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:
Who is the customer to target, and what is the primary problem a customer has.
The right messaging to communicate how the product solves the problem.
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:
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:
Crafting a go-to-market (GTM) strategy to help our clients turn their website into their #1 sales rep. Because they often don’t have a big marketing and sales team, we also execute on the GTM.
How do I create a go-to-market strategy to market my product?
There are two product marketing frameworks I use when mapping out what to when scaling clients:
The product marketing framework.
The customer acquisition framework.
The goal of the product marketing framework is to remember the rule of one:
You should focus on one customer your product should help.
You should focus on solving one problem your customer has. Your one product should perfectly solve that problem.
You should communicate the value your product offers with one value proposition.
You should offer one price to solve your customer’s problem.
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:
One customer - eBay power sellers.
One problem - Make it easy for eBay sellers to collect payments for their auctions.
One product - Paypal.
One value proposition - Get paid faster than a check through the mail.
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:
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.
One problem - Helping you know what you’re friends are up to.
One product - Facebook.
One value proposition - Stay connected with your friends.
One price - free, later monetize with ads.
One marketing channel - Tapping people’s personal network.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Do you want your startup to achieve product-market fit?
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