Want leads? Don't forget the marketing.
At Acument LLC, we’ve been talking to a lot of startups lately. The conversations are always about one thing: leads. How to get leads, how to convert leads, how to pay as little as possible for leads, and so on.
In the spirit of running a startup that is…. Revenue-focused, lean, high growth, able to pivot…all of those words that mean, “Spend as little as possible to grow FAST,” many CEOs focus on leads as a standalone marketing strategy.
The thinking goes like this: “Until I get some sales on the board, I can’t really afford to do any marketing. But I do understand that I need a few leads in order to sell, so I’ll buy some Facebook ads. I understand they have really good targeting.”
Quickly, a lesson is learned: Facebook ads are not a demand generation strategy. At least not on their own.
If you throw promotion dollars out into the market without awareness, targeting and a way to track performance, it’s like the time you forgot your EZPass, slowed to a stop and tried to pull out of the toll booth in 5th gear. Sure, if you’re a pro you can get the engine going without stalling, but you’re just put-putting while everyone else zooms by.
To convert leads into customers, even the leanest of lean startups will find that demand generation requires two things: Content and Campaigns.
Content: A Compelling Story in Multiple Formats
If you’re in the technology business, presumably you have a product or service that could change the world. But can your prospective customers see that?
At a startup, your company brand and your product brand are often the same, and the nimble way you run your business means your story can evolve rapidly. In a startup environment, your Marketing investment is necessary, but different from what you’d see at larger firms.
At a startup, the expensive, polished brand strategy project can wait. For now, do three things:
1. Establish an identity that grows with you.
At the startup stage, keep your brand identity simple. Avoid lengthy, expensive agency spending, and don’t get distracted by creating and updating slogans. A mission statement with a logo, look and feel will get you started. As your company grows and changes, you may need to reposition as you enter new markets or sunset old products. When that time comes, a more sophisticated brand strategy is appropriate.
2. Craft a messaging architecture that will support you for at least a year.
The formality of a messaging architecture sounds unnecessary when you’ve got a product to sell, but do it. A good messaging architecture explains and differentiates who you are and what you do in a way that is identifiable, but not limited to specific product details. Your messaging architecture will be the difference between consistency and crazy in the coming months.
3. Make your content investment proportional to sales cycle and deal size.
No one closes $1M software deal with a 1-pager. Prior to making a decision, a B2B buyer needs to see your story in a way that speaks to them, over and over again, before they buy. If your sales cycle is long and your expected deal size is large, invest accordingly in the information your customers need to commit to you.
Campaigns: Promotion with a Purpose
“We’ll have marketers run campaigns eventually. Right now, though, our Sales team is handling it.”
– CEO of a startup
“I don’t have sales tools, a list, or any time to think about marketing. I’m using my budget to buy ads. We’ll get some leads and work the phones.”
-Head of Sales at a startup
These points of view are commonly expressed, and the paid promotion + cold calls approach has worked for someone at least once. But there’s a better way: treat your sales efforts as campaigns from the start, and never stop.
All campaigns have one thing in common: A specific, measurable goal.
At a business, the broad goal is some form of sales and profitability. At a startup, developing a more specific goal leads to shorter sales cycles and more wins. Examples of specific goals include:
· Schedule 25 demos with CTOs of healthcare companies
· Meet with the top 100 customers of our closest competitors
· Book appointments with 50 prospects who already buy from our partners
Campaigns can cost a little or a lot, depending on the goals and timeframe you set. The best path to success is to think about campaigns as an investment that delivers both short term and long term gains:
1. Short term: Achieve the goal
Seriously. Set a goal that is more specific than “more deals.” Get your promotion strategy, content and tactics together. Need help? Ask an outside advisor like Acument LLC who can push your campaign out the door in less than 30 days.
2. Near term: Adjust your portfolio
A successful campaign includes a Test and Learn strategy. If you’re posting ads that aren’t leading to conversions, or some pieces of content yield leads while others don’t, that’s powerful information. Instead of treating mini failures as sunk costs, use marketing analytics to finely hone your strategy.
3. Long term: Keep your investment in play
A prospect that didn’t convert during the course of a campaign might feel like a short term fail, but their contact information is a long term win. As you continue to run campaigns and build your database, you have the chance to run a long term engagement game. Prospects who don’t buy from you now are much more likely to buy from you later if they know and like what you have to offer. Driving sales from an existing pool of prospects is much faster and less expensive over time.
Still on the fence about investing in marketing campaigns? Keep in mind that your Sales team, while energetic and adept, will constantly keep their eyes on the prize: individual deals. In the absence of campaigns, for every deal that gets closed, dozens of prospects who weren’t quite ready to buy are ignored. That’s money and time down the drain.
Acument LLC delivers flexible marketing for consistent growth for companies of all shapes and sizes.