Imagine this: Your team decides to focus on a segment in the farming industry. Maybe your company goes through a complete rebrand, uses some of the value propositions learned through discussions with prospects, but nothing really changes in terms of marketing strategy and acquisition channels.
How long do you think it takes to get 10% of the market?
If you’ve truly nailed a niche, you’ll eventually get there through referrals and a bit of luck, but it will probably take a lot longer than you initially anticipated.
If the market is real (Read: What a Market Is and Isn’t), customers will reference each other when making a buying decision, and word of mouth will amplify your growth efforts.
But there first needs to be something to amplify.
To capture your beachhead market, you need to focus on growth velocity; this means speeding up (product) discovery by prospects within your target segment (farming!).
If you keep on relying on customers finding you and organic growth, you’ll have a hard time reaching the necessary velocity for market dominance.
That’s why you want to switch to a proactive growth strategy.
Proactive Growth & Growth Velocity
When you seek out and target the exact customers you exist to serve, you can focus your resources on leads that convert. You also don’t have to build the wrong thing to accommodate the wrong customers.
Now, the good thing is that almost all markets self-organize into groups. LinkedIn groups, meetups, trade groups, conferences, ad hoc communities on blogs or forums. Or maybe, they have common suppliers, or they advertise in the same magazines.
If you understand where your market’s attention is, you can make real headways.
Figure out where they hang, what they read, where they go.
Analyze their networks. Reverse past sales and acquisitions. How did your best customers find you? Can you repeat that?
You have to find the reliable and predictable parts of your model and double-down on those.
Now, the issue is that not all channels and strategies can work for this.
In a great talk, Growbots founder Greg Pietruszyński explains the different options for founders early on. He says:
- Marketing – like content marketing and brand – takes years. It’s not the easiest thing to start with.
- Paid advertisement can work, but it’s expensive.
- Organic growth – like search engine optimization – can also work, but it’s hard to get effective results early on.
- Outbound like outbound sales or cold emailing is typically the fastest way to get in front of targeted prospects and customers.
You have to think of marketing, sales or acquisition channels in two ways:
- Can this channel allow us to directly reach prospects from our market?
- If it works, can we scale it?
Scalable Sales & Acquisition Channels for B2B Startups
Realistically, you could start by doing things that don’t scale, capturing visibility on communities, blogs, forums and speaking at targeted events while slowly transitioning to more scalable sales and acquisition strategies like:
Seach Engine Marketing – promoting your product on search engines like Google, Bing or DuckDuckGo. This is how Lightspeed POS and Vidyard got their starts.
Social and Display Ads – advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. That’s how LANDR acquired a lot of its users. It’s also how Usertesting.com got started.
Outbound Sales – proactively reaching out to ideal customers via phone or email. That’s how Zenefits and Salesforce.com gained momentum in the market.
Existing Platforms/Distribution – Sometimes partnerships can work. And sometimes you can also leverage an existing platform used by your target market. That’s how Evernote and Airbnb got their start.
Growth specialist Brian Balfour says: “We always build our businesses off the back off someone else’s platform.”
That’s not false.
One last option may be what people in SaaS call “Engineering as Marketing” – building free tools or products solving the needs of target customers to gain traction and visibility. It’s a good way to position your brand as being ‘helpful’. It’s how HubSpot and RJMetrics found initial traction.
You need to experiment, find a system that works for your unique product/market combination and repeat it ad nauseum.
If you get it right, word of mouth will amplify your efforts creating a flywheel as you reach the right growth velocity.
A fragmented market – or many small markets – don’t make a big market. You might need to reinforce your beachhead market or create the channels for them to communicate if they’re not readily available, but that’s a risk. You have to make sure your beachhead is a real market first and commit.
In all scenarios, proactive growth leads to growth velocity. But proactivity is not enough on its own.
In an upcoming post, we’ll look at how founders can create company focus around growth. Sign up to our newsletter and get notified.
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