No one spends the time, effort, and money required to launch an Internet start-up without the desire to create the “next big thing.” The wealth that has been created by companies like Google, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, LinkedIn and Snapchat, from what appears to be “thin air,” is staggering. Many words have been written about these companies, and much analysis has been done, but one undeniable thread runs through each of these great successes, and likely most financially successful Internet start-ups: perpetual rebuilding and re-marketing are essential to facilitate successful selling. Not one of these companies was successfully “sold” until they had something to sell that had undergone many product iterations and had been successfully marketed.
The cliché rings very true: “It takes a lifetime to be an overnight success.”
Before you have any chance to successfully “sell” any Internet-based service, you must first be comfortable the service provides benefits people want; then, you must build awareness in the marketplace. Initially, you are the only one who knows about your “next great thing.” It is easy to get caught up in your own hype. You have likely put significant time and money into creating something you feel is amazingly powerful and universally desirable. However, the market will not build itself; customers will not simply “come because you built it.” You must create awareness in the marketplace, via marketing and PR (public relations), before you get any chance for success in the sales process.
Who’s driving your bus and where is it going?
Before selling your product or service you must create awareness within the market. To accomplish this critical task you must know who is responsible for “driving this bus?” Someone in your organization must be responsible, and empowered, to build and lead the team of people required to take you to the promised land. Building awareness for something new is not easy and is almost impossible to accomplish on one’s own. It requires significant forethought, planning, organization, creativity, discipline, coordination, teamwork and patience. In addition, it is highly unlikely you will “get it right” on the first try. Just because you know how great your product and/or service is, no one outside your organization (or inner circle) knows or cares in the beginning. If you cannot take responsibility, personally, for the entire day-to-day “grind” of awareness building, make absolutely sure you have someone leading your team who can. Building awareness is not something that just happens, yet it is essential to getting to the ultimate goal – successful selling.
Once you’ve figured out who is driving the bus, then you need to make sure you know where your bus is supposed to make its first stop. Your bus might be traveling from New York to California, but that trip cannot be “non-stop.” While it’s very important to have a long-term (“stretch”) goal, it’s the individual steps that must not be ignored. Setting clear, and attainable, short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives for the journey is essential. The driver, whether you or someone else, cannot be expected to safely drive 24/7. The bus needs to stop for fuel and maintenance, the driver(s) need to be rested, and the passengers need to eat and go to the restroom.
What’s the message?
Complex ideas and concepts are created, productized, marketed and sold everyday. Complexity is not the enemy of marketing, but it can make things more challenging. The first question you need to ask and answer is: What’s the simplest message I can create that communicates the essential benefit of my product / service? Ideally, you should be able to tell the essential message in 30 seconds or less, and this message should be able to fit on the back of your business card. Keep working on your message until you get to this point. Then, step back and create a strategy that supports the message.
Think Big. Start Small.
What is your very first target market? Before you can successfully sell, you need to build awareness within the marketplace. Don’t allow yourself to drink too much of your own Kool Aide. Everyone is not a target market. The object here is to find an initial balance between market size and addressability. The task of building market demand through awareness creation is a marathon, and there must be a first step. No one has ever sold to everyone until they have made their first sale to someone. Before any building / structure can have a solid foundation, you will want to dig a few holes to see what the ground really looks like. The process of discovery is critical and should not be skipped. Even if you think you are a veteran, don’t forget, whatever you have in front of you now is brand new.
Stacking the deck
No one can guarantee they know how to build the awareness for your product / service that will yield the demand you need to be successful in the sales process. Everyone is in search of the elusive formula that will deliver predictably “viral” results. Unfortunately, it is probably easier to predict where lightning will strike than it is to engineer something to “go viral.”
Don’t waste your time trying to game the system; instead, spend your time stacking the deck in your favor and learning to count cards.
“Stacking the deck” in this context means making sure you have as much understanding, with respect to the narrowly focused market(s) you are targeting, as possible. You need to know where the people “hang out?” What websites they read and how are they socially connected? It is impossible to successfully build awareness in today’s diverse world without a deep understanding of the social linkages between individuals and the products / services they consume. Human beings are the most social of creatures. This is a fact that has been true since we crawled out of the primordial soup. It was not until the invention of movable type (Gutenberg), which lead to the invention of the Internet, that we began to actually measure and understand just how intertwined our inherent social connectivity is when it comes to the products and services we consume.
To successfully create awareness for something new, with the intention of building the necessary demand to support robust sales, a deep understanding of today’s social media landscape is absolutely required. Without this knowledge and understanding, you will likely find it impossible to reach even the most modest of target markets.
Show me the money! Show me the data!
When human beings dig in the ground for precious metals, we call this mining. It should come as no surprise that we use the same term (mining) in relationship to data. In his best selling book “Moneyball,” author Michael Lewis tells the story of how the Oakland Athletics baseball team used an “…analytical, evidence-based, sabermetric approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite it’s disadvantaged revenue situation.” I contend that any new product / service being brought to market in today’s hyper-competitive Internet-centric world is analogous to the Oakland Athletics “disadvantaged revenue situation.” It stands to reason data, and effective “data mining,” is an essential for anyone who intends to build demand for a new product / service. Without a comprehensive understanding of the data, much of which is freely available, it’s like trying to fly a plane through a hurricane without instruments.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to bringing something new to market, especially something that is Internet based. However, I do believe it is possible to give oneself an edge over “the house” by following these steps:
- Build something you think is great. Take the time to get it right. Give yourself time to iterate. Don’t keep your secret forever, but don’t rush to market. Being first is not a guarantee of success, just ask Yahoo!, AltaVista, MySpace, and Friendster.
- Generate demand through market awareness before you expect to have success selling. Don’t drink too much of your own Kool Aide. While you might think your idea is the best thing since Facebook, no one outside your organization has any idea what you’ve done, and, in the beginning, they don’t care.
- Make sure you have the right person driving your bus, and make sure (s)he is supported and empowered.
- Mine the social data. It is highly likely the answers to all, or most, of your questions are available to you.
- Keep the correct perspective. It is impossible to sell something for which there is little or no demand. If you have really created something unique, you must build awareness before you will see any demand, and without demand, there will be no sales. This is not a “chicken and the egg” puzzle; awareness before demand before sales.
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