When a startup is born, it is born to solve a problem, a problem the people behind it are familiar with and have experienced themselves.
During the early stages of a startup, everyone is doing everything: product development, marketing, and sales. When you are trying to market and sell a product you are also building, you have a strong grip on the customer’s pain (often it is the same as your own pain), the market, and the competitive landscape.
However, as companies scale, three things happen:
- The number of customers grows significantly – Not all of these customers are the same or have the same needs and you have multiple personas using the product.
(At SimilarWeb, all of a sudden we had thousands of customers and many were business researchers or prospectors who we didn’t understand in detail).
- The product and business become more complex – Understanding customer needs, the competitive landscape, and the market data becomes much more complex.
(At SimilarWeb, we entered the enterprise market and that brought a whole set of new competitors we didn’t understand and needed to research).
- The number of people and departments in the company scales quickly – Realistically not everyone can be in touch with what is going on in the market or with your major competitors. New employees are hired to be master a specific domain and it becomes difficult for them to be aware of the market’s needs or the competitor’s moves.
(At SimilarWeb, our marketing team was not aware of how to market to offline marketers, our sales team was having trouble scaling a training program around pitching to different types of customers).
At this point in your company, you are likely aware that something is missing, but you may not know what it is.
This is where Product Marketing comes into play. Put simply, Product Marketing is the bridge between the customer, the market, and the product.
In this series of posts, we will try to cover how to build a Product Marketing team, what are its responsibilities, and share what we are doing at SimilarWeb to make sure our product best fits our customers.
5 Key Elements of Product Marketing:
1) Identifying the Customer’s Needs
Listening to customers is the primary element, there is no way around it, and it’s a neverending task. Frankly, everyone in the company should be in touch with their customers, one way or another. Here are some of the ways we identify the needs of our customers:
Customer Interviews – On our Product Marketing team we have conducted ~200 customer interviews, and we continue to conduct these interviews with onboarded customers, free users, enterprise customers, and our churned customers. We are not convinced of any hypothesis we have until it has been validated by several customers.
Surveys – Surveys are a great way to supplement what you know about your customers, and collect feedback on a larger scale.
Beta Group – Even after doing the research, and building a new feature for your product, you need to validate and confirm that it’s aligned with the customer needs. Is the messaging right? Does it touch on your customer’s pain? Was it build in the right customer workflow? Will people use the way you envisioned it?
Feedback Loops – It’s important to collect data from these interviews, surveys and beta groups, but this needs to be added to a collection which includes tickets from customer support, feature requests, sales/account management feedback. This collection of feedback needs to be pushed back to your product, sales, and marketing teams.
It’s only after extensive and ongoing work of understanding your customers can you build your personas and identify what problems they are trying to solve with your product, their specific pain points, willingness to pay, how you should communicate your solution to them, and how to build a sales-enabled machine.
2) Understanding Your Competitors and Ecosystem
Obviously, you are not blind to your competitors, but do you know what they are up to at all times? You need to know your competitors and their product(s) in detail. What new features have they launched, are they making changes to their packages, who are they targeting, are they raising new rounds of funding, etc. It is crucial to have a central place in the company for this and a systematic process for gathering information. This is the go-to place for everyone in the company to learn about your competitors.
This is not just about monitoring, it’s a strategic task trying to understand their business as if it was yours. For example, what does it mean when they change their pricing? Is there a specific market they are focusing on? Are they shifting their focus? You should bring this information to every decision you make, so you can make better and smarter business decisions.
As a next step, you should take actions. Help the sales team handle objections better, enrich the product team with relevant information, improve your landing pages, and the list goes on. Whether your competitors are doing well or not, they are a great resource to learn from.
3) Market Analysis
Without an understanding of where the dollars are in the ecosystem, you only have a product, not a business. When making strategic decisions in your product roadmap and overall business, you must know market potential (combined with current status/ company capabilities), challenges, possible directions, alternatives, etc. The more you grow as a business, the more questions you have. Answer these questions wisely.
4) Pricing and Packaging
This is your chance to optimize your business. Using a detailed analysis and working closely with your sales team, you can increase sales, retention, market share, and revenue.
Pricing and packaging should always be based on one or more of the following:
- Value/ ROI that customers are getting from the product/feature
- Competitive landscape and alternative solutions
- Overall company goals (e.g. market share vs. revenue)
- Cost of development or maintaining a feature
With their focus on customer needs, competitive landscape, product orientation, and not driven by near-term sales considerations, the Product Marketing team is best positioned to determine pricing and packaging.
5) Monitor Your Business
By doing all of the above and touching on so many aspects of your business, the product marketing team is best positioned to monitor everything that’s going inside your business. Alongside everything you do, don’t work in a silo. Constantly monitor your CRM to understand why you’re losing deals, as well as why you are better than your competitors. Conduct ongoing talks with other teams to understand their pains, and learn how you can help them. Finally, propagate all that information to the entire company, present to the management team to learn their input and figure out the next big questions your company has.
Our Product Marketing team is built of startup founders, management consultants, and BI analysts. We will use this medium to dig deeper on all of the above as well as other topics, and share how we are bridging the gap between our customers and our product.