This is the second in a series of posts on sales and marketing. In my last post, we discussed the importance of good messaging for communicating your value to the marketplace. For those of you who haven’t seen the previous post, I started this series with messaging (marketing) because I believe it is only possible to reach your sales potential once you know how to communicate your value clearly. With this new post, we will move on to the beginning of the sales process.
Once you have developed good company and product messaging, the next step is to begin thinking about how to most effectively reach out to and attract the greatest number of qualified customers. The use of the term ‘qualified customer’ is important here, and it means that you focus on targeting people who you believe will be interested in your offerings. So for example, if you are providing an enterprise-grade security product it is best to target security professionals at large companies and those that influence them. Targeting small business owners or HR managers would be less effective as these would not be prospects directly interested in your products.
Though customer acquisition is often thought to be the sole realm of sales and/or business development, the truth is that the beginning of the sales or customer acquisition process begins with marketing. Effective marketing, in my belief, really has three different functions, these are:
- create awareness (make prospects know you exist),
- inform, educate, differentiate, and impress (to make your products stand out and be attractive), and
- create a strong desire or urgency to purchase, sign-up, participate, and/or tell others right away (essential for sales and customer growth).
All of these aspects of effective marketing are critical for your sales and business development efforts as they make the sales process easier and more productive.
Before I get into discussing best practices, let’s talk about how most high-tech startups begin their sales process to discuss some instructive lessons. As you may know, many high-tech startups begin their sales process by putting up a basic web site with some general product information, and if selling a product, by hiring commission-only sales people and cold calling potential prospects. Though these approaches are low cost and fairly easy to do, they are generally very ineffective, and so turn out to be very expensive in terms of lost time.
So you might ask, why don’t these methods work? The primary reason for why these methods generally do not work is that an important market need, primarily ‘trust’, is not being addressed properly. It is a known human characteristic that people tend to be most comfortable purchasing products or joining groups associated with people they trust, from brands they trust, or as a result of recommendations from people they trust (like friends or family). So if prospects are provided with an uninteresting or confusing web site, a poorly trained, junior sales rep, and/or an unsolicited phone call or email, they are going to be faced with unpleasant signals that they will likely not trust and will work to ignore or turn away.
What is better is to be more strategic and to employ approaches focused on building trust. Raw messaging is a start (my last post), but to reach its full potential messaging needs to be turned into polished collateral materials and bundled into campaigns and programs to really become effective. Key collateral materials include the company’s web site or web sites, brochures, white papers, case studies/testimonials, sales presentations, and technical presentations. These materials ensure that your sales force, partners, and business development team are ready to interact professionally with customer and partner prospects on a moment’s notice.
Campaigns are really the core of effective customer acquisition. Campaigns are strategic marketing initiatives in which multiple activities are synchronized and rolled-out over time in order to generate a significant amount of customer excitement, stoke customer demand, and generate plenty of signups or inquiries for the sales force to follow-up. Some standard themes for a campaign can include a new product launch, limited time discounts tied to a product or bundle, a partner or reseller program launch, etc.
The key components that are part of most successful campaigns include a well-defined central theme (ie product launch, discount, etc.), multiple marketing channels for getting the word out (ie PR announcements, web site(s) and/or micro site(s), partners, trade shows, email/direct mail, advertising, etc.), defined dates and time frames, consistent messaging, and continuous, synchronized communication with the marketplace during the time frame. Campaigns help companies to get above the noise of the marketplace and grab the attention of the customer while limited time frames help drive urgency.
In addition to campaigns, startups should also drive dedicated programs (ie PR, newsletters, advertising, blogs, email/direct mail, etc.) that reach out to different target segments over the course of the year. These programs keep the prospects in these segments aware of the company’s progress and ensure that they are thinking about the company and its products. This strategy when coupled with webinars, seminars, warm calls, etc. typically provides a much better reception for sales and business development activities as there is already a sense of familiarity, name brand recognition (brand), and potentially trust that has been built up over time.
So now with an understanding of the key types of collateral materials you need, key campaigns you should launch, and programs you should have in place, you can start building your customer base. In my next post I will spend more time talking about engaging with your potential customers as well as the rest of the sales process.
Well, that’s it for now, and until next time have a great day!