Startups that work sell stuff. This can be a product or a service, but a customer or consumer will buy something. I thought it was time for a post on product marketing. Given that my focus is B2B marketing, product marketing is a big deal.
Will customers buy this?
Two of my recent marketing roles at startups have begun with the request from the sales team ‘we need some product fact sheets’ and so the following happens; I sit down with the tech team to hear all about the speeds and feeds, protocols and standards, but at the end of what is a fairly one-way conversation I am left with the same question: ‘So what?’ Or to put it another way, ‘why will customers buy this?’
In my experience entrepreneurs often want to tell you everything about their product – I mean everything. It’s a bit like asking an acquaintance about how he or she is and then getting a detailed rundown of their medical history when ‘I’m doing fine’ would have been OK.
The challenge we have as marketers is to cut through the enthusiasm for the features and get to the benefits and fast. Given that as a start up, no one knows who we are, we have to give them plenty of reasons to want to buy our product or service or they will move on. And yes, you don’t have a second chance to make a first impression.
Getting started with product marketing
So if that’s the case what steps do we need to take to crack product marketing? Here is my limited checklist:
- What does this product/service actually do?
- How do we expect people to use this?
- What are the benefits to the customer in real terms? Will it save them time? Money?
- Headcount? Give them new insights into their business?
- How easy or quickly can the benefits be realised?
- What else is out there already and why would a customer want to switch?
- Is there an ROI model we can show?
Many a startup pivot has occurred when companies look at how the product is actually being used by customers and realise that it bears little or no resemblance to how it was originally marketed.
Emphasising the benefits of your product
The other thing to work out is how long it will take until the benefits we claim the product/ service offers are realised. Ideally the quicker, the better, but there has to be a level of expectation set with the customer, or else trouble is not far away.
Additionally, think about what is the customer purchase journey and what steps need to be taken is it a simple sign up on the website or a paid for proof of concept? I remember working with a workflow software company with a sales person telling me that prospects had to send in old invoices to be scanned to set up a trial. I encouraged them to get an online demo put on the site quickly.
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While fact sheets and white papers are important, you have to figure out first up who will be signing the cheque for the product, as well as who will use it as both will want very different bits of information. The other point to be mindful of is making claims about your product you can’t back up. At best you will lose credibility at worst you could lose your shirt! If done well product marketing can make the company. Done badly and yes you know the story.