Product Marketing: How to Market a Product to Get Sales Faster

Jason Quey
Updated:
July 13, 2020

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.


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:

  1. “What’s the right messaging I need to attract the kind of customers I want?”
  2. “Who are the customers we should target? Should we go outside this niche?”
  3. “How do I work on finding the right price?”
  4. “How do I differentiate our product, so we don’t look like every other competitor out there?”
  5. “How do I turn potential customers, such as website visitors or trial users, into paying customers?”
  6. “Where is the best place for me to invest our resources to reach new customers?”


You have such 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.


If you feel like growth isn’t where you want it to be, here’s why you should take the time to understand the ins-and-outs of product marketing...


How can product marketing help you find that “in” with your customers and help you grow faster?


The product marketing system I used helped…

  1. Decibite, a web hosting startup, double their annualized revenue (+127%) in 6 months. Read the case study here.
  2. Klientboost, a PPC agency, get 20% more inbound client leads (with LTVs worth over $25,000).
  3. Peniel Ranch, a Christian non-profit camp, double (+135%) their monthly traffic.
  4. Maptive, a SaaS mapping tool, get over 21,000 visitors to an article, leading to 63 links to improve their search traffic.


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:

  1. ...in a different niche (and maybe a different country).
  2. ...in a new market or a more mature market.
  3. ...an eCommerce product, a B2B/SaaS product, or an information product.


However, you can learn the principles I’m about to teach you, which I’ve applied in different industries, products, and markets.


In this article, I will answer these questions:

  • What is product marketing? What does a product marketing manager do?
  • How is product marketing different from traditional marketing?
  • How do I create a go-to-market strategy to market my product and get my first 1,000 customers?
  • How does product marketing look different at each stage from 0 to 1,000 customers?


With that, what exactly is product marketing?


What is product marketing? What does a product marketing manager do?


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:

  1. The customer
  2. The product
  3. Marketing and sales


product-marketing


Here is how these three groups work together:

  • Customer <> Product: Talking to your customers to improve your product will help you reach product-market fit. By reaching product-market fit, you will increase word-of-mouth.
  • Marketing + Sales <> Product: Your product determines what marketing channels are available when creating your go-to-market (GTM) strategy. For example, an enterprise product will benefit from content marketing as it nurtures a customer through a long sales cycle. But it will struggle to get an immediate sale from PPC, unlike an iPhone app or impulse eCommerce buy. That’s not to say PPC won’t work for an enterprise product, it simply will look different. For example, I’d test sending PPC ads to comparison content because that type of customer is further down the buyer journey.
  • Customer <> Marketing + Sales: As you talk to your customers, you can find out the messaging and language which resonates with your them. By using this language in your marketing and sales materials, the customer will feel like you get them. For instance, I’ve talked to small business owners between 40-60 years of age. Some of them describe marketing by saying, “I want to increase my brand.” Startup founders and marketers often have a negative reaction to “increasing their brand.” This is because they do not associate increasing their brand with sales.


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:

  1. Who is the customer to target, and what is the primary problem a customer has.
  2. The right messaging to communicate how the product solves the problem.
  3. How to find more customers who have this problem.


What a product marketer does will look different depending on how many customers you have. I’ll touch on this later in the article.


How is product marketing different from traditional marketing?


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:

  1. Product - What should be our brand positioning? How will we communicate that through our messaging? What is our value proposition? Should we develop a unique sales proposition?
  2. Price - What’s our pricing strategy? What is the customers’ willingness to pay for the product? Will we charge per month, per user, or use another revenue model? Will we raise prices? Will we discount the product?
  3. Place - Where will we sell our product? Only on our website? Will we sell our product on third-party marketplaces? What about retail stores?
  4. Promotion - What’s our go-to-market strategy? Which marketing channels should we use? What information do we need to give to the sales team?


Here’s a diagram to help you visualize the difference between product marketing and traditional marketing:


product-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:

  1. Creating strong value propositions to differentiate our clients from competitors. Ideally, we find a unique selling proposition which increases conversions. This also makes it harder for future competitors to position themselves in the same way.
  2. Developing the pricing strategy. Something as simple as testing your customer’s willingness to pay has massive gains. As many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have written before, improving your price can quickly improve your customer lifetime value (LTV). And a higher LTV means you can pay more to acquire a customer (CAC). Some other articles you might find helpful: from Reforge, from Justin Mares, and from David Skok.
  3. Crafting a go-to-market (GTM) strategy to help our clients get their first 1,000 customers. Because they often don’t have a big marketing and sales team, we also execute on the GTM.


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.


How do I create a go-to-market strategy to market my product and get my first 1,000 customers?


There are two frameworks I use when mapping out what to do from 0 to 1,000 customers:

  1. The product marketing framework.
  2. The customer acquisition framework.


The goal of the product marketing framework is to remember the rule of one:

  1. You should focus on one customer your product should help.
  2. You should focus on solving one problem your customer has. Your one product should perfectly solve that problem.
  3. You should communicate the value your product offers with one value proposition.
  4. You should offer one price to solve your customer’s problem.
  5. You should focus on one marketing channel to reach your customer.


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:

  1. One customer - eBay power sellers.
  2. One problem - Make it easy for eBay sellers to collect payments for their auctions.
  3. One product - Paypal.
  4. One value proposition - Get paid faster than a check through the mail.
  5. One marketing channel - Platform partnership with eBay.


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:

  1. One customer - Harvard students. Once Facebook reached a saturation point, they only targeted ivy league students, then college students, then students, and then the world.
  2. One problem - Helping you know what you’re friends are up to.
  3. One product - Facebook.
  4. One value proposition - Stay connected with your friends.
  5. One price - free, later monetize with ads.
  6. One marketing channel - Tapping people’s personal network.


Many startup books have touched on the value of focusing on the power of one, Crossing the Chasm perhaps most famously.


Once you understand who your one customer is, you will want to decide how to get 1,000 of those customers.


The customer acquisition framework: How does product marketing look different at each stage from 0 to 1,000 customers?


I like to breakdown the customer acquisition framework into four stages:


  1. 0-10 customers.
  2. 10-100 customers.
  3. 100-1,000 customers.
  4. 1,000 true fans.


Let’s dive into each.


What you should focus on to get your first 10 customers:


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

  • 42% of startups fail because there’s no market need. 
  • 29% die because they ran out of cash. 
  • 17% fail because they had a product without a business model.


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:

  1. Peace of mind. You are confident you are investing time and money on a product people will buy. Even if you have or want to raise thousands of dollars from investors, paying customers is a great form of proof. It also allows you to find other forms of proof, such as a high LTV.
  2. You improve your focus. Free users do not always act the same as paying customers. Building features and collecting data on free users can lead you astray. Free users are only helpful if they eventually pay you or increase your referrals. Dave McClure, founder of the accelerator 500 Startups, had some choice words about bleeding money to free users.
  3. You increase your cash flow. You could have a profitable company. But if your customers take six months to pay you, you could go out of business. As one Redditor put it, “Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, cash flow is reality.”


How do you pre-sell a product?


There are five steps I recommend you should take to pre-sell your product:

  1. Pinpoint a problem potential customers have.
  2. Get a list of potential customers and interview them. Confirm if they have that problem and how they speak about the problem.
  3. Prepare a pre-sales landing page that explains your offer.
  4. Get feedback, find objections, and measure willingness to pay.
  5. Answer questions, overcome objections, and 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.


What you should focus on from 10-100 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:

  1. Talk to your customers. Who are they? Why did they buy from you rather than a competitor?
  2. Nail your messaging. How do your customers speak about the problem? The solution? Do you have product-market fit with your customers?
  3. Understand what differentiates your product. What makes your product different? How do you communicate that difference in your positioning? Can you summarize the differences in a value proposition or unique sales proposition?
  4. Determine your pricing strategy. How much are your customers willing to pay for your product? Will you charge at a set price per month? Per user? When will you increase prices? Decrease your prices?
  5. Create your go-to-market strategy. Can you create content to help customers compare you to your competitors? What product pages should you create to help customers understand your features? What is the one marketing channel you should focus on first?


Once you have 100 customers, you are ready for the next stage.


What you should focus on from 100-1,000 customers:


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.


What you should focus on to turn 1,000 customers into 1,000 true fans:


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.


Why we prefer Sean Ellis’s product-market fit test over NPS to measure the number of true fans


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:

  1. Where Net Promoter Score Goes Wrong (Harvard Business Review)
  2. The Net Promoter Score doesn't predict retention (Reforge)
  3. Net Promoter Score Considered Harmful (Jared Spool)


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:

  • Someone may love your product today and hate it tomorrow.
  • Someone may be indifferent about your product today, but desperately need it tomorrow.
  • Someone may hate your product today, but become a raving fan when you listen to their complaints.
  • Someone may recommend your product in the past, but are hesitant to say how likely they will recommend the product in the future.


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.


Final Thoughts


Marketing products to get their first 1,000 customers has unique challenges and opportunities:

  • The markets are different.
  • The customer needs and language is different.
  • The product stage is different.


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. 

  • From 0-10 customers, validate the product by pre-selling it to 10 people. 
  • From 10-100 customers, talk to your customers to get the messaging and find out if you have product-market fit. Then find your first scalable marketing channel.
  • From 100-1,000 customers, review the power of one exercise with your new customers so you don’t scale on the wrong hypotheses. Then continue growing your first scalable marketing channel.
  • Once you have 1,000 customers, continue to test for product-market fit. Your goal is to turn as many customers as you can into true fans, starting with 1,000 of them.


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.



The Product Marketing Agency Serving Entrepreneurs From Idea to Scale

Jason Quey

I am the CEO and Founder of Growth Ramp. I enjoy serving early-stage startups to get them 1,000 customers in a year.

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