Startup Marketing

You are an enterprise software startup. You are in the security space. Your company is still early, trying to sign its first 10, maybe 40 customers. What should you be doing for marketing? What works? What doesn’t? What approaches yield the biggest return for your investment? These are some questions that I have been pondering lately with startups that I am working with. I decided to do some research among my marketing and startup friends to explore what marketing approaches work for them.

A huge thanks goes out to my amazing marketing maven friends who provided input for this post: Ariella Robison, Inga Weizman, Matt Trifiro, Katherine Nellums, Laura Pauli, and Mike Armistead.

Following is an attempt to summarize what I learned. To start with, there are two starting points for your marketing program:

  1. Define your positioning and value proposition: Some call this the mission statement. It’s simply one or a couple of statements about what your company does, who the product is for (buyer), and what sets it apart from the competition (“why does your company exist?”).
  2. Identify your top 200 prospects: Work every angle to get to the buyer within your top prospects. Take into account the full sphere of influence when it comes to the sales cycle (approver, influencer, etc.) Where do those people hang out? Where do they get their news from? Do you have personal contacts that can introduce you? Investor contacts? Are those people on twitter? Follow them, answer questions, and start interacting with them. Get creative to rise above the noise (more about that later). Jonathan makes a good point here: If your company is still in the customer discovery or product validation phase, you don’t really have a prospect list yet. At that point you still need to test your market.

From here there are a few different ways you can go. But as with any project, what you don’t measure you can’t manage. Set some specific short to mid-term marketing goals. The more specific the goals, the better. These goals then help inform further marketing activities. Kathrine gives some great examples for these goals:

  • Secure x number of early adopters for the beta program.
  • Generate brand visibility while in stealth / to recruit new employees / to influence my next fundraising round.
  • Activate / engage existing database of prospects.
  • Understand customers’ buying journey to better target them / shorten the sales cycle.
  • Warm up / nurture relationships with our top three prospects.

Before engaging in any marketing efforts, you probably need a Web site. Not just for prospects to see who you are, but also to have a platform to capture leads. You can get leads through other outlets as well, but eventually, you’ll need a decent Web site anyways.

Now you are ready to engage with specific marketing efforts. Following are a few tricks I learned from my marketing investigations:

  • Get reference customers and use them for case studies: Even if you can’t mention them publicly, you might be able to mention them in sales calls.
  • Keep your marketing clever and fun as Laura put it: “Rise above the noise.” She told me stories of many examples that she has implemented in the past. What exactly you do here also depends on your culture. Do things appropriate for your company. Above all, get creative!
  • Get good at PR: Mike is an expert in that. Build up your brand recognition. It’s possible to do this really cheap: blog, tweet, speak at conferences, etc. More details on this we’ll discuss in the next blog post.
  • Be data driven! For anything you do on the PR side, measure what does well. What content converts?
  • Ariella points out that if you can offer some kind of a free demo or trial, that can be a great lead generation tool.
  • Analyst relations (AR): Get connected to the analysts. Figure out who covers your product category at the different analyst firms and go introduce yourself. Often analysts will take a meeting with you to get an understanding of your product without you having to be a customer. Becoming a client of the analyst firms is something you want to do when you are a bit bigger. When talking to the analysts, make sure to ask them for feedback on your product, the roadmap, and the market. Some great tips you can find on my friend Anton’s blog.

While there are all kinds of marketing things you should do, there are also a bunch of things you shouldn’t spend too much money on in the early stages of your company (there are always exceptions):

  • Don’t spend time on SEO
  • Don’t spend money on ad words
  • Don’t spend money on analysts
  • Don’t spend money on speaking engagements
  • Don’t spend crazy money on trade shows

What are your experiences? Other things that work for you? In my next blog post, we’ll have a look at the topic of public relations (PR). Stay tuned.

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