All posts by Greg Kagan

Three Phases of Tech Company Growth

Everything grows and changes. Kids become adults, sprouts become trees, and startups become mature companies. Technology companies in particular tend to follow a predictable evolutionary process. They begin with an innovative technology—the proverbial “better mousetrap.” It would be nice if, as the proverb suggests, the world would then beat a path to your door, but that’s seldom how it works.

When you focus on an innovative product, word trickles out and first customers are the “early adopters.” They find out about the innovation by accident, by diligent search, or by word of mouth. This is the product-driven phase of development, in which you sell to buyers are willing to take a risk on a technology that will give them an advantage over their competitors. And because the product is unique, profit margins can be substantial. Sales and marketing can be relatively inefficient, even non-existent, and you can still bring in revenue. In the product-driven phase engineers and designers are your drivers. The challenge is expanding beyond the relatively small universe of early adopters.

Once you’ve sold to the early adopters and your product has developed some competition, more selling is required and margins get slimmer. This happens faster today than ever before, and when it does you’ve entered the sales-driven phase. It takes a sales force to identify prospects, overcome objections, and take on the competition. In this phase salespeople are your drivers. They can help expand your market, but heavy emphasis on a salesforce is costly and labor-intensive.

As the market matures and competition develops, the challenge is to maintain leadership and continue expanding your market while controlling costs and avoiding the margin-devouring scourge of commoditization. Success depends on recognizing marketing as a strategic resource, analyzing the market, positioning the company and its products, and communicating both internally and externally to help maximize revenue and control the cost of sales. This is the final marketing-driven phase, and marketers are your drivers. Product and sales are still critical, but marketing can help drive growth, direct innovation, expand your market, monitor competition, and maximize the efficiency of your salesforce.

Because technology companies start with an innovative product, they run the risk of stalling in the product- or sales-driven phase of development. Early adoption of a marketing focus – not just having a marketing function but being truly marketing-driven – helps you maintain leadership, expand and control your market(s), and master competition and change. It lets you identify and expand the universe of prospective buyers, anticipate their wants and needs, and free your salesforce to focus on closing sales and managing key accounts. You’ll be more effective in the market, you’ll grow faster, and you’ll be more profitable.

What Alka-Seltzer Can Teach About Technology Marketing

You sell a technical product in a competitive market. Your product has advantages over the competition. Maybe it’s faster, or smarter, or more powerful. Maybe it’s more reliable or easier to maintain. More compact? More widely compatible? Easier to use? Whatever it is, you are spending time and money to produce and distribute ads, presentations, web pages, blogs, and whitepapers telling potential buyers all about it. But with all the talking about your product, are you answering your prospect’s most critical question, the one that, if unanswered, sends your marketing investment right down the drain and drops you and your product into the commodity abyss?

The question is “Why should I care?”

Maybe your answer is something like “Well … it’s faster.” Maybe it is, but unless your product is a race car running on a drag strip or the Bonneville Salt Flats, being faster is a feature, not a “why should I care” benefit. The same is true of any other attribute of your product or service. Tell your prospect why speed is important in his or her application and, in fact, more important than the attributes your competitors are touting in their products!

And you can’t just answer that question in passing. In the digital world, if a busy buyer doesn’t see the benefit immediately they can move on with a click of a mouse. Top marketers figured that out back in the old TV days when remotes were still new.

Consider Alka-Seltzer. They did a great job of reminding TV viewers about the pain of stomach distress with now-famous ads like “That’s a spicy meatball” or “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing.” Click the links or Google the ads. Those spots answered the “Why should I care?” question in seconds, earned a place in advertising history, and sold a lot of Alka-Seltzer. Your technology product may not have the same potential for graphic humor, and you may not have Alka-Seltzer’s multi-million dollar budget, but your customers don’t care how your product works unless it solves problems they can relate to.

You may even want to ask yourself the question several times, peeling away the layers of a feature until you get to the real benefit that a buyer cares about. For example:

This modem is easier for engineers to embed in a product you are designing.

Why should I care?

It will allow you to complete your design quicker

Why should I care?

That will let you beat the competition to market with your new product

Why should I care?

Early arrival to market lets you command higher prices and improves profit margins.

Now I care! Tell me about your product.

The need for that whole conversation can be eliminated by simply pointing out in your web page, blog post, ad, or paper that easier incorporation of your component into a product helps speed a product to market and lets the customer reap the benefits – higher profit margins – of early arrival. In short, it eliminates the need to ask “Why should I care?”

Clear focus on bottom line benefits boosts sales – Now that’s one spicy meatball.

Supercharge Your SEO

When I write client webpages I always ask “What will bring prospects to your site?” One of the most common answers is “Search … I guess.” Search is certainly a viable form of outreach to prospective clients. But ask yourself how many hits you got on your last Google search. “Black shoelaces” gets an even 3,000,000. “Red shoelaces” brings it down to 2.5 million. “Solar panel adhesives” gets a mere 3,790 of which the first six are paid ads. But seriously, anyone who shows up after the first or second page of the search results isn’t gaining a lot of traction through that particular search.

It’s like a footrace with thousands of runners, and a lot of them are training just as hard as you are, vying for a spot on that first pag
e. Of course you want to optimize for search, and if you aren’t expert (and up-to-date) on how to do that there are experts who can help. Good professional search optimization is critical, but one of the biggest marketing favors you can do yourself is to influence what prospects search for.

The ideal, of course, is to get your name into the search, essentially eliminating all of the competition (except anyone willing to pay for an ad in a search for you). Next best is to get your specifics into the search, and you do that by reaching out to prospects before they begin their search. Before Google and The Web, sellers advertised on paper. They sent mailings, bought space on billboards, and printed ads on matchbooks. Some of those are still viable, but we now have email marketing, blogs, pop-up ads, and social media. We publish articles and whitepapers. And while it would be nice to imprint our company names on the minds of readers, the next best achievement – maybe even a better one – is to imprint the specifics that separate us from the rest of our competitors.

If you make the world’s strongest shoelaces, it would help to make searchers aware of the importance of strong laces. (I know because I broke one this morning.) If you have an exclusive technology, the more people know about it, the more likely are to include it in their search. And here’s the kicker. No matter how often you mention it, technical buyers aren’t as likely to remember your name as they are to take note of a technological advantage. Simply put, we all tend to filter advertising, but we’re far more open to education when it’s relevant.
Bottom line: Use content marketing to help your prospects narrow their searches, giving your SEO experts as much as possible to work with.

#seo #marketing