Are you interesting?

There is a lot of talk about the effectiveness of content marketing for startups. And while I don’t doubt that it has some effect for some, I am firmly in the camp where I would advice anyone to up their game significantly, if they want to do content.

Because there is som much ‘blah’ put there that’s just not interesting at all.

Compare it to a party, where you meet someone you have never met before. You talk casually.

What’s the most interesting conversation?

The one where the guy across from you just babble on in banal terms without even making the slightest effort to understand whether you’re interested or even paying attention.

Or the one who actually engages in a conversation, brings new perspectives to something you care about or at the very least can relate to and leave you wiser and eager to know more?

Of course you would choose the latter one.

And that’s my point:

Content marketing is the first one. Thinly disguised as being ‘customer centric’ it is essentially about the sender and demonstrates a lack of understanding and/or real interest in who you are and what challenges you are facing. Basically, it doesn’t care.

The latter one is content where you from an angle of curiosity explore the field, you’re working in making sure that you bring fresh perspectives to your field and basically is worth the time and investment for others to follow and engage with.

That kind of content doesn’t need to be hard to produce. It just takes someone who knows what he or she is talking about and with a willingness to write about it from time to time and a openness towards getting it out there and potentially get some interesting feedback.

It’s an approach that doesn’t fit very well with outsourcing to an agency, because it takes knowledge, real insights and – crucially – the authenticity and presence that you can only bring to the table, when the one putting the content out there is deeply immersed into the field herself – day in, day out.

That’s what will make it interesting and worth following. And that is what could be a great and efficient building block for building and nurturing relationships.

If you can go that route, you have a number of potential advantages looking at you compared to your competitors, who stick with the old, ineffective content marketing playbook:

You can essentially become a real thought leader. You can get valuable feedback from customers and other constituents that can have an impact on your business. And ultimately you can drive new leads to the business that will both be worth significantly more over time from a commercial point of view but will also be way cheaper to connect with than other means of advertising.

Because all it takes is essentially your insights, willingness to share and openness towards connecting.

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Bad market feedback

One of the hardest things for many startups is dealing with bad market feedback; the sense that what you have been trying to bring to the world just isn’t being that well received at all.

It is the flipside of doing market testing and validation. While obviously the right thing to do, we always go into a test in the hope that results will be good and support our hypothesis. Yet, many times it just won’t happen.

What to do then?

Obviously the answer is not not to do any testing. That’s just stupid; it won’t make the bad feedback go away – it will just present itself way later when you have put a lot more energy and ressources into a product that ultimately might be failing.

The answer of course is to (1) learn to deal with bad market feedback and (2) think about how you deal with particular feedback based on what it is that you’re testing.

The best way to deal with bad market feedback is to remember that the market and the customers are always right. If you get bad feedback it is a sign that something in what you’re doing is off; the wrong approach, the wrong customer segment, maybe even the wrong product.

You get the feedback, internalize it, redo and come back much stronger. And you understand and accept that there are no points for insisting you’re right and the market is wrong. None.

On the second point, you can grade how you do testing and work with bad market feedback. While it of course sucks to get very bad feedback for your product as such, getting bad market feedback for an outlier idea or approach is actually really, really valuable.

Let’s assume that you have been playing with an idea of getting a sub-set of your feature set earlier to market in order to start generating revenue. It’s not entirely ‘on strategy’ when you look at your vision, but you want to start generating revenue as soon as possible.

Should you do that? Or should you stay the original course?

Test it.

If you get bad market feedback from testing that outlier approach, you will have learned that (a) clearly your idea is not going to be a runaway hit and (b) maybe the opportunity you saw to get an early product out and essentially diversify is a bad one and will only take away focus and ressources from your main effort. If that is the case, you will be happy that the bad market feedback has helped you and your team dodge a future bullet.

So, in summary, bad market feedback can be extremely good and valuable feedback, as it can help you focus on what’s really important and utilize your ressources in the best possible way. So make sure you don’t get distracted on a personal level and take it in as a defeat that leaves you stuck in f***.

It’s not.

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Cash value of communication

Often times I meet people who question the value of a focused, operational communications strategy. The argument is that there are plenty of other more important jobs to get done before looking coherently at communications.

Allow me as a former communications professional to take a step back and look at the kind of value, great communication can unlock for a startup. I will do so over a couple of posts here, and today I will be looking at one of the really easy ones to measure:

Sales.

Normally, when we think of sales, we think it of it as an effort to get our offer in front of the right people in order for them to make a decision on whether they want to buy our solution or not. The more we work diligently with sales, the better we will be at getting it in front of the right people, the more hot leads will be created, the better conversation rates will be and – ultimately – the more we will sell.

Ok.

So what role does communications play in that? Let’s look at it from a structured operational perspective:

Let’s assume you have your OKRs in place. You know what your objectives for the upcoming quarter(s) are, and you have identified the measurable key results that will support you in understanding what kind of progress you’re making towards reaching those goals.

If we look at sales, the objective could be to launch a new product successfully, and a key result could easily be to get 200 new hot leads and book 50 first sales meetings.

Ok. Where does communication come into play here?

Easy.

When you look at the job of getting 200 new leads, you need to figure out where to find them but – more importantly – WHAT to tell them in order to get them interested, so they become a hot new lead, you can work with.

In order to know what to tell them, you need to have a clearly crafted value proposition and a wording of it that resonates with the intended target audience, so you can optimize your conversion.

That’s all about communication and getting the actual words right.

Furthermore, in order to be on the radar of your future customers, when you try to convert them into hot leads, you need to have created awareness and a presence about your startup, your brand and, most importantly, your product(s). And you need to have done so in a way that is available and convincing in a way that sits well with your future customers.

That’s all about communication, too.

Finally, when you have the sales meetings, you need to ensure that the people you meet get hooked enough to buy. They need to be convinced by those final killer arguments for why your product is the solution to their problem, and doing so in a scalable way requires not only a solid structure but also – again – the most effective words.

Surprise, that’s communication too.

All in all a focus on great end effective communications is a powerful an extremely valuable driver for driving sales. It’s not just a marketing job – and yes, marketing is communications too. And communications is not only about PR and looking good on SoMe.

So do yourself a favor and prioritize your communications efforts in your startup. Doing it right can – almost – be translated to money in the bank.

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Always stay alert

Just because you have made it once, doesn’t mean that you have made it forever.

Just as you replaced an incumbent by delivering a better, smarter, cheaper or whatever solution to your customers pains, somebody else could come in tomorrow and do to you what you did to them.

Just as you worked tenaciously to get to where you are today and be successful, numerous other players are plotting the same way against you as we speak.

So always stay alert. Always be ready to change and transform what you’re doing in order to stay ahead.

The second you stop doing that you risk becoming a lame duck.

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”What’s your pain?”

One of the worst sins you can commit with a customer IMHO is to just babble on about your own qualities and all the cool things your product can do, without even considering getting a feel for what the customers problem first.

I know. Because I have committed this sin a lot of times. And lived to regret it.

In start of going in and just pitching what you have, you should start by asking what problem(s) the customer is experiencing.

When they then start talking about their pain(s) – and you ask good follow-up questions – you start getting a feel for what they need. And if you’re any good you’re able to put yourself and your product into that context as THE solution to the customers problem(s).

Relief of pain is important for customers. A lot of them will probably even be measured on their ability to solve a problem, deliver a specific result og succeed at some level, where your help and product could be the missing tool they need.

And if the pain is big enough, and you position yourself and your solution exactly where the pain is, the chances of you making a sale is much, much bigger.

When you think about it it’s not really rocket science. It’s ‘just’ a matter of being able to start out listening more than you have the propensity to talk.

Just ask: “What do you need?”. And then take it from there.

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(In)efficiency rocks

Maybe the headline is a bit controversial, but let me try to explain what I mean.

Oftentimes I see products that are super efficient in who they are targeted towards. You can see from the product and the words being used to tell about it that the team behind has been guided by a very clear idea of who they were building the product for.

All that is good. In some respects. But potentially limiting in others.

Of course it’s great to have alignment with who you are solving a problem for as it should increase your chances of getting Product Market-fit for your product. The flipside however is that that exact approach has a risk of you being limited in your thinking and thus in what your product could do and become, if you had a bigger perspective.

A lot of this has to do with setting the right strategy, and even though many will claim that they have had thoughtful strategy processes, it is also rather safe to say that not all people who work on developing strategies are great strategists.

If for instance the people in charge of developing your product strategy are very minded on a specific outcome, chances are that they will build the plan that suits their purpose and delivers on what they wanted in the first place. And they might very well not be the best or most profitable plan.

Thus what you should do is first of all to ensure that your strategy planning has the right source of altitude from the beginning, so you really get the broadest possible view of the horizon. And then you should go about being inefficient in building your product.

Now, that sounds pretty horrible, so what does it mean?

Essentially it just means that you should resist the urge to have a specific, narrow outcome in mind and build your product towards that. Yes, you might be able to get a very efficient process going towards that goal, but the goal itself may well turn out to be limiting.

Instead by taking a more inefficient approach you’re being open towards outcomes. Your mind becomes broader, and your thinking in terms of how your product can be applied and for whom will be bigger and ultimately have greater chance of profitability. Provided of course that the features and value proposition of the product itself is still razor sharp.

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Solve my problem, please

Normally, we’re used to seeing startups looking to solve the problems of their customers.

But lately, I have realized that there is actually quite a lot of startups, who are essentially asking their customers to solve their own problems.

I typically see it in outreach emails asking me to go to a service or a product and do something specific; update something, try out a new feature or something of that nature. And it’s all perfectly fine.

But it also sends a signal that something is off; something is less than ideal. We have encountered a problem or a challenge on our end, and you, our dear customer, should ideally help us fix it.

Essentially, what you’re often communicating in this way is a shortcoming. Something you didn’t get right in the first place, and now you’re looking to compensate or perhaps even fix the issue.

You could of course argue that there is no other way than outreach to tell about new offers, features etc., and to a large extend, you would be right about that.

However, I could also make the argument that if you had a truly sticky product that your customers were so habitually using they knew it inside and out, they would find out these things themselves, and there would be little need to do outreach to already existing customers.

In summary: When your need to do outreach to your customers is on the increase, ask yourself where in your product or service, your core offering may be broken or less than ideal.

That is the problem, you should solve. Yourself.

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What’s the right price?

There are a number of fundamental questions in business, and one of the most fundamental ones to any business is the one of what to charge for your product?

Clearly there is not one 100% correct answer for that question as it always depends on a lot of different things. And yes, pricing is a science in itself and super hard to get right. But there are a few simple considerations to at least get you started.

They are: Cheap But Expensive, Optimum and Expensive For Good Reason.

The Cheap But Expensive option is the starter option. Yes, it will cost the customer less than the other ones, but in reality it is priced in a way to ensure, (1) you get your starting costs covered and (2) there is every incentive to upgrade to a more expensive solution.

Think of this as the small but overpriced ice cream cone that really just screams you were too cheap to get a bigger one.

The Optimum price point is where the offer makes financial sense compared to the value you’re getting as a customer. Yes, you pay, but you also have a pretty good understanding of why you are being asked to pay what you’re being asked. It can be a super hard point to reach and get right, but this is where you want to be also for the sake of customer retention.

Going back to the ice cream cone example from above this is where the ratio between price and the scoops of ice, you get makes sense, and where you think the value is good enough that you also with a happy heart buy for your friends and family.

The final price point – the Expensive For Good Reason – is the where customers demands more of you, and you basically say “Ok, but it’s going to cost you then”.

This is a scary point for startups because it’s usually here where pilot customers, who haven’t really paid that much (if anything), and which the startup needs to prove its case to investors, reside; putting huge demands on the team for promised service, support and updates for very little if any return.

This is the price point where it’s ok to be greedy as a startup and consider that if a customer is asking too much, you can do the same in terms of asking for more money. Yes, you risk losing the customer, but if it was essentially making a loss, you’re in 99,5 % of all cases better off without it anyway.

At the ice cream vendor this is where you as a customer just want an obscene amount of ice cream in your cone, and you’re just billed accordingly. A totally fair exchange of value.

So in summary: Getting pricing right is super, super hard, but if you have more price points than one, you will want 3 price points:

A low price point that covers as much of your cost as possible and provides a clear upgrade incentive,

A middle one that scales well (“Most Popular Option”, as it’s often called),

And one for special requirements, where you basically ensure you get very well compensated for going out of your way to satisfy a very needy customer with their special needs – without getting distracted from your strategy and roadmap to support it.

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