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Are Marketing and Sales the Same Thing for Startups?

It used to be that marketing and sales were two separate creatures.

In one corner, marketing focused on building brand awareness among target audiences. In another corner, sales was about driving leads and deals. Like church and state, the two worlds rarely converged.

For startups, however, this model can’t be embraced because, frankly, it doesn’t work. When you’re operating with limited or modest resources, having marketing and sales operate independently with their own distinct mandates is a recipe for disaster.

Instead, marketing and sales need to be mashed together or, at least, structured to be cohesive and coordinated groups that support and nurture each other. In many respects, marketers need to be salespeople, while salespeople have to be marketers.

With a fluid structure in place, a startup’s goals (customers, sales, profits) can be positioned as the common good, regardless of someone’s role or title.

This struck me as a key takeaway from a conference I attended earlier this week hosted by Klass Capital and PwC. There were two panels: one about marketing (which I was on) and a second on sales that featured Paul Jackson (Method CRM), Kirk Simpson (Wave Accounting), Don Mal (Vena Solutions) and Jason Atkins (360 Incentives)

All four CEOs head up venture-backed startups that are aggressively working to establish their brands and products within competitive markets. As they drive forward, it is easy to see how marketing and sales are working in parallel strategically and tactically.

In some respects, it’s like a 1 + 1 = 3 proposition where math not only works, but it has to work.

As marketers, it is sometimes easy to get tangled up in brand building, which involves a many moving parts. You begin to think that given all the hard marketing work being done, customers should be enthusiastically knocking on the door to buy your product.

As a result, it is easy to forget the sales process is oozing with marketing at each stage within the funnel. As a customer goes from awareness to exploration to consideration to purchase, marketing needs to help drive the process forward.

Given this reality, marketing and sales have to be working side by side to optimize what each other is doing. Just as marketing supports sales, sales drives marketing by working to ramp up the brand’s awareness and stature.

For startups looking to drive growth, the best move may be to have your marketing and sales people work together to determine the best ways to collectively be successful.

What do you think? Is this the way to go for startups?

If you’re looking for strategic and marketing help, my company, ME Consulting, works startups and fast-growing companies looking to jump-start their efforts.

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How is Your Startup Unique or Different?

In a competitive landscape, one of the most important consideration is standing out from the crowd.

For startups, this is crucial because the barriers to entry are relatively low, while new or innovative ideas can quickly be replicated by agile rivals.

It means startups must identify how they are unique and different to position the brand and carve out a competitive edge, even if that edge is minor. If this can’t be achieved, the danger is a startup comes across as just a me-too product.

The problem is being unique or different is not easy. There is so much competition that startups need to be creative, flexible and bold. It is a challenge to make happen but there can be significant rewards for making it happen.

So how do startups discover what makes these different or unique?

It begins with diving into competitive landscape to really look at how rivals have positioned themselves. Who rises above the crowd, and how do they do it? What are the things that every rival claims – e.g user-friendly, intuitive, efficient. etc.? To get a better grasp of where everyone sits, it might even help to create a graph that places companies in different buckets (e.g. free, freemium, premium, SMB, etc.)

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By doing a competitive analysis, a startup can identify the best opportunities to stake a claim on how it different or unique.

A good example of a startup that successfully managed to establish its uniqueness is 500px, which plays in the ultra-competitive photo-sharing market. So how does a startup find a place where it can be seen as different?

For 500px, the magic happened when it positioned itself as the place where photographers could display their most beautiful photographs. 500px is not a place to show your good photographs, but only what you consider to be the best.

By positioning the brand in this way, 500px managed to create a unique place for itself. In the process, it attracted well-known and high-quality photographers who liked the idea of having a place for their best shots. This, in turn, generated significant buzz, which attracted many more photographers who wanted to be part of the community.

One of the most important lessons from looking at 500px is a startup doesn’t have to be significantly different or unique; it just needs to have a slant, angle or approach that isn’t like everyone else. In many ways, 500px has the same features as other photo-sharing services but its ability to stand out has created the impression it is truly unique.

It is not an easy task to be unique or different but it is a competitive necessity if a startup wants to avoid on other marketing techniques such as relying low prices or spending a lot of money on advertising.

So spend the time and energy to focus on how you’re unique and different. Do your homework, do a lot of research, talk to potential and existing customers, bounce ideas off people who don’t a vested interest in your startup, brainstorm and experiment. At some point along the way, you may hit the jackpot when what makes you unique or different bubbles to the surface.

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Five Reasons Startups Are Afraid of Marketing

five tipsEarlier this week, I did a post that asked: Where are Canada’s startup marketers? It spawned a flurry of insightful comments, suggestions and thoughts on the startup marketing landscape and what needs to be done to develop more talent.

Among the comments, two jumped out because they nailed key issues:

Stuart MacDonald: “The broader issue is that 99% of startups don’t know what marketing *is* so they don’t value it.”

Francis Moran: “I do agree that the biggest problem with startup marketing is that too many startups don’t understand how marketing is mission critical.”

To run with this theme, here are five reasons why startups are afraid of marketing:

1. They don’t understand it. As Stuart and Francis make abundantly clear, most startups don’t understand marketing. It’s not part of their skill-set, experience or DNA. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know. This makes it difficult to understand the role and value of marketing. It has nothing to do with knowledge or expertise but, rather, a grasp on a different, but important, topic.

2. It costs money. Let’s face it, marketing costs money to make happen – whether you’re doing it in-house, through freelancers or via consultants. When given the choice between hiring a salesperson, who generates revenue, and a marketing person, who eats revenue, it is easy to understand why it’s easier for startups to pick the former. The key thing startups need to understand is marketing works when the amount of new business coming in outweighs the amount being spent on marketing. Of course, it is impossible to see how this would work if you don’t do any marketing.

3. They don’t see it as a priority. To many startups, the most important priorities are product development and sales, followed by hiring talent and raising money. Somewhere down the line, comes marketing. In many cases, the need for marketing only arises after a point of pain emerges such as a Website that doesn’t convert, rivals getting more media/blog coverage, messaging that potential customers don’t understand, or the need for more marketing collateral.

4. It’s hard to measure success. It’s not really, particularly digitally, but there is a perception that marketing campaigns are sent into the ether in the hope they will generate some kind of return such as Website visits, in-bound emails, telephone calls, leads and sales. Again, it goes back to not understanding how marketing works and why it needs to be done.

5. Marketers are strange creatures. Marketers talk differently, they use strange words (KPIs, anyone?), they’re slick, always trying to sell you something or get you to do something, and they’re into creative concepts and brainstorming sessions. In other words, marketers are different, in many ways, from developers or, for that matter, salespeople. Yes, we can be a bit slick and we like to talk fast but we have good intentions and a focus on helping startups succeed.

Bonus: Another challenge for startups is not knowing who they should exactly hire to do marketing. What skills and experience should that person have? How do they measure this person’s performance? How do they decide between different candidates?

The key message here is marketing has a definite role to play within a startup, along with programming, sales, HR, customer service, etc. It needs to be part of the mix for a startup to have a shot at success.

Where Are Canada’s Startup Marketers?

you need thisAt the risk of ruffling a few feathers, here’s a question: where are Canada’s startup marketers?

We’re teeming with developers but there appears to be a dearth of startup marketers who can help to nurture and grow viable businesses. As much as many startups may look at marketing as a necessary evil, marketing is a key ingredient for success. Without enough marketing talent, many startups may never realize their potential.

My thesis is based on a growing number of conversations with startups entrepreneurs who are finding it challenging, if not impossible, to find good marketing people.

One entrepreneur told me: “We have a big job and a big opportunity. Where’s the marketing talent?”. Another company is considering recruiting someone from the U.S. to fill a senior marketing position.

So, why the lack of marketing talent?

Does it have to do with the fact most startups are not created by marketing people? Is it the nascent nature of the startup community, which means there aren’t many marketers with solid startup experience? Or is there simply a lack of marketing talent overall in Canada?

Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t overshadow the reality that startups need good marketers, along with top-notch programmers, salespeople, designers, community managers and business developers.

Marketing helps to take your product to the next level, letting it and the brand establish a presence and connect with target audiences. Marketing lets you tell compelling stories in a way that is different or better than the competition.

One the realities for startup marketers is they need to be multi-faceted. They can’t just be good at one thing such as communications or lead generation. Instead, they need to be good, or at least competent, at many things. This could range from writing and SEO to AdWords, social media, strategic alliances and product marketing.

Finding someone with these skills can be a challenge because marketers tend to be specialized. They’re really good at a particular practice but they’re not “five tools” players to steal a baseball term. When you work for a startup, however, being able to multi-task is important, particularly within the world of lean.

One of the best insights into the role the startup marketer was provided recently by Marcelo Calbucci, who nailed it with this paragraph in a Geekwire column:

“You have to know (nearly) it all. You don’t have to be good at everything, but you have to have enough exposure and experience at all levels of the marketing “stack” to be able to make good calls on how to spend your time, money and other startups resources in order to maximize the value you bring to the table. It’s not enough to be a brilliant marketing strategist and not know how to execute those strategies. It’s not enough to have a bag full of tactical tricks if you can’t create cohesion for the company positioning. It’s not enough to be a master of Social Media and have no idea how SEO works.”

A couple of weeks ago, Neil Bhapkar, Uberflip’s director of marketing, wade into the conversation with a lengthy blog post, “The Truth About Startup Marketing” that outlined the different things he had done during his digital marketing career, and how he brings many things to the table to drive Uberflip’s marketing.

“I don’t spend my days thinking about our overall marketing strategy, but rather I spend my days executing, leading, and generally trying new things within the framework of our overall marketing strategy.”

To become a startup marketer, you need a mix of different experiences AND/OR you need to have an appetite to be a generalist rather than a specialist. Within a startup, the marketing needs and priorities evolve and change, sometimes abruptly. It means a startup marketer has to be flexible, agile and able to take on challenges as they emerge.

While it may not be possible to formally train startup marketers, the way to create them is to provide people with hands-on startup experience where they can learn, experiment and gain experience.

Given marketing is still plays a secondary role for many Canadian startups, it could take time to nurture lots of startup marketers but there’s no doubt we need more of them for the ecosystem to thrive.

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Case Studies Are a No-Brainer for Startups

case studyCase study: “A documented study of a specific real-life situation or imagined scenario, used as a training tool in business schools and firms.”

From the outside looking in, case studies are far from glamorous or sexy. Heck, they sound downright boring.

But if you dismiss case studies, you’re making a mistake, particularly for startups looking to attract new users.

Why is that?

The biggest reason is case studies (aka success stories) bridge the gap between what your product does and how people actually use it. This is an important gap to close between it lets customers take three steps:

1. Understand what your product does and how it works.

2. See how it could benefit them.

3. Buy your product.

One of the biggest challenges in making this happen (aka the sales funnel) is potential customers need to not only grasp how your product works and the benefits it delivers but they have to get how they can successfully embrace it to do their jobs better, differently, more efficiently, etc.

This is where case studies can play a critical role. By creating case studies that highlight how different people are successfully using your product, it provides potential customers with a better idea of how the product works in the wild.

In other words, case studies let you put the spotlight on how the product is being used as opposed to what it looks and feels like on paper.

So how should start approach case studies?

To get going, it is important to think about case studies as stories rather than a “documented study of a specific real-life situation or imagined scenario”. To get people to read a case study, it needs to be engaging, educational or even entertaining.

Next, think about the different kinds of customers who are having success with your product. This gives you the opportunity to provide a variety of stories that could resonate with potential customers based on the idea your product meets the needs of different users in different ways.

Then, you want to interview customers to get their stories. Some of the questions include:

1. How did you learn about our product?

2. How do you use the product?

3. What are the biggest benefits? Can you provide an example of how it worked for you?

4. Have you discovered new or different users for the product, compared with original expectations?

5. Does the product deliver good value?

Another key question is how the product isn’t working, or how it could be improved. It is always difficult to hear criticism but it’s invaluable to hear this kind of feedback. And you would be surprised by how customers like it when you ask for their opinion because it shows you value their contributions.

Bottom line: If case studies are leveraged opportunities to tell a story about your product AND customers, they can be effective marketing and sales vehicles.

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Snapshot of VC Deals: ClearFit, Vidyard

clearfitWho: ClearFit, which makes it easy for organizations of any size to find and hire the best people. Vidyard, which offers a video hosting and analytics platform.

How much:
- ClearFit: $7 million in series A funding led by GrandBanks Capital, as well as Relay Ventures.
- Vidyard: $6-million from are OMERS VenturesiNovia CapitalSoftTech VC and Jill Rowleyvidyard

The Quote:
- “We’ve experienced incredible growth this year and we’re scaling ClearFit to keep up with demand,” said ClearFit co-founder Jamie Schneiderman. “Scaling this quickly would be impossible without our own product to help us find the best people for our culture quickly.”

- “Our journey to this point has been nothing short of remarkable and I’m happy to announce that we’ve secured Series A financing from an amazing group of investors. This deal comes on the tail of significant momentum as we continue to develop the “video marketing platform” category. We are now poised to grow our market leadership via world-class product integrations and a continued focus on enhancing the features that our marketers crave,”Michael Litt, founder and CEO of Vidyard.

ClearFit raised $1.7 million in 2012 from Relay Ventures and a group of Toronto investors. More than 8,000 businesses use ClearFit, which has patented software that uses data analysis to predict employment success five times better than traditional hiring, all included in the cost of a regular job postings.

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