According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017 showed an increasingly high birth rate for startups: 415,266. However, most startups fail—while there is currently some debate regarding the startup failure rate, most sources put it somewhere between 60% to 90%. That’s a huge gap, but it still serves to remind us that there are many factors that contribute to success or failure, and a highly disruptive idea alone may not be enough.
There are, of course, many factors that cause businesses to bite the dust, starting with perhaps the most obvious: products and services that people don’t want to buy. There are many good ideas that don’t gain traction, however, and one of the key factors for failure in these cases is a lack of focus on marketing and sales strategy from the beginning. Poor market research, for example, is often cited.
The problem is that many people think of marketing purely in terms of messaging: Getting the right message to your customers at the right time to achieve great sales. But this type of thinking is that there are two other groups of stakeholders startups have to market to in addition to their potential users and customers. And, if they get those wrong, startups can risk never getting off the ground.
Not all startups need investors; Craigslist is one example. It’s relatively simple to start, self-funding the equipment and tools needed to get it up and going. However, the more complex your idea is, the more assets and equipment you need, and if you want to scale your startup fast, it is likely you will need external funding.
So how do you convince investors that your idea is worth their money? Effectively, you are selling it to them just as you will sell it to customers, taking a slightly different angle. Whether you’re putting together a deck or an in-person bells-and-whistles presentation, there are specific things they’ll want to know. (The bonus is that going through these steps will help you solidify your business plan and sales process). A good way to go about it would be to ask yourself the following questions.
- What is our product/idea? What is it designed to do, and does it do it well?
- What pain point does our product or idea solve? Is there a need and/or desire for it (or do we just think it’s cool)?
- Are there similar products? If so, what makes ours better and/or different?
- Who is our target audience, and how big is the market? Is there enough opportunity to be profitable? Will there be an opportunity to expand to additional markets down the road?
- Will our target customers be willing to pay enough to allow us to make a profit?
- Is our idea scalable?
- How much money do we need to get this off the ground, and when do we expect to be profitable?
- What obstacles can we expect to encounter, and how do we plan to solve them? Case studies can come in handy.
In a nutshell, you won’t have to worry about marketing or selling to customers if you don’t start by selling to potential investors. And, while you may think you have a brand-new, disruptive product that your target customers will gobble up, competition for funding is fierce. You’ve got to have a sales and marketing plan that’s on point from the start.
Although many people think of beta testers as something that only tech startups need, that’s not really true. Authors frequently seek people to read a draft of their book before it goes to market, seeking constructive criticism and/or a quote that they can use on the cover. If you’re making a “high-quality indestructible toy that dogs will love,” you’ll want to round up some testers to see how your toy performs in the jaws of a real canine.
This requires marketing and market research, starting with defining your ideal clients.
First, you’ll have to find testers that most closely match your intended market. That’s not a huge challenge for tech products, because there are entire websites where you can post your beta product and accept applications from people who want to test it. Dog toys are a little different. If your dog toy is supposed to be indestructible, testing it with a five-pound fuzz ball won’t provide you with the information you need. To do that, you’ll need to prepare “marketing” materials that clearly explain what your product is, who it’s for (in this case, a large dog with strong jaws), and what pain points it will resolve.
Once you’ve identified your beta testers, you’ll need to convince them that your product is worth their time. You’ll also need to communicate what it’s supposed to do and what kind of feedback you’re looking for. That part is important. Are you willing to go back to the drawing board if your product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do? If so, you should ask for feedback on how to improve the product.
Alternatively, you may already know that you want to go to market with the product as it is and want your testers to give you feedback on how accurate your description was and whether the product met the expectations that were set.
At this stage, “marketing” means figuring out whether your product works and how to package and present it so that you’ll get the feedback you need to successfully take it to market.
This is where most startups start thinking about marketing and using sales strategies to accelerate business growth, but, as you can see, it’s really the third step. There’s a lot of work to do first! Putting in the required effort in the first two stages will set you up with the knowledge (and perhaps the funds) required to launch excellent “traditional” marketing strategies.
Right from the beginning, you will need to develop your brand voice and aesthetics. A strong marketing and sales strategy starts with planning: creating customer personas, thinking about colors and design for your content, setting up social media channels and choosing the language you want to use when making sales. It should be thoughtfully considered at each and every stage of starting up your startup.
Get your marketing started
The startup life is packed with both thrills and challenges. To paraphrase a common saying, “it ain’t for sissies.” Fortunately, there are experienced professionals you can turn to for guidance and a helping hand.
At Catalyst Sale, we can offer processes that have been proven to provide accelerated, predictable growth. Each business is unique, so we tailor our advisory services, sales training, and tech tools to what you need to succeed in your startup—right from the beginning! Get in touch to find out how we can help.