For entrepreneurs sitting on an amazing idea, product or service, this launch advice will be difficult to heed: Think you’re ready to go to market? Think again. And then, think some more. Too many startup founders, fueled by passion and ambition, race to market only to find that a more measured, deliberate –yet rapid—approach would have served them better. Certainly, getting ahead of potential competitors is important. But it is equally important to make sure your offering is stable and customer-ready, and that your marketing and support outfits are fully functional and ready to handle demand.
At some point in the life of your startup, someone will ask you, “If you could do it again, what would you do differently?” I’ve answered that question numerous times. For my current company, ClickFuel, my “if-only” answer is about the cost and time of acquisition. In retrospect, rolling out a white-label partner go-to-market strategy, rather than building our own B2B direct sales force would have been smoother given our current market success. That kind of decision could have led to more capital in our Series A financing round, which could have had other positive outcomes. Luckily for ClickFuel, a business model pivot along the way helped steer us in a positive direction.
Want to avoid could-have-should-have musings after your launch? Follow these tips:
1. Listen to your prospects. ClickFuel’s direct sales force idea didn’t fly when we launched, and it could have been disastrous. However, by listening, interacting and reacting to our customers’ feedback, we were able to shift quickly and recover. Now, ClickFuel works with more than three dozen media partners and has activated hundreds of thousands of dashboards for small and medium-sized businesses to access, track and monitor online marketing campaigns and results. Listening to customers – and taking their wants and needs seriously – drives startups in a successful direction.
2. Estimate acquisition costs carefully. Whether your startup will leverage a direct sales model or the channel, don’t forget to factor in the true costs of customer acquisition. These include marketing, lead generation, pre- and post-sales training, customer support, and sales and marketing automation. One way to make a reasonable estimate is to evaluate competitors, particularly public ones. Determine their costs and add at least half to estimate your own, since a newly founded company will face greater acquisition expenses as it ramps up.
3. Get your partners to buy into what you’re doing. If you want to work with channel partners, you have to win over their sales reps. Make sure sales incentives are aligned across partnerships and through the sales reps’ commission plans. Early sales success is critical to garnering support from your channel partners’ sales teams, who will push harder for you once they see that your product can help them make more money.
4. Don’t ignore the one true game-changer for startups. There are plenty of go-to-market challenges entrepreneurs need to overcome, particularly in crowded spaces. Timing, funding, partnerships and hiring decisions are all important to successful outcomes. The most vital element, however, is your product. It has to solve a problem in the market in a way that is notably different than your competitors’ offerings – either in quality, price or both. If you don’t feel ready to guarantee that one thing, it’s not yet time for you to go to market.
Steve Pogorzelski is the former president of Monster.com and current CEO of ClickFuel, the provider of Fuel Station, a marketing analytics and performance management solution for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
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