Early Stage Marketing

How To Secure Customer Traction

Gaining Traction

Communicating value clearly, concisely and competitively is essential for establishing a customer connection. However, securing traction requires more. There are three approaches that startups often overlook.

Driving Business Growth

I had the pleasure of speaking to the companies participating in the 500 Mexico City startup incubator program on the topic of, How to Drive Business Growth with Change Marketing.

500 Mexico City

In the one-on-one working sessions that followed, securing customer traction was the most discussed challenge. Since my experience with other incubators has been so similar, I want to review three approaches that startups overlook or undervalue.

1.  Start by focusing on the optimal target customer

Not all potential customers are equal. Target market definition work needs to get beyond identifying prospects with interest, to those most likely to purchase. Startup resources are scarce and need to be focused or precious time and money are lost. I have developed an approach to defining a target market called PRO.

The Approach

Potential: These are the potential customers that would be interested in your product/service. Census data is often a source for understanding and sizing the market at the interest level. However, this is too general to be of use in establishing your go-to-market strategy.

Reachable: These are the potential customers where active “highways” exist to reach them efficiently. Association membership lists are an example of one possible source for identifying the reachable market. This enables a startup to use a one-to-many communications strategy to save time and money, and is preferable to the typical one-to-one communications that most startups employ.

Optimal: These are potential customers that are most likely to use your product successfully and are exhibiting buying behavior. Topical conference attendance lists is an example of a source for identifying this group. It is here that the startup should focus its customer acquisition strategy and tactics in order to achieve traction.

An Example

A startup was generating interest in its service, but was experiencing very low closure rates, even after investing a tremendous amount of time educating the prospect. Two shifts in perspective are required to alter the outcome.

  • Stop Trying to Change Behavior: The effort to change behavior was being underestimated. The traditional way to order this service was via a telephone call. This startup was asking the customer to change their behavior by ordering online—something most were unwilling to do.
  • Start Leveraging Existing Behavior: When we discussed the criteria for an optimal customer, we were able to shift the focus to identifying potential customers that were already ordering online, leveraging existing behavior. This lead to a very different group of customers being targeted, which dramatically improved the odds for securing traction.

2.  Make customers a peer in your communications

It is important to remember that you are biased in the eyes of the potential customer. They know that you are trying to sell them something. Having existing customers communicate your message is far more credible and impactful. Potential customers have, at the top of their list, determining whether someone like them is already using the product/service and what their experience has been.

The Approach

Think of every secured customer as a communications partner. At the earliest possible moment, have your customers speak, in their own voice, about their experience. Include this on your website, in press releases and in sales collateral. Start with quotes, move on to case studies or testimonials and then joint presentations at relevant industry forums.

An Example

I had a client that thought the best message the company could deliver to its prospects was, “We have no agenda other than enabling yours,” which is an expression of, “we have your best interests at heart.” So we included that thought in the testing along with 11 other messages. It came in dead last—bottom of the heap. It is simply not believable. The prospect knows you are trying to sell them something and will discount these kinds of statements.

One of the startups that I met with last week had an impressive number of customers and told me their stories, only after I asked. They had not yet involved the customers in communicating their message. Many startups want to go deeper and deeper into the company storyline without realizing the seismic shift that can occur by making the customer a true peer in their communication efforts.

3.  Understand customer realities before choosing

 your go-to-market strategies

Most startups assume that they are operating a standalone business with a standalone product. There are market segments and times in the industry life-cycle where this is possible. However, there are many cases where the optimal target customer will neither accept standalone products nor tolerate the risk that a startup represents. This is particularly true in B2B situations.

The Approach

Understanding the existing market conditions that affect product adoption is essential. In some cases, bringing your product to market as part of a bundled solution with an existing vendor, or through a channel partner, may be the only way to establish traction.

An Example

Two different startups described market conditions where a large company competitor had entered their space before they had gained traction. In both cases, looking at who would make good strategic partners became essential rather than continuing down the go-it-alone path. We looked at companies that were already selling a noncompetitive product to the startup’s optimal target customer. This offered the potential for creating a strategic and economic win/win, as both an incremental revenue opportunity and a path to securing traction.

While, there is more that could be said on this topic, my intent in sharing these approaches and examples is to help startups shift their perspective to actions they can take to secure customer traction and drive their business growth.


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