Crossing The Chasm – Lesson#1 – Marketing In The Early Days

Where Do We Start??

Initial Assumptions:

  1. I’m going to assume you have a business concept, a strategy, some funding (bootstrapped or otherwise) and a product in some stage of development.  You may have some customers or you may be looking for your first but you are fairly early on in your company’s life but perhaps beyond pure start-up.

  2. I am writing from a B2B perspective but most of this is applicable to all businesses.

  3. While Crossing The Chasm ("CTC") focuses mostly on marketing and selling I will touch on product planning and development as well.

  4. Lastly, I will assume you have read the book and are familiar with the concepts without reviewing and reiterating the great teachings in the book.

Given you can see as clear as day how you are able to solve some of businesses biggest problems and help them save or generate huge amounts of dollars it is only fair to assume that someone closer to that business (the customer) will see your solution as the answer to all their prayers, right?  WRONG. 

Education is one of the single biggest portions of  a sales cycle in the early days.  In most cases you are trying to sell them something that they don’t even recognize that they need yet.  I know in my situation we spent countless hours and dollars trying to educate prospects on the basic NEED for what we do.  We also spent untold amounts trying to build awareness and lead generation marketing campaigns through the years.  In hindsight I would have ENTIRELY cut out these programs.  Money is tight and intuitively you think getting your message out to the masses will build brand awareness and will mass educate the market on your fantastic approach to solving their problems.

RECOMMENDATION #1 – DON’T SPEND WASTE MONEY ON MARKETING PROGRAMS IN THE EARLY DAYS

If I had to do it again (and by that I mean, the next time I do this) I would spend all those efforts on tracking and speaking to established bleeding edge early adopters within the target verticals/customers that have the most strategic value to me as a reference.  Finding bleeding edge early adopters should be the single focus of marketing efforts.   I want to be clear that when I say target early adopters I am talking about PEOPLE NOT COMPANIESPeople lead the early adoption of new technology.  Yes Corporate culture and willingness to take on these types of projects is important but in my experience, even in a let’s say less than progressive industry or company, you can and MUST find people who are visionaries and those are the people you need to market and sell to.  Seems pretty logical but tactically how do you execute against this?  Here’s my lesson’s learned for your consideration:

  1. Regardless of the type of solution you are offering and the functional area of the organization your solution is applicable to it is usually easier to find someone in the IT group than on the business side simply because of their background.  This person will be your sponsor, your advocate and it is important that in the early days you really view them as a Partner more than a Client.  Many of these people can be found using bleeding edge technologies as that is their disposition, so social media tools, SXSW type events is where they will be hanging out to try to get info about the newest and shiniest things happening in their world.
  2. Look for companies that have already crossed the chasm selling into the general space you are in and reach out to them.  They will have lessons learned that will be as and more valuable than what I am telling you here.  The most important thing they will have is the name of PEOPLE that they dealt with at the companies they sold into.  Early adopters typically don’t change, even when unsuccessful.  Finding a person inside a target company that sponsored/led/bought another visionary offering was critical to our success.  This is the person you need to contact, court, and convince that you can help them.  They will understand more than anyone else the problem you are solving and the evolutionary way in which you are going about solving it.
  3. As you look into your target industry for ideal strategic candidates, in my experience the ones who are most likely to be open to your message as Company’s are the ones who are in the Top 20% of the industry and the ones who are in the bottom 20% of the industry.  The top 20% are there for a reason and have a couple things that are very important to you as you look to sell/partner with someone.  First, they probably have access to cash more readily than weaker companies in the space and second they also have an interest in staying ahead of everyone in their space and are willing to invest in new technologies that will continue to push their performance and create further distance between them and the middle class in the industry.  Bleeding edge people are attracted to these types of companies and are given more flexibility to thrive in this type of an environment.  Companies in the bottom 20% come at it from the opposite end but are viable for a different reason.  Finding a bleeding edge person is harder (but not impossible) in these companies but the culture of the company is more open to leading edge change because in many cases they have fallen so far behind the industry leaders they know that they need some game changers to get back in the game and in a lot of cases they have tried all the “non-evolutionary” solutions available to them with little or no effect.  Both of these are good customers for different reasons which I will get into in another post when I talk about “Sales In The Early Days”.  The middle performing companies are much harder to get into when Crossing because the risk of them investing in something new and having it fail from a personal perspective is very high.  The company is performing OK and often the culture of (the risk of) failure in a mediocre company does not support individuals stepping out and taking risks where in successful companies this risk taking and failure potential is accepted and frankly expected!

SUMMARY-KEY LESSONS

  • DON’T SPEND PRECIOUS FUNDS ON MARKETING INITIATIVES
  • KEY IS FINDING EARLY ADOPTERS…PEOPLE NOT COMPANIES
  • FIND PEOPLE WITH A PROVEN HISTORY OF SPONSORING LEADING EDGE INITIATIVES
  • RESEARCH OTHER TECHNOLOGIES THAT HAVE BEEN ADOPTED IN YOUR TARGET BUSINESSES AND FIND OUT WHO SPONSORED
  • FISH WHERE THE FISH ARE…USE CUTTING EDGE TECH/MEDIA TO FIND CUTTING EDGE PROSPECTS
  • OFTEN EASIER TO LOCATE IN ‘IT DEPARTMENT’ THAN IN THE BUSINESS
  • TARGET COMPANIES THAT ARE TOP OF CLASS LEADERS AND BOTTOM OF CLASS LAGGARDS IN THEIR INDUSTRY

Agree, Disagree, please share your experiences.

Invest in Your Community for the Compound Interest

So I was talking to someone who had the following story for me as we discussed social media and it’s important role in brand building and community & employee engagement.

Associate:  Social media is a waste of time!  I started a Facebook page for my business, I did some blogging, I twittered…heck I even went to a SM focused conference and I have not had one lead come from it yet.

Me: How long have you been active in your community?

Associate: ALMOST 6 MONTHS (read with disdain and frustration), and I don’t have forever to wait to get an ROI, I only have so much time & I don’t see how this is helping me grow my business?

Me: You’ve barely even started!?  SM is not a lead gen program and is not a short term tactic.  Marketing through and participation in SM is an investment in your community, your space, your employees, your business, your customers, etc.  Think of it like a bank or any other long term investment.  Investing your hard earned money in an interest bearing bank account is not done because you need more money next week or next month.  It is done as a long term strategy and to leverage the power of Compound interest.  The reward is not immediate and your “investment” in time and effort contributing authentically to your community in a regular, repeated, valuable way will pay dividends for you and for your community over the years.

Associate: I need to drive business & cash immediately, don’t you know what is going on in my market right now?  I invested my time in this to turn my business around and sell through this medium.

Me: Then you didn’t understand how this medium worked before you engaged, you didn’t do your homework.  If you have short term business issues I can work with you on some tactics to preserve cash and sustain your business but this isn’t one of them.  You need to keep investing in SM but it isn’t your short term saviour.

Have you had this experience?  How have you handled it?  What guidance would you give an associate?

Too many people in my opinion are looking to capitalize on a short term lottery win through jumping on tools like twitter and thinking it will immediately turn around there business.  I empathize with many than NEED short term fixes but encourage you those people to address short term business issues aggressively and effectively while still participating in and building their community over the long haul.

BE Authentic & Caring with your community

BE Patient & Persistent with your contributions and willingness to help others

BE a Trusted Advisor that people can go to and follow for genuine guidance and real feedback and support

DO NOT be a used car salesman or a pompeous ass

DO NOT be condescending and arrogant

Some will disagree and I have no doubt that there are some examples of short term surgical tactics that have utilized SM tools to disseminate and drive promotions and programs with short term impact but don’t blog, twitter, vlog, FB, etc for a short term fix.  Compound your interest over time and lead your community towards a better ecosystem for all.

REMEMBER- A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL BOATS

David Meerman Scott has a great example of a some relatively short viral programs including one that Universal Orlando did with their Harry Potter Theme Park.  I’ll discuss David’s thoughts in a later post but I highly recommend his new book World Wide Rave!

Seek Out The Truth…

As you engage with your community and especially your customers, prospects and trusted advisors ALWAYS seek, ask for and encourage the truth. Too often people meet with others in their industry and have drinks and chat over how great everything is going and how wonderful their respective companies are. It is nice to meet with friends and exchange pleasantries but DO NOT mistake these meetings for confirmation that you are doing the right things. If you want to get better YOU MUST seek out the truth.

Here is what I believe…

If you are not getting better every day you are getting worse. There is no such thing as standing still.

In order to improve your business you need to understand your strengths yes but you also must understand your weaknesses either real or perceived. If you are not meeting the needs of your community and fulfilling your deliverables than someone else will. Engage in REAL conversations with people who are friends and foes. Here are some of the people you should seek out:

  • customers
  • employees
  • industry experts
  • competitors
  • business partners
  • lost customers
  • customers on deals you lost

Some of the questions to ask and data to acquire about your company:

  • Did you end up purchasing a solution to assist with your business needs ?
    • if so who and why
    • if not, would you consider doing business with us in the future, why or why not
  • How would you describe your experience in dealing with us
  • What could we have done differently in the sales process
  • Were there aspects of our product/solution functionality that did not meet your needs
  • Were there aspects of our implementation/methodology that caused you concern
  • Was our pricing competitive
  • Was our sales representative professional and effective at addressing your questions
  • What is your perception of our Company
  • How would you describe us versus our competitors

It is important that you talk to many different people and get many different viewpoints. What you are looking for is a pattern that comes across from several non-related sources that become themes. It is this data that you need to assess and evaluate as you look to steer your business forward and become the better tomorrow than you are today!

Don’t let people tell you what they think you want to here DEMAND the truth. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Conferences, Community and Social Media

Had the good fortune this past week to attend one of the premier conferences in our industry (RCM09) and meet with several of the main players in our space, the asset health and reliability space, and with several customers and prospects who are looking to take the next step in their asset performance journey.  Here is a picture of our booth:

IMG00053-20090323-1626

One of the leaders in our community and the conference organizer Terry O’Hanlon is embracing social media as a content delivery, engagement and community building tool.  The conference had it’s own Twitter handle which was helpful in a couple different ways:

  1. It allowed those who were attending to talk up the event and virtually meet new people and set up meetings before even arriving at the conference
  2. It allowed people who were not able to attend to participate with the rest of the participants and hear what was going on and follow along from their office
  3. It acted as a news media source.  During the conference there were major announcements and press releases and conference updates that needed to be communicated and this was a great media to disseminate the information

As you look at how you build your community a few points and suggestions as a follow on to my previous post as you look to take the next steps.

  1. Just Do It! – Be a leader and get started today.  Control the medium, control the message, control the space.  Start distributing content that is of value and point people to where the content resides.  Become the trusted advisor for resolution to their business issues and point them to others when they have problems that you are unable to solve.
  2. You Don’t Have To Do It Alone – who are the leaders in your space and what are they doing online.  Reach out to them and work with them to set up a site, or better yet post to your site.  Talk to your customers and partners and determine how and what will add value to them and work with the ‘gurus’ of your space to deliver it.
  3. Start twittering, blogging, etc at your conferences and let people know you are there.
  4. Consolidate your online contribution and make it easy for people to find you – If you have a website that is your principle communication vehicle is your blog linked to the website and vice versa so they are easy to find?  Is your Twitter handle and link on your blog and website?  What about your business collateral?  Put it on your business card.  Put it in your email signature line.  make it easy for people to find all your contributions and thoughts on your community so that they know where to go and don’t have to search.

Remember that building a community takes time, patience, dedication and is an investment in your company, your community, your customers, your employees and your prospects.

Some math to show the reach of social media.  The Twitter conference handle generated 86 followers in a couple weeks.  Lets assume 1/3 were already using Twitter (my estimate from reviewing the list) and that means that approx 60 new people in my community were reached using social media due to the commitment and effort of one of our respected industry leaders.  Over time if those 60 users add 60 users each in the community (fairly conservative assumption) the community has grown to 3600 in fairly fast order.

Now maintaining those new community members and growing that community is dependant upon the continued flow of VALUE ADD content.  I and all of us at IVARA will do our part to contribute and lead this great community and care and feed for customers, partners, employees and prospects.  For now we have our IVARA BLOG, our IVARA TWITTER  and many webinars, etc that link through our website.

What are you doing in your space?  Are you investing in and giving to your community, if you don’t someone else will…step up and make the commitment, get started today.

Please comment on your thoughts, experiences, successes, failures so we can all grow our communities together.

Keep them Engaged Through Leadership

OK, I think this is the last post in this “Delightful” mini-series so a quick recap is in order.

First I posted about the importance of Delighting your way to Success and how critical it is to improve upon the customer experience every time you deal with them. I gave some recommendations for implementation in your business to improve the customer experience and more closely align everyone at your company with your customer experiences. My Dairy Queen example was a simple illustration of the impact a positive experience has.
I followed up that post with a related one on a new role that we are seeing more of in the market and is that of a “Community Manager“, which I am a proponent of and would suggest you consider for your organization. I used AideRSS and Akoha as examples.
Next I followed up with a piece on how critical it is to hire smart AND engaged employees right from the start rather than hiring just for smarts, and gave my thoughts on how to successful hire employees that will delight your customer. This is important for all organizations but especially for young startups. You do not have the luxury of being able to make mistakes against a really tight budget and very few staff. Take your time and get it right.
The last piece will be some simple thoughts on leadership that I think are important to keeping engaged employees in the game and on your team. Hiring the right people is absolutely critical to an engaged workforce but keeping them engaged and growing is all on you. There are so many leadership books out there by people who have forgotten more theory on leadership than I will ever know but here are my simple guidelines that I follow.
  1. Give direction – in the absence of being given direction by a leader employees will make up their own direction. This is hugely problematic because if you have 10 employees who are all engaged and acting in the best interests of the company but are pulling in different directions it will make the very difficult journey from point A to point B way harder than it already is. For small companies, you don’t want to get meetinged (is that a word?) to death and a meeting schedule is a completely separate post so to start I would recommend the following. For 15 minutes at the start or end of every day huddle with your team. I posted some details earlier on the agenda.
  2. Open, focused and frequent communication – understanding the big picture and the strategic path the company is on is critical. Every chance you get reiterate the “elevator pitch” with your employees. Explain why you are doing what you are doing organizationally and strategically and how they fit in to that. What is their role in achieving this success and how can they impact total company success. Again, in a small organization it is much easier to see how you fit in and what your contribution means. Just make sure everyone knows the strategy and what success is so they are engaged as part of the solution.
  3. Lead by Example – BE FULLY ENGAGED! Engaged employees WANT to be inspired and look to you to be the rock through all the ups and downs you will face. Constantly reinforce your words in point #1 and #2 above with your actions. Your behaviour shows people what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour for others…when you don’t think anyone is watching…they are. Don’t give them reason through your actions to become disengaged.
  4. Measure Success and Reward Proper Behaviour – make sure any and all measurements or metrics you put in place for the business are aligned with the strategy you are implementing and base all rewards around those. Rewards do not need to be purely financial especially for highly engaged people. These employees want the company to win and want to be part of it. Non-monetary rewards like GH3 nights out and pool and beer nights on the company to acknowledge great work are great motivators and team builders at the same time. I am a big believer in that which is measured is improved. Put the right measures and rewards in place and they will drive behaviour and engagement that is consistent with the strategy and keep everyone in synch rowing the same direction.

By Hiring Delightful Employee’s and Keeping them Engaged you will Have Delighted Customers!

There are so many things in business that are uncontrollable that have a material impact on your businesses success or failure. Who you hire and how you motivate them as the leader and how they interact with your customers are all controllable. Nail the stuff you can nail and this is one area that everyone can control….get at it.

Hiring Engaged Employees

My last few posts have presented my thoughts on the critical need to delight your customers at all times and have discussed some of the how’s around that from the perspective of the types of roles you will require and some recommendations around the types of action plans you can implement. There is one major requirement for the execution of the plan and the consistent delivery of a WOW customer experience and that is PEOPLE.
It is imperative that the people building your product, the people hiring, the people interacting with customers, the people in your company are passionate about what they do and are portraying the message and delivering the experience you want. In early days for a startup this isn’t so hard because all of these people = 1 person = you!
In all companies hiring right is a key success factor but as a startup and/or small company it can be the difference between success and failure. I know I am oversimplifying and there is tons of literature out there for more complex processes and systems and formulas and measures but this is what it breaks down to:
  1. Hire Engaged People
  2. Keep Them Engaged

If you Hire correctly, keeping engaged people engaged is not nearly as difficult getting unengaged people to engage. You have 500 things to do each day as an entrepreneur/founder/CEO and keeping your employees up during good times and bad is an absolutely critical aspect of your job but don’t make that harder on yourself than you have to with less than ideal hiring decisions.

For every role there are key components or competencies of the job that they need to be able to perform and perform at the head of the class but to me this is really just table stakes. Once you have some one who technically can do the job you need done here are some key things to look for:

  • Attitude – Attitude is everything. How are they emotionally in the interview, are they engaging, upbeat, smiling, eager, excited….regardless of the role you should walk away feeling energized not drained
  • Passion - Listen for knowledge and passion for what you do. They won’t know everything about everything that your company does but if they are not jazzed about the space and what you are doing from a macro perspective it will make my next point even harder for them to pass and that is……
  • StartUp experience – this is not a must for me but it something I have to feel very comfortable that the person understands especially depending on how I feel about the prior point. There are long days, all nighters, low lows and high highs and you have to be comfortable that this person has a “very healthy appetite for work” lets say
  • Spidey Sense – Call this your gut. You get a feel for someone during the interview. How will they fit with your team, would you feel comfortable if they were in front of your customer? your investor?

My last recommendation here is to have at least two interviews with someone before you make any offer. The first in a more formal, typical interview setting and don’t limit yourself to an hour (schedule them in the early evening say 5:30). If things do go well you will want more time to explore and the time will fly. If they pass the first interview the second interview should be in a more informal setting and should involve more members of your team. If you normally go for a pool night, darts, GH3, whatever…invite them.

None of these are rocket science but they are 4 simple points I have written on my white board at the office as I go through the hiring process. Write them down somewhere so you have them and just take a look at the points before and after you conduct your next interview. I actually have a ranking and weighting for each of the four but that is just the finance guy in me needing to bring EVERYTHING back to numbers so I won’t bore you with that.

Interested in your comments on your best and worst hires and what happened….hope these help!

Some other great posts on this topic:

Tech Capital Partners – discusses the value of Employee Engagement

DangleTech

Dharmesh at OnStartups – talks about his hiring thoughts for startups

Follow Up to "Delight" Post

More and more you are starting to see super exciting roles for “Community Manager’s” at exciting young tech companies. In most cases I view these roles as the Chief Delightment Officer at a company who engages with, support and befriends the community and makes the product, brand and company real to users. As my prior post mentioned the responsibility for delighting customers lies with everyone but making someone accountable for care and feeding of the community in the early days is a great move. A great example of how this can work is Melanie Baker at AideRSS. She is a great cheerleader, access point to development, PR person, etc that people who are engaging with AideRSS can interact with to reinforce the product experience. Great product + great human interface = successful brand building and customer engagement.
There is no shortage of debate on this topic with an article being written by ReadWriteWeb , commentary about online community at the WSJ and new positions opening up with much more regularity than ever before.
I am all for this role and believe that managing your online brand, marrying the human experience with the product experience and Delighting your customers is critical to a startup.
If you are interested in what I think is a fantastic role in any organization Austin Hill, who has a startup called Akoha, is currently looking for a “Community Gardener“, check it out. Even if you aren’t interested in the role check out the job description as it does a fantastic job of giving you insight into the type, style and culture that Austin is building at Akoha. Even job description are part of the customer experience!

Delight Your Way to Success

I have been spending much time lately reading and thinking about customer engagement and experience and the importance of it in all businesses. Having a truly passionate customer base is not just for intimate startup companies, as Apple and the recent lines we all witnessed clearly illustrate. Having your customers so delighted with their experience that they will tell their friends and Twitter about their experience and proudly show/tell everyone they know is the most powerful (and inexpensive…sorry Finance guy in me coming out) marketing program any company can achieve. For a startup company positive word of mouth, press and chat is even more important as it can be the difference between success and failure. There are two sides of this experience that I’d like to cover, the product experience and the human experience that in my opinion are equally important.
PRODUCT EXPERIENCE
Building product that is focussed on solving a specific problem that a target audience has or providing them with a new experience they will value is obviously table stakes. Truly delighted customers are looking for much more:
  • Make product consistent and reliable
  • Save time or improve the quality of time for the customer
  • Ease of use will increase adoption and stickiness
  • A slick, well thought out user interface is a game changer
  • Flexibility in design (because your customer is going to try to use you product in ways you probably hadn’t imagined…and you want them to)
  • The WOW factor…can’t really describe it but you know it when you see it
  • There can be many others depending on the application, audience, etc

You are not beside your customer when they use your product for the first time, make sure you nail form, function and WOW.

HUMAN EXPERIENCE

EVERY interaction you have with a customer is an opportunity to delight a customer and build your brand. Really folks, this is not hard. Every person in the organization, whether there are 3 or 3,000 is in marketing and sales. I posted earlier on a simple experience at Dairy Queen (sadly no freeby’s have arrived at my door) which demonstrates the difference every person in your company can make.

Everytime someone calls in for support on your product….delight them

Everytime someone calls to complain….delight them

Everytime someone asks you where you work….delight them

Attitude is everything, be excited and passionate about what you do. If you aren’t how do you expect them to be so moved they will tell their friends and wear your shirt. Always ask them for feedback and suggestions, engage them in making things better. Hiring, retaining and maintaining engaged employees is a seperate post I’ll cover later.

RECOMMENDATION

My call to action that I think goes a long way to help at a startup: When people download things (product, trials, etc) from your site make it mandatory to enter an email address AND a phone number (don’t worry if they have come to your site and are interested enough to download a trial, they will). Now, don’t just email your customers call them. Have everyone in your company call at least one person a day to interact and ask some set questions to collect data. This is your chance to delight them on the phone and make a personal connection that will solidify your relationship. At the end of every day, huddle as a group for 5-10 minutes NO more and run through what you found out.

Several major accomplishments occur with this process:

  1. Employees stay engaged with the solution and are always in sales mode every day which creates positive energy and momentum and allows they to get better and more comfortable with it.
  2. The customer experience is enhanced and over time you will build a loyal following of delighted customers.
  3. You will accumulate data, critical intelligence, on your company/product and share it every day which will allow you to spot trends, isolate problems, share wins and drive product and the company forward in lock step with your user community.

Try it and let me know how it works.