3 highest priorities for early stage marketing
How to get the foundations right the first time
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“It’s common for founders to be visionaries in product, tech and engineering—logical thinking. But they have no idea how to hire for Go-To-Market. They don’t know what it means, so they don’t know how to assess it.”
If this resonates with you, dear reader, then this is the post for you. Someone said this to me in passing last week and I’ve been ruminating on it ever since. I’m going to keep it brief today; I’m preparing to head back to San Francisco for a couple months and will be largely offline except for intermittently submitting to my compulsion to check the internet.
This post is:
For founders looking for guidance on how to suss out a stellar product marketer as your first marketing hire.
A cheat sheet for early product marketers wondering how to dive into a new job.
Main takeaway: I’m sharing my view on the three highest priorities to consider when joining an early stage startup as a product marketer.
3 Highest Priorities for Early Stage Marketers
Set up a plan to systematize customer focus
The best time to build foundations for scaling customer focus is before your rocketship launches into oblivion. A lot of this work is pretty manual and requires some elbow grease, but there are no shortcuts around it. Long-term customer focus is lost when startups neglect this work upfront and never come back to it. It happens more often than it doesn’t, so just by doing this, you’re setting yourself up for long term competitive advantage. Some of the activities you should consider here are building Buyer Personas, a Segmentation Framework (that can later turn into information architecture for event-based marketing), a Voice of the Customer Report, a ‘Vision to Values’ exercise (to establish the link between your company mission and day-to-day work), and a Positioning and Messaging Framework.
Message me on Twitter or fill out the survey at the bottom if you’d like in-depth guides and templates for any of these.
Map out your Ideal Buyer’s Journey
Get into the headspace of your customer. Perhaps repeat the exercise for all the different buyer personas you built in Step 1. What are the real world pain points these customers are experiencing? What does their day look like? What do they complain to their friends/family or colleagues about at the end of a long day? How does that relate to your company’s mission?
Who are they comparing you to (in and out of your understanding of the competitive landscape)? How do they react to pricing like yours? What are their objections to your product MVP? Are they sold on the vision? Where do their eyes start to glaze over during your sales pitch?
This exercise is all about humanizing the sale. No one wants to be lectured or dragged through a sales cycle. Everyone has an opportunity to inspire and delight their prospects before they become customers. What value are you giving your prospects before they even convert? How do you bake that into your Buyer’s Journey and replicate it as you scale your commercial team from 1 to 100?
The types of activities I’d prioritise here are— in addition to literally mapping out a buyer’s journey like in the image above—developing needs-based sales collateral and building marketing assets tailored to the different use cases identified through the buyer persona exercise (aka pain/fit analysis). Help the prospect/customer visualize themselves benefiting from your vision. Take all the thinking out of it - pack it full of data-led social proof, use cases, and testimonials.
And lastly—the most important part of building a Buyer’s Journey—it’s critical to check performance of your buyer’s journey. Surveys and calls in the form of Win/Loss interviews are a great way of understanding what your prospects/customers are really thinking. Though slightly high effort, they’re guaranteed to be high reward and they’ll always help guide you towards stronger competitive differentiation and product/market fit.
Execute EVERYTHING through a needs-based lens
From evolving your brand voice to shipping new features, you can truly stand out from the crowd by taking a needs-based approach to communicating value to the market. This means instead of leading with the functional definition of something, think about how your target audience would best receive that message.
For example, at Deliveroo, we had a strong suite of products and innovative services available for our restaurant partners, but we lacked expertise in packaging and positioning these products to the right restaurant partners based on who they are and what they needed from us. What do our restaurants care about? They care about their customers. They certainly care about their customers more than they care about Deliveroo’s own narrative of success. Over the past year and half, we’ve worked to re-align our full portfolio of products based on restaurant needs as they relate to creating better customer experiences. I’ve had so much fun leading the Deliveroo business towards an evolved, needs-based restaurant value proposition that is executable across product, commercial, and marketing teams.
The activities you should focus on here would be building a Go-To-Market launch framework that ensures you take pause and focus on how to position the product/feature’s value for the unique needs of the customer before blasting the message across marketing channels. You’ll also want to build a content strategy that directly aligns with your value prop’s value pillars, but this is a bigger topic for another day.
If you have zero budget as an early stage marketer, it’s always wise to identify your partner ecosystem. Co-marketing is a wonderful way to share similar audiences organically and to unite around a common vision or mission. This can take the form in webinars, events, campaigns, or even technical integrations. For example, let’s say you run a SaaS business focused on helping small business owners getting paid for overdue invoices. You could partner with brands who also serve the needs of the same audience, even if it’s not exactly related to your service, such as Canva (helping folks make beautiful graphic design work).
Lastly, we’re back to measuring performance and iterating towards success. This begins with synthesizing lots of different qualitative feedback loops. That’s where the Voice of the Customer Report comes in (bug reports, sales objections, social media engagement, etc). But over time, you’ll blend it with your quantitative loops (product engagement analytics, churn rate, speed of sales cycle, changes in brand tracking). Together, this helps you understand the power of your sales and marketing materials on driving not only more efficient conversion and LTV, but a more human and delightful user experience. It’s also critical to test your positioning and messaging in the same way you would a beta launch of a new product or feature. Publish a hypothesis, listen for feedback, iterate, evolve, repeat. My friend James Doman-Pipe and I discuss this and more in last week’s podcast-style episode.
These are the three biggest areas to get right as an early stage marketer
One of the hardest parts of joining an early stage startup is knowing where (and how) to focus. But it’s absolutely imperative that you find focus - focus on your customer, focus on validating impact of your effort, and focus on bringing your company’s mission to life. If you find ways to focus on the three areas above, all orbiting around the needs of your customer, then the rocketship will surely follow.
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