Extreme Customer Insights: A Startup Marketing Secret Weapon

In my first startup marketing job I was given the task of attempting to call a couple hundred customers to try to rustle up a dozen or so customer references. That task opened my eyes to how important customer insight was for our startup’s marketing efforts. I quickly learned that there we things things we spent a lot of time talking about in our messages that customers simply didn’t care about. I learned that some of our assumptions about how customers made purchase decisions was deeply flawed. And I learned that there were a host of smaller improvements that I could make to our marketing as a result of the insight I gained on those calls. Since then, in every company I worked in, I’ve tried to create programs that helped us as a marketing team develop a “talking to customers” habit. This week I did a talk at Communitech’s Strategic Marketing Peer2Peer meeting and my topic was how to develop this habit, what questions I think marketers should focus on in these interviews and how you can use what you’ve learned in ways that go way beyond the traditional customer case study. Here are the slides (and scroll down for a summary of some of the key points). Extreme Customer Insight: Mastering the Marketing Secret Weapon from April Dunford How Do You Make Talking to Customers a Habit? Startup Marketers are busy folk dealing with shifting deadlines and priorities. Setting aside time to interact with customers and prospects can easily get pushed to the bottom of our priority list. Making customer interaction a habit often involves taking a...
Should Only Startups with Products Get Funded?

Should Only Startups with Products Get Funded?

The “trend” of startups without a well-defined product idea getting funding was discussed in a recent Forbes blog post. Here’s an excerpt: Having some kind of notion what line of business your fledgling company might want to pursue used to be a prerequisite to raising capital. Now, it’s a mark of hubris. You don’t tell the market what it needs; you gently offer it a series of options, which are less viable concepts than ritual sacrifices aimed at cultivating the favor of the start-up gods. It’s called “iterating.” The gist of the post is essentially this: if there’s no product, there’s nothing to invest in, yet people seem to be investing anyway and OMGITSABUBBLEWE’REALLGONNADIE!! (ok, I’ll admit my version has extra drama). The post doesn’t offer up much to back up the thesis that startups with no specific product idea are getting funded left and right (positioning Instagram as a typical startup is, in my opinion, bonkers) but it raises an interesting question – is there really value in a company that doesn’t have an offering? Suppose you invested in a company with a product, that later changes the offering significantly – does that mean you screwed up? Pivots aren’t new. Admitting we do them is. I’ve been involved in loads of version 1 product concept/development/launch exercises I’ve yet to see one where the offering didn’t significantly change after initial customer feedback. At what point in the product life-cycle these “pivots” occur however is shifting earlier and earlier as most self-respecting entrepreneurs have read Steve Blank and are now embracing the concept of early customer feedback and “customer development”. If...

Discovering What Customers Really Want

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions from startups about how you figure out what customers really want vs. the “nice to have” stuff.  This process of “Customer Discovery” as Steve Blank calls it is something that a lot of founders I’ve spoken with don’t have a lot of experience with.  I had an email exchange recently with Tim Johnson talking about my favorite question: “So What?” I like to have marketers use it on themselves but Tim related an example of how he uses it in customer engagements.  It was a great example and I asked him to write it up in the post below.  Although his examples are around trying to close deals, I think they apply equally well to an early stage startup that is trying to get at the root of what’s really important in a solution vs. the nice to have stuff.  What I also like about this story is how it illustrates how customers may talk about “brand” characteristics as being important (we like company X because they are “fun”) when what they really mean is something much more tangible (company X’s products work with what I’ve already invested in). Read on… If you want to cut to the chase or destroy all the hubris around a conversation with a customer, the absolutely most effective question you can ask is, “So what?” A softer version is “Why is that important?” The customer will either tell you why it’s a key decision criteria or they will admit that it just sounded nice to have or they didn’t need it in the first place. The...

Avoiding the Number 1 Startup Marketing Mistake

The past 2 days I’ve answered a bunch of marketing questions from entrepreneurs on Sprouter‘s new Answers forum for startups (more on that later).  There were a few themes that emerged but one really came into focus when I got this question: What is the number 1 startup marketing mistake? My answer?  They try to market to everyone. I understand how startups get there.  There is a sort of straightforward logic that says that the more people that are aware of your product, the more will check it out and ultimately pay you for it.  This would work if your product was suitable for everyone (it isn’t) and you had a marketing budget big enough to reach everybody (you don’t).  The trick to effective marketing is focus your efforts on the segments that are the best fit for your product.  Those segments have the strongest need for your product and the best understanding of the value you offer.  By marketing to everyone, you run the risk that the folks that are the most likely to buy from you either never hear about you or when they do, can’t recognize the great fit your product is for them because it appears to be built for “everyone”. Here are 4 reasons you should focus your marketing efforts on specific segments: Targeted Messaging and Offers are Always More Effective – If you are selling t-shirts for fashion conscious 20-something’s you will probably emphasize the styling.  If your business is selling t-shirts to kids sports teams you might emphasize the durability of the shirt or the low cost.  If you are selling t-shirts...

7 Startup Customer Discovery Questions

Folks at startups have different levels of experience when it comes to working with customers.  At the early stages when you are identifying the problem to solve, the key features of the solution and the customer segments that are the right fit for the solution, you’re spending a lot of time with customers trying to tease out as much information as you can.  Last week I was asked by a new founder what types of questions he should be asking in these meetings.  Here are a few suggestions: What does your typical day look like? – This one is especially useful at the earliest stages when you are still trying to get a deep understanding of the space, the customers and what the key pain points are for those customers. If you could change anything at all, what would it be? – This is a good one to get at the most pressing problem that a person is experiencing with a particular task or process. What is the biggest pain you have today? – This will have to be framed within the context of the broader space you are looking at of course. The key with this question is to probe around the characteristics of the pain.  Why is it painful? What is the measure of that pain (time, effort, etc.)? How are you solving this problem today? – Again, try to ask a lot of open-ended questions around this one too.  When was the solution implemented?  Why was it done like that? Who made the decision? What is this problem costing you? (lost revenue, lost customers, increased service...