6 Startups Share Sales and Marketing Tips
If you’ve launched a startup, you know the challenges of sales and marketing and how difficult it is to reach out to new customers. And customers are all new in the beginning. It’s an uphill battle to get them interested in learning more about what you have to offer, or trying your product or service. And what about the prospects who’ve visited your site and tried the freebies but still don’t buy?
We found several owners of unique and compelling startups to share some of their sales and marketing challenges and how they’ve worked to overcome them. Here are some of the highlights:
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What are the biggest hurdles you’ve faced in building a startup, and how have you tried to overcome them?
- Throwing away the marketing and sales things that don’t work and continuing to build on the things that do
- Leverage testimonials from happy customers and partner with established companies
- Become a thought leader and make your expertise known
- Work with influencers to boost your outreach
- Understand your users and make your app the solution to their questions
- Appeal straight to the bottom line of your customer
Jeffrey Kelly, Mystery Potato, @MyMysteryPotato Mystery Potato is a part-time gig I’ve started on the side to add some spice and adventure to what I do and what my family does. We send greeting cards, but we send them on potatoes, or in envelopes filled with glitter so your friends have a big mess to clean up. Our all-time best selling phrase is, “You’re a hot potato.” Or we sell others like, “Prom?” People have a lot of fun with it and make up all sorts of crazy things.
One of our primary challenges is that the perceived value of a potato is very low. You could go to the store, buy a potato, get a marker and draw on it, right? That seems like a very simple thing. We have to get over that with our customers and show them that using us and sending the message anonymously makes sense, and it’s very compelling. They’re becoming part of something.
Another way we get through it as a business is to really explore the sales and marketing. We have no idea what works. And sending this kind of message card to someone is completely new, so we don’t really know who’s going to buy it and tell their friends. So we really have to carefully explore different markets, ideas and demographics. Then we focus on throwing away the things that don’t work and continuing to build on the things that do. That’s what has really built us up over time, and it’s allowed us to get more and more press coverage as well. The more it resonates, the better a story we have to offer.
What have you done to try to turn more prospects into customers?
Maria Wich-Vila, ApplicantLab, @ApplicantLab ApplicantLab basically provides the same step-by-step guidance to craft your admissions package to MBA programs that admissions consultants will charge between $5,000 and $10,000 for. Since it’s a series of online, interactive exercises and tools, it can also be done on your schedule. So when I formally launched this product about six months ago, I thought it was a no-brainer value proposition. I have over a decade of admissions experience; I went to Harvard; I was a volunteer for the Harvard admissions office.
But I also thought I should give people a little taste by offering the first two of the program’s 12 modules for free. I wanted to show people that I am a subject matter expert and let them see the value in the tool. The problem is that now I think I’ve gone too far, where I’ve actually gotten on the phone with people who’ve tried the product but haven’t upgraded and asked, “When you were trying the product, did it answer your questions? What could I be doing differently?” And some of them were very honest and said, “What you gave me was so great that I think I can take it on my own from here.” So I’m kind of on the fence about my strategy with that.
Another one of my strategies is to leverage testimonials from happy customers and partner with established companies. In some cases those partnerships have served as overt endorsements, and in others they’ve been tacit endorsements to add to the quality of my product. So far those partnerships have helped a lot. And a third thing I’m doing is starting to record more and more videos, so I’m planning to start uploading several on YouTube so people can get to know me and see that there’s a real person behind the software and that I really do know what I’m talking about.
What’s your advice on lead generation?
Steve Vardy, Big Roadway, @Big_Roadway Big Roadway is a creative agency that creates online video advertising and content for brands. We basically connect brands with their target audience through the use of video, which you’re seeing more and more as advertising changes pretty drastically.
Business development is our big hurdle. It’s something every business has to do, and it’s particularly challenging if you’re a new agency in an extremely competitive industry trying to make a name for yourself and get your reputation out there. We’re exploring just about every possible avenue. There are traditional types of business development—getting referrals, and recommendations, hitting the network, and doing all that sort of personal selling. But we’re also getting much more heavily invested in social media—in particular having a bigger presence in LinkedIn, which is a very strong B2B funnel to find and pursue prospects. Becoming thought leaders, putting content on LinkedIn, commenting on the industry and making our expertise known is a big part of the game.
What’s your approach to outreach and a hurdle you can share with us?
Dean Levitt, Teacup Analytics, @TeacupAnalytics Google Analytics is generally extremely complex. I realized with my previous company—an email newsletter platform that was acquired by GoDaddy in 2014—that thousands of small businesses used Google Analytics unsuccessfully. Yet the potential to really learn from the data was there. So I developed Teacup Analytics to simplify it.
At its core, Teacup Analytics is a library of reports in a Q&A format. Where does my traffic come from? Here’s where it comes from. Am I connecting with new visitors? Here’s the answer to that. So it really simplifies Google Analytics.
For outreach, I follow something that’s worked well for me in the past and is working well for me now, which is to work with influencers. I focus mostly on bloggers who write about the industries that I think would benefit from using the analytics in a Teacup Analytics format—including small businesses, bloggers, and media sites that are just starting out.
Another technique I’ve used successfully is to see who’s talking about my competitors and reach out to them, because clearly they’re already talking about a topic that’s very important to their readers, and I’m part of that story. I’ve seen a lot of return by reaching out to these bloggers and influencers.
How do you grow users on your app?
Karl MacMillan, RAKKOON, @GetRakkoon RAKKOON is all about social media monitoring. It’s basically an app you put both on your phone and your kid’s phone; once it’s installed, we automatically grab all the social media activity from your kid—what they’ve seen and sent—and we run it through some complicated algorithms to pull out what you as a parent would be concerned about. Then we send an alert to both the parent and the kid about the content. That lets them have a conversation about it, and a lot of times it makes the kids more comfortable, because they can provide a context around what happened, to make it understandable or help their parents help them.
You can’t prevent bad things from happening to your kid online, and even if you could, you probably don’t want to, because it’s going to be sheltering them too much. The research clearly says that having engaged parents who pay attention and help kids through the hard situations results in kids who are resilient and have the coping skills necessarily to deal with things online.
One way we grow users is to understand that parents are very concerned about this problem, but they’re typically not looking for a technical solution. They’re not out looking for an app. But there are places where they’re looking for parenting advice, so we’re also influencer heavy. We try to meet parents where they’re already asking the questions.
How do you overcome the traditional mentality of people in your industry who have never used a service like yours?
Poonam Mathis, StealthForce Co, @StealthForceCo StealthForce is the only on-demand talent platform out there for real-estate investment professionals. We’re basically uncovering a hidden market for project-based real estate consulting. Some firms use us as just an ad hoc consulting pool, and others use us as their personal consultant Rolodex that’s been expanded worldwide. So far we have demand coming from entities as diverse as small developers that need acquisitions and financial modeling talent all the way to multinational companies that are investing in new markets.
But my biggest hurdle so far is overcoming the traditional mentality of investment professionals in institutional real estate as well as HR professionals that they don’t need any outside help. My background is in real-estate private equity and development, and what I learned is that whether you are at the small or large end of the spectrum, no entity in real estate investment is really immune to talent gaps. It’s just that they’ve learned to live without. So when I say my biggest hurdle is to overcome that “traditional mentality,” it’s basically the mentality that says, “We don’t even know we need you.” I try to deal with that by showing that we understand their business. What we’re offering is basically an enhancement—it’s not usurping any of the analytical firepower or taking away from what they believe is their special sauce. In fact, we believe it will make their jobs easier.
Secondly we just appeal straight to their bottom line, because in the world of real estate investment, margins are getting smaller. Large, multinational investment firms that used to be able to just invest in New York, Chicago and L.A. now have to look at Singapore, Peru, and everywhere in order to get the return. They know they need to look further, yet their investment committees are not changing. So when we explain that we’re on the inside and we get it, that starts to flip their mentality.