This post is by Shirin Shahin from Openview Labs
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Editor’s Note: This article is Part Two of a four-part series that covers the most crucial product marketing activities for an early-stage startup. You can read Part One here.
“Yes! Our product is ready! After months (or more) of development and testing, we are ready for customers. So, let’s put the money in our GTM channels and go get ‘em.”Welcome to part two, focused on Customer Acquisition. This post is part of a series that covers the core Product Marketing work needed in the four critical phases of an early-stage startup. As a reminder, the four key phases of an earlier stage startup that I am focusing on in this series include:
- Product Development
- Customer Acquisition
- Scaling Sales
- Kicking in GTM Programs
Customer AcquisitionThe first
in this series talked about the most critical Product Marketing activities in the first critical phase of a startup – Product Development. Now we are moving on to Customer Acquisition. The above statement is mostly true but with some key considerations and programs to drive forward in the process. Ok, so there has been months of product development work, or more. You have been refining what some of the key features will be, hopefully tested with key target users along the way, and are now feeling pretty confident you are ready to acquire some more customers. This is a very exciting time, as it should be! Especially since typically more customers equals more revenue. However, the most critical part of this phase is not $, but related to what you can learn from this first set. My key tip in this phase is: Engage your audience fast, learn fast and iterate fast. There are a few critical pieces of product marketing work that needs to happen in this phase including:
- Test your messaging with your target audiences
- Validate your personas
- Continue your positioning work!
- Start to create a Customer Advisory Board
Test Your Messaging with Your Target AudiencesYour key mission when you are starting to gain your first set of customers is to ensure that you are communicating the right message to the right people at the right time. Ideally, you started to formulate your positioning and messaging during the Product Development phase. You likely did some market research, talked to internal teams, identified what problems you are solving and in turn created some customer facing messaging. However, until you really test this messaging out – you don’t know if it will resonate. I recommend you categorize your messages based on goals. Without goals, how do we know if we are successful? Some categories of messages could be around:
- Product Usage: Do these messages encourage someone to test out the product?
- Increase Lead Gen: Do these messages encourage someone to click your ads?
- Website Engagement: Do these messages encourage a path for your users on your website – i.e. they go beyond the homepage?
- Sales: Do these messages resonate in sales scripts/email communications?
Validate Your PersonasWe talked about identifying your target personas in the first post. Identifying is one thing and then validating is a whole other thing. Again, a persona is essentially a fictional character that resembles your target audience. As your audience starts to use your product you are going to confirm whether the personas you identified are accurate. What could happen?
- There could be new personas identified
- There could be personas you envisioned as “users” but they end up being your “buyer”
- You may completely even invalidate a persona – they aren’t a fit for your product. So valuable to know this!
- Your personas are spot on
Continue and “Finish” Your PositioningPositioning work should start from the product development phase, in that if you don’t know the problem you are solving for, you wouldn’t even have a product. Therefore, positioning starts early and then rolls into this phase as well. And, it is never really done, hence “finish.” Positioning is always a work in progress. When you have new features launching, you need to update your positioning documents. When you identify new competitors, you may need to update your key differentiators, and so forth. However, in this phase, as you start to onboard customers to your product/service, it is a ripe time to complete this. Below I have laid out the various sections of a positioning document.
- Key Market Dynamics
- Target Audience(s)
- Pain Points
- Key Competitors
- Key Differentiators
- Features & Benefits
- Positioning Statement
- Sample Customer Facing Messages
Start Your First Customer Advisory BoardYour earliest set of users/customers (and I use these interchangeably because they may or may not be paying depending on how you launch) are unique and have very specific qualities. They are likely the most enthusiastic about your brand, they love trying new products and features, tend to be more technical and they are also typically the most vocal. Therefore, this group is ripe to become the first set of customers in your Customer Advisory Group.
What is a Customer Advisory Group?You may have heard of focus groups, brand ambassadors, company evangelists as well. All of these overall serve the same goal.
A Customer Advisory Board is a group of some of your most engaged customers, who represent your target personas and get together regularly to discuss a variety of topics. Few different types of topic areas you can cover with your board.
- Their feedback on current products and features
- Open conversation around their pain points/challenges → drive future roadmap
- Identify potential opportunities for case studies
- Upsell! Yes – they will learn about your products more directly so this could happen too