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.
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
As I mentioned previously, these are not so distinctly black and white phases. There is overlap, and definitely some back and forth.
The first post 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:
1.Test your messaging with your target audiences
2.Validate your personas
3.Continue your positioning work!
4.Start to create a Customer Advisory Board
Test your messaging with your target audiences
Your 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?
Once you establish the right categories, organize your messages in this way and test them out. Do some A/B testing. As an example, you can test by sending one message from your “lead gen” group to half of your audience and then another to the other half. See what happens.
This is crucial early on – identifying a few of your most resonating messages sets you up to develop and grow your messaging from there. Get your baseline ready to go.
Validate Your Personas
We 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
A key area of focus here is to watch WHO is using your product (user), WHO is engaging with sales messages (buyer), WHO is usually passing you to someone else (influencer), etc. Even better, gather a few of them and interview them to ask what features are resonating with them in the product, why they are engaging with your product, what messages resonated or why they may not be interested at all.
Learn as much as you can about them. This takes time but it is so crucial at this stage.
Continue and finish your positioning
Positioning work should start from the product development phase, in that if you don’t know the problem you are solving , 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 board
Your 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
Many positive reasons to run a Customer Advisory Group. It does require work to put together and happy to talk through this with anyone, but in the end, well worth it.
These four areas of focus are key during the Customer Acquisition phase. Next, we will cover Phase 3 around Scaling Sales and the Product Marketing programs that are most relevant in this phase. Stay tuned!