Launch &
Scale a Startup
Launch Your Startup Marketing Strategy with 5 Simple Steps
B2B Startups face unique challenges when they try to market their product. Generally, they have small budgets and small teams but big ambitions to sell to both big and small companies. The challenges may be slightly different depending on where they are in their funding process. However, a strong startup marketing strategy is required to land their first customers and build their sales pipeline.
So what is that strong startup marketing strategy? Well, there are some simple steps you need to take to put yourself on the right path. Before we discuss the right strategy, let’s look at the risks of using the wrong marketing strategy. Why is a strong startup marketing strategy important?
Download the Guide: How to Market B2B SaaS Startups
Wrong Startup Marketing Strategy = Long Sales Cycles with the Wrong Prospects
What are the risks of the wrong startup marketing strategy and how can you tell if you’re on the wrong path?
Firstly, enterprise sales cycles are long. If you are on the wrong path it can take time to get the metrics to show it isn’t working. Enterprise sales cycles are often 6-8 months long but if you are finding that your sales cycles are longer than that, you may have a problem. If you are stuck doing POC after POC and never going from Pilots to production, that is also an indicator you’re on the wrong path. Contrary to what many startups have tried to explain to us, a POC is not an actual sale. Turning POCs into a giant contract is not a sure thing by any means.
Lastly, if you don’t know who your ideal customer is and what problem you solve for them, that means you’re most certainly on the wrong path. The wrong marketing strategy will cost you time and money. You need to take the time to build the right marketing strategy for your startup before you try to scale up.
The Right Startup Marketing Starts With Planning
Define your Market
What industry are you targeting? As a startup you have limited marketing spend. You also need to work on repeatable projects so that you can sell fewer and fewer days of consulting each subsequent deployment. While not strictly related to marketing, this last point is critical to avoid accidentally becoming a consultancy. It’s normal that in the beginning, you need to sell days or weeks of consulting with each deployment. However, VCs will expect that number to be trending downward. What’s more, when they value your company, they will do so mostly using software license revenue not consulting revenue.
So, in short, you need to define a narrow specific market. You could start with an industry, like Financial Services, and then narrow it further by geography, company size or specific company positioning. As an example, you could target ‘Ambitious small Fintechs with fewer than 200 people, that serve the London commodities market but who have their HQ in the EU’. The more specific you can be the better because it allows you to refine your messaging and limit your marketing spend.
But what if you have no idea what market to target? Well, we would generally suggest you get some outside support. But in all cases, the best approach is to make some guesses and then build small marketing campaigns to test those hypotheses.
Who is your Target Buyer?
Build Target Buyer Persona
Next, you need to figure out who your ideal buyer is. This may seem obvious but when you dig deeper this can be a really difficult step for a company. How can you generate demand if you don’t know where the demand should come from. You need to be very specific. For example, you don’t want to say “we target the banking sector”, you want to say:
“We target CFOs in London working in International banks with both UK and US branches who are overwhelmed by complex regulatory requirements and looking for how new technologies might help them turn their regulatory burden into a competitive advantage.”
You need to be as targeted as possible and then you need to test your hypothesis, remember to think about what makes an ideal customer for you and what makes an ideal vendor for them. Then make sure there is a match.
Test Your Buyer Persona
Generally, the place to start is by surveying your own customers. Some companies make the mistake of surveying ALL their customers for this step. But you need to remember that you’re looking for ideal customers so you should survey your best customers. This is generally a step that is best undertaken by a third party so you get honest responses from your customers.
Again, if you don’t know who the target buyer is you need to follow the hypotheses/test process where you come up with some guesses and build small, cheap campaigns to test them.
What Problem do you Solve for your Customer?
Once you know who you are targeting, you need to understand their pain points. This is a fairly researched-based step. You need to write down your hypotheses, that is the problems you think your customers have and then test those hypotheses.
For example, you could talk to existing customers and ask them to fill out a survey. This is a step where it is very useful to have an outside company facilitate the conversations and guide you through the research stages.
Choose your Marketing Tactics & Channels
Once you know your target audience and target markets, you can begin to choose your tactics. The tactics are informed by the market, how many leads you need to generate and your buyer persona. Most startups leverage a combination of the following tools at a startup marketer’s disposal:
- Blog and LinkedIn posts to generate awareness,
- Webinars and in-depth articles to qualify leads for MQLs,
- Press Release and Product Announcements to re-engage interest and nurture inactive leads,
- Podcasts and YouTube channels to create a community and build a brand over time.
Paid advertising can also play a role here even if you have a limited budget. Facebook and LinkedIn offer a “target more like this profile” feature where you can upload a list of customers or target accounts and they will target people like them. Google is powerful if you are competing in a well-known space where there is sufficient volume on the keywords related to the problems you solve. Facebook is incredible if you know exactly who your ideal buyer is and want to push your solution top of mind.
Stay on Message, Test and Measure
Finally, now that you’ve done your homework, you need to make sure not to get complacent. You know the problem you solve and the market you target, you need to make sure all of your content and communication is about this problem and this market. It’s easy to get distracted by a new buzzword and go off-topic. Make sure you run tests before you change messages or markets.
In fact, never stop testing messages and make sure you measure all campaigns so you can see what works and what doesn’t. Marketing is never “one and done” it requires constant oversight and management to be successful.
Questions to Ask Yourself about your Product
Do you solve a problem people have but don’t know there is a solution to?
When asked about how he marketed the Ford Model T, Henry Ford supposedly said “If I had asked [people] what they wanted, they would have said they wanted a faster horse”.
Now, this quote has been widely debunked and Henry Ford is certainly not the best role model. However, there is a truism here in the “Faster Horse Problem”. Sometimes you have software that solves a problem customers have but they don’t even know there is a solution to their problem. In this case, you need to educate the market and build demand.
Demand Generation is a Process
Demand generation is not an art-form, even if there is creativity required to generate good content. Instead, it is a process, based upon hypotheses and testing those hypotheses in an objective way just like a scientist in a lab. Very few agencies actually focus on demand generation and those who do usually talk about it in terms of “our marketing guru knows how google works” or some other such drivel. The truth is that you are not the first company that needs to generate demand. The best way to get better inbound leads is to work on it everyday. After a few months, customers will come to you talking about their problems and how you can solve them. You will have been identified as the market expert.
Focus beats Volume
However, demand generation is how you can begin to generate the right kind of leads on your website. This means leads who are looking to solve specific problems or at least looking to learn about how technology might help them to solve problems. These types of innovators are critical for AI companies and the sooner you can begin working with them the better. They will become your champions and will be critical to your growth.
Finally, with this demand generation approach, your company will be positioned as a thought leader on a laser-focused topic that appeals to the exact people you want to sell to. Your website will be optimised for keywords around the exact problems you solve and you will begin to build a powerful inbound marketing machine.
Are You Selling “Touchless Deals”, Enterprise Deals or Land and Expand?
Different strategies require different tactics. Touchless deals can go fairly fast but you need to give the potential buyer a sense of trustworthiness and ease of use before they buy. This generally can be done via simple content like videos and infographics coupled with a free trial. Of course, the messaging needs to be focused on the customer problem but you also need a reassuring “it’s easy to use message”.
Enterprise deals are longer processes (but more lucrative in the long run). But they require a different approach and much more education early on in the process. This usually takes the form of white papers, guides or longer, more high-level content.
Land and Expand is generally a mix of the two but you need a clear marketing campaign to convert those who take a free trial or small license into enterprise customers.
Sitting back and just letting prospects contact you seems like the holy grail for any business. This is especially true for B2B lead generation, as
Content creation services are big business because content marketing is taking root across the spectrum from B2C to B2B companies. However, it’s B2B companies, especially