A common question on the Business of Software forum is "How do I get started..." - fill in the blank. Some people are seeking their first consulting clients, some their first product customers, and some are seeking people interested in their service; others are trying to grow their business. Whatever the situation, we all want to get the word out about our products or services and we'd like it to then spread like crazy.
Whatever you think of "marketing" or "sales", spreading the word is really all it's about. For most BOS readers, it's not about advertising, large marketing campaigns, or a giant sales force. It's about something else that I think can be summarized in these seven steps. Individually, these are all good ideas for small business marketing and you can find books, seminars, dvds, and online podcasts full of advice about each idea. The real power comes from putting them together in a way that each step sets a solid foundation for the next.
1. Be "Remarkable"
See Seth Godin’s Purple Cow. Build something that is “worth making a remark about”. Have a story to tell about yourself and your products. People won’t want to sell for you, but they will share interesting stories about you.
Do something different than your competitors. Have your own unique marketplace niche. If your competitors compete as “the lowest price” you won’t get to remarkable by being “lower than the lowest price!”. If your competitors compete by being large or by being small and personal, you won’t win by being larger or smaller or more personal. Do something differently.
2. Participate In, Listen To, and Learn From Your Customers’ Community
Before you can do the next step (Be Heard) you have to do a lot of listening and learning yourself. Go where your customers are, both physically and online. Find out where your customers meet in person and get invited to attend. Find where your customers meet online and actively participate. In both cases, don’t participate by selling your product (see #7). Instead first just listen then start offering real, helpful advice. From this participation you will get more and more chances to be heard.
3. Be Heard
Because you are doing #1-Be Remarkable, you will have plenty of interesting things to blog about. Because you are doing #2 in the list-Listen to your Customers, you will know what is interesting to them. Blog, blog, and blog some more. Start blogging well before your product is released. Don’t wait until you are asking people to buy. And don't blog about your product. Blog about items of interest to your audience. Ian Landsman, developer of help desk software HelpSpot, wrote about how he found success at starting to blog well before a product is released. Read Clear Blogging, the excellent book for small business bloggers, by this Wiki's very own Bob Walsh.
4. Offer a Free Trial or Service
When people hear about your product or services, make it easy for them to try out themselves. Offer free samples, trials, or introductory services and don’t expect prospects to jump through hoops. This is especially important online. A two page sign-up form simply stands between you and a prospect and does not make it easy and free to try. Keep it simple to sign up for a trial. Don't have a "saleperson will contact you form". Let them try your product or service on their own time.
5. Be Welcoming – Make it Easy for People to Send Feedback
After a person has tried your service, make it easy for them to provide feedback. Put a feedback page on your website and put a link in your product and emails to that feedback page. Build places on your website where people can easily and voluntarily share some information about themselves that will help you better meet their needs. But don’t ask for every piece of information that you think might be valuable in marketing. For example, an insurance agent’s quote request page should ask for car make and model but not favorite hobbies. Make your information request and feedback processes frictionless and be sure to respond promptly.
6. Ask For and Track Feedback, Testimonials, and Referrals
Now that you are getting feedback, use the positive feedback as testimonials. Also, ask those the provided positive feedback for referrals. Finally, track referral activity so that you can thank the referrer, giving your customer an even more positive experience.
7. Let Others Do the Talking
When you boast about your own product, no one will believe you anyway. We have built a natural response to ignore others’ bragging. Don’t waste time on what gets ignored, instead be an informed expert (see #2) and make it as easy as possible for others to try out your product (see #4), to initiate conversations with you (see #5), and to share with others how great your products are (see #6).
Rinse and Repeat
This stuff does not happen overnight. It takes time and planning, and the willingness to look beyond all the things that need to get done today; to invest time in building and growing a foundation for your business. It's hard work, yet the results can be quite amazing.