As a founder, your job is to grow your company, make it profitable, and keep it that way. But that’s a lot easier said than done, especially if you’re pre-product-market fit.
You’ve got a handful of paying customers using your product. (The product could be an online course, a SaaS tool, an app, or an eCommerce product… each applies to what I’m about to help you with).
That said, you also know there has to be an easier way to get more customers who want your product.
When early-stage founders approach Growth Ramp to help them get their first 1,000 customers, I often get questions like:
You have an opportunity right now.
Perhaps you secretly fear if you don’t act fast enough, someone else will copy your product. And, because they are smarter and better-funded, they’ll go-to-market faster than you can.
How can product marketing help you find that “in” with your customers and help you grow faster?
The product marketing system I used helped…
I cannot guarantee you will get these numbers when you get better at product marketing. In fact, you likely won’t get the same results because the product you are marketing is:
However, you can learn the principles I’m about to teach you, which I’ve applied in different industries, products, and markets.
With that, what exactly is product marketing?
Product marketing is the process of bringing a product to market which solves a customer’s problem.
To do this, a product marketer connects three groups together:
Here is how these three groups work together:
How the three groups interact isn’t as clear-cut as the diagram makes it appear. For example, you should talk to your customers to learn what marketing channels are most effective, which will change your GTM. But each section represents how these three groups work together in product marketing.
Thus, a product marketer worth their salt should know:
What a product marketer does will look different depending on how many customers you have. I’ll touch on this later in the article.
Product marketing is a subset of traditional marketing.
In general, product marketing focuses on the strategy of the four P’s of marketing. A product marketer will help you answer questions like:
Here’s a diagram to help you visualize the difference between product marketing and traditional marketing:
Product marketers may need to execute the plan if they aren’t working with a large team. Further, they can’t specialize in every area. So if you hire a product marketer or agency to grow your business, you’ll need to figure out what’s most important to you at this stage.
For example, we work with early-stage entrepreneurs at Growth Ramp. As a result, we focus on early-stage product marketing. This means we focus on:
Late-stage product marketers may need other skill sets. For example, you may need a product marketer to run A/B tests. But if you don’t even have 1,000 customers, A/B testing is a waste of time because you’re not getting enough data. Instead, you need to focus more time on getting your first 1,000 customers.
There are two frameworks I use when mapping out what to do from 0 to 1,000 customers:
To find out this data, a product marketer should talk to your customers. You should ask them questions about their past or present situation. By doing this, you’ll have data on their past behavior. I’ve found this information correlates closest to what similar customers will do in the future.
Successful companies do not always focus on the power of one in every area. However, the reason the power of one matters is it increases your focus. In turn, it allows you to figure out how to get better customers at a lower cost and a higher lifetime value.
I’m not the only one who shares the view of the power of one when starting their growth ramp.
David Sacks, the original COO of Paypal, calls it going sharp. In his article, he shares how Paypal started making money by focusing on:
It’s unclear if Paypal had only one price when sales took off, but my point remains the same.
Or consider how Facebook used the power of one to become successful:
Once you understand who your one customer is, you will want to decide how to get 1,000 of those customers.
I like to breakdown the customer acquisition framework into four stages:
Let’s dive into each.
Before a product launches, a product marketer should validate product demand. This is commonly called product validation. Sometimes it’s also called business validation if it’s your first product.
When possible, I recommend you pre-sell your product to 10 customers before writing a line of code. This reduces the risk of just playing business with a zombie product.
Until you’ve made $1 with your product, you don’t know if you will ever have a profitable business. There are some startups like Facebook, where it worked to delay receiving payment.
But many more startups die because they did not get enough traction. According to CB Insights:
Getting pre-sales reduces the odds that there’s no market need or business model for the product. Further, pre-selling immediately improves your runway.
I can’t say 88% of startups failed, and pre-selling would solve that problem. Some startups gave many reasons for their failure. But it would be reasonable to say it will improve your chances of success.
Pre-selling your product has several benefits:
There are five steps I recommend you should take to pre-sell your product:
If you want more detail about each step, I wrote every detail in this free product validation course.
Once you have pre-sold your first 10 customers, it’s now time to figure out what you need to do to get your first 100 customers.
Congratulations on getting your first handful of customers!
You likely did a lot of unsexy things that don’t scale to get here. When founders approach us to do product marketing in this stage, they often are unsure how to find their first scalable marketing channel.
This is when you can start doing some scalable work. Since you have paying customers, you can talk to those customers to find potential customers like them.
As a result, there’s a lot of manual labor to make it easier to do things that scale. As discussed in our free product marketing course, you need to:
Once you have 100 customers, you are ready for the next stage.
If you have not already done so, start by doing everything from 10-100 customers. Most of the process here is the same.
The biggest difference between this stage and the last one is the amount of potential customer data available.
For example, it’s harder to be fully confident with which customer is best when you talk to 10 customers. You’ll get better data interviewing 20-30 customers, though interviewing 10 customers will be much more insightful than 0.
With the remaining customers I don’t interview, I’ll do email outreach and ask if they’ll fill out a survey. The goal is to get more quantitative data. This adds a dash more science into the art-and-science of product marketing.
Failing to talk to customers again may result in you working on false hypotheses. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Congratulations on getting 1,000 customers! Even if you charge just $29/month, you now have $29,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). That’s a livable income for a small team.
While you continue to grow your customer base, my recommendation is focusing on the number of true fans.
In 2008, Kevin Kelly wrote the seminal article 1,000 true fans. In it he shared that most projects only need 1,000 true fans who buy from you every year.
For the longest time, I wanted to understand how to measure the number of true fans a product had. After all, not every customer buys every year and becomes a true fan.
Then I came across Sean Ellis’s product-market fit (PMF) survey. Ellis would test whether a product had PMF by asking a simple question: “How would you feel if this product no longer exists?” If 40% or more customers said they would be “very disappointed,” this indicated the product reached PMF.
A product that has a high PMF score often has high word-of-mouth.
If someone would be very disappointed if your product disappeared, it would indicate they love your product.
Sure, the correlation between who are “very disappointed” and word-of-mouth isn’t perfect. For example, I’ve seen customers who say they would be “disappointed” refer to people. A referral program that uses the customers’ language should perform better than a non-existent program.
Also, a bad product can artificially inflate word-of-mouth with a high-paying affiliate program. There are many positive web hosting reviews from bloggers because they get paid enough cash.
Like any other leading indicator, it’s useful but not perfect.
Net promoter score (NPS) is a measure of customer satisfaction.
The question businesses use to measure NPS is, “On a scale of 0-10, how likely is it that you would recommend this product to a friend or colleague?”
There are several people who have written about the issues using NPS:
For Growth Ramp, the issue we have with NPS is that it asks a question about someone’s future. No one can predict the future because our lives are constantly changing:
You get the point.
Unlike the NPS question, Ellis’s PMF question focuses on someone’s satisfaction with your product right now.
If someone would not say they are very dissatisfied if your product no longer exists, you can then ask them why. You can read about our process to find the number of true fans in this article on product-market fit.
Marketing products to get their first 1,000 customers has unique challenges and opportunities:
The principles that shape the product marketing strategy works best when you understand the customer, the product, and the go-to-market strategy. The best data comes from talking to your customers about their past and present experiences.
After interviewing your customers to shape your strategy, focus on the power of one. This means focusing on one customer, one problem, one product, one value proposition, one marketing channel, and one price.
Once you know this information, start putting it into action through each stage of the product journey.
After you have product-market fit with 1,000 true fans, it’s worth putting together a growth team to start high-tempo testing.
If you prefer to do it yourself, many of our articles will give you the process we use at Growth Ramp.
Or, if you’d like us to get 1,000 customers for you, you can fill out a request to learn more about our product marketing services.