The ultimate guide to building a startup marketing plan

The ultimate guide to building a startup marketing plan
    On this blog post, you'll learn:
  • The basics on startup launch;
  • What are the steps to building a startup marketing plan;
  • A few marketing options for startups.

Launching a startup in the market in not nearly as easy and glamorous as it sounds. There are no guarantees of success and results, which means that all there is left is a lot of courage. Hopefully, this comes with a well made startup marketing plan! But what does that entail?

Well, the first step to creating a startup marketing plan is to be ready to launch, and that means having a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) or a Beta version. For SaaS and tech startups especially, this means having something that will deliver something to the client without problems. It doesn't have to be the most amazing software ever (this comer later), but it has to work.

Before we start talking about marketing plan, let's clear something out - the difference between MVP and Beta:

  • MVP: as the name "Minimum Viable Product" suggests, it's the most basic version of your product. It's usually used as an experiment to see if the solution has market potential and if people are interested in using or buying it. MVPs are usually not charged.
  • BETA: it's the expansion of a MVP, a more sophisticated version that can be opened to clients and can be charged for it's use. The "BETA" status allows some flexibility on eventual problems that may occur.

Got it? Now let's touch quickly on...

How do you want to launch in the market?

There are two ways to launch a startup in the market, and we should briefly talk about them, so just you can consider them on your startup marketing plan. After all, you'll need to develop a positioning strategy, but we'll talk about this later. For now, let's focus on launches, or how you'll make your brand or product available in the market.

  1. Soft launch: it's used when the company doesn't want to draw a lot of attention to the product, or find that slowly introducing the new solution to customers is a better approach. This is common when the startup is still working with a MVP or prototype, but have already had some kind of investment. Here, while it's a more prudent strategy, it needs to be combined with a more aggressive sales strategy.
  2. Hard launch: the focus here is to attract a lot of attention, to create a buzz around the solution. It is very common with one of a kind SaaS companies or innovative solutions, such as Lys. The advantage of this strategy is that the company has greater chances of attracting the public, meaning you'll have less immediate prospection needs.

Both launch strategies are valid, but they depend on the type of product, innovation level of the startup, investments involved and other factors.

Preparing your team for initial feedback

As with any product, people will talk. But startups are more vulnerable to bad feedback due to potential instabilities of the system, tech problems or even the presentation of a new and innovative product to the public. Not everybody might enjoy, see value or take advantage from it. That's why your team need to be ready to face every single situation.

Not only do they need to be real advocates of your product, and be able to transmit this value to the customer, it's important that they remain motivated with their cause. For that, it's essential to have an inspiring leader, and that's usually the CEO or founder of the startup.

Another thing to think about is having a good customer success team right from the start. We won't get into it in this content, but I'll leave some other resources for you to read about it:

Let's move on to the reason why you're really here: getting results. You need to bring in clients, sell, get investment and keep improving your product . But how can you do that when you have a brand new solution in the market? Not many people will know your company or what you do, and yet you need to find a way to sell to them. That's why you'll need to have the best startup marketing plan.

Step by step: building a startup marketing plan

To build your startup's marketing plan, we suggest you use the concept of lean marketing. It's basically a more simple and quick version of a marketing plan, easy to change and adapt, which is perfect for startups. Here are the steps to having a lean startup marketing plan:

Create a market and industry analysis

This is the part where you'll look at what is happening around you.

Market Analysis: this is the basic information your startup needs to operate in the chosen area. It's an understanding of what the market needs, the main trends and projections (how the market will evolve over the next few years) and even what are the buying patterns for services/products similar to yours.

Start looking for annual market reports, consumer behavior reports and government-related news that may affect your company. That will give you an idea on the overall scenario you'll face once your product launches.

Industry Analysis: this is the part where you'll get to know, in detail, the industry you want to rule (hopefully). Answer the following questions:

  • Who are your competitors?
  • Who are the main participants in the market?
  • What are their products, strengths, and weaknesses?
  • What is their price and what do they offer?

Once you have all the needed information to have a real understanding on your market and industry, and the existing players, it's time for the next step...

Think about you strategy positioning

This is where you'll define how you want people to see or perceive your product or company, what is the category of your product and what are its benefits. You can also think about the core values you want to guide your company.

Here you should also include a few benchmarks of competitors or companies that have become reference in a certain area, such as customer success.

And most importantly, you'll need to figure out who are your customers and create personas. In this content about lead segmentation we bring a few key tips on the importance of focusing on personas and how to start thinking about them.

Basically, when you focus on a specific audience that has the right fit with the product, it's easier to create a marketing strategy that'll, later on, give the results you expect. Once the personas are defined, it's time to discover…

Where to find and how to talk to your prospects

For this, you'll need to do a lot of field work, even online. Here are some questions to guide you:

  • What websites do your personas visit?
  • What types of content interest them?
  • Which competitors are more likely to convert them, and why?
  • Are they more on LinkedIn or Facebook? Do they interact on Twitter?
  • Is an open channel of communication, such as online chat, a good idea to talk to them?

Some companies have seen improvement when they talk to leads directly through Facebook, WhatsApp or even with a live chat application on their website since the process is quicker and more straight-forward. And while they all seem to do the same thing, a live chat app will allow you to better manage your open tickets (chat rooms) and distribute them among your team members.

Don't forget about your conversation tone and company identity! The best way to establish a relationship with someone is to treat them as a person, and you can't do that while talking like a robot. The best way to do that is creating an identity for your company.

Think this: if your company were a person, who would it be? Some people choose the Iron Man (acid, pragmatic but always smart and somewhat funny), while others will prefer to be Spiderman (nice and always in a great mood). It might sound silly, but this will help to unify the communication of your company, and will give a direction on how should your team behave.

Set your goals and decide how you'll get there

What is it that you hope to achieve? Set broad goals about your customers, like providing the best experience in whatever you do, and more specific goals about your business, like becoming lead provider in *insert your solution's description here*.

You can narrow it down even more by setting goals to your specific areas:

  1. Deliver qualified leads to the sales team (marketing);
  2. Create ways to make sales approaches more effective (sales);
  3. Follow results based on clients behavior (CS team);
  4. Provide an infrastructure to allow scaled growth (Dev team);
  5. Build a culture to shape brand and core values (HR).

Once you do that, it's time to plan and figure out how you'll actually achieve those goals. For every goal you set out for your company, you'll need to create a strategy. Let's use three of the examples above:

1. Deliver qualified leads to the sales team (marketing):

  1. Determine who are your leads (persona);
  2. How can you talk to them/attract (content, paid advertisement, paid web ads, media, in-site live chat, etc.);
  3. How to differentiate MQL from SQL (lead scoring, automated integration).

2. Create ways to make sales approaches more effective (sales):

  1. How can you make them buy (low-dollar offers, email nurturing, segmentation and automation flows);
  2. What will your sales approach and pricing be/
  3. Making sales approaches more effective (high lead scoring to SQL, determine requirements for qualification).

3. Follow results based on clients behavior (CS team):

  1. Being data driven is a great way to track your clients satisfaction. For that, you'll need to know what metrics to follow. The good news is that we recently make a post about this, with formulas!
  2. Define how will be your rapport with them.

Determining your needs and where to invest

Now that you know what your goals re, you'll need to decide where to invest your money to make it happen. Here we should introduce the concept of ROI (Return On Investment). You'll invest a certain amount on sales and marketing to receive back revenue from new customers. ROI can be measured in different ways, from an attraction campaign to the entire sales funnel. But to do that well, you'll need to keep track of everything!

The first step will be choosing email marketing and CRM tools (that's what everybody does). But you can go beyond and choose a platform that will deliver both, and even more, such as resources and technology to have the best customer success right from the start, as well as an integrated BI that can cross numerous data to give you the answers you'll need.

If you're serious about making your startup grow, you'll need to have a way to extract complex reports from your tool, have a perfectly integrated marketing and sales team, track leads and build complete automation flows beyond general email every other day. Everything we said can be done well with the perfect automation platform.

Establish your sales strategy

Selling is what will allow your startup to grow. It's one of the pillars of success, along with happy customers and a great product. In order to do that, you'll need to figure out:

  • Pricing: deciding how much to charge for a product is one of the most difficult parts of releasing a product into the market. After all, it needs to be competitive but it can't be too low nor too high. See what types of customers you want to attract (Enterprise, SMBs, other startups…) and that should give you a starting point on pricing.
  • Approach: what problem will you tackle when talking to your prospect? What communication tone will you use? How long will you allow a client to think before investing efforts on another opportunity? These are all questions related to your sales approach.
  • Sales Reps: CEO and founder are under the impression they need to build a sales team as soon as they start out or go public, but that's not always true. First, you should be able to sell to your first clients, and actually do it. This way, you can earn experience before hiring people and actually have valuable feedback about your product.

    Once it's time to hire, decide whether you'll use an Inside Sales strategy (less expenses for a startup) or focus on Fields Sales (usually best for enterprise or high value complex solutions). How many sales rep you'll need to have? What about sales developers? Don't hire too many people at once, or your startup up will have an extra (unnecessary) expense.
  • Goals: how many contracts you want to have monthly? How many new clients? What about annual revenue - what do you need to keep going and growing? Those are the questions that will guide your startup's goals. But careful: draw goals that you can actually reach!
  • Strategy: how will you attract your first customers? Will you use online social media paid ads, be present on key events or through content and inbound marketing? Will you use cold mailing or nurture people until they're ready to buy? In any way, a automation software is key to execute well all of these possibilities.

Start small, give yourself room to make mistakes, see what gives the best results and only then think about scaling!

Key Mistakes to avoid

  • Don't hire too many sales people at once;
  • Keep up with your data and use it to make improvements;
  • Test different sales approaches before setting on the most efficient ones;
  • Don't give too many discounts and define your pricing according to your goals.

Predict, evaluate and adjust

It's important to say that the steps you took up until here won't lead you all the way to the finish line. If you work with lean marketing, and in any startup, by the way, creating and maintaining a strategy is an ongoing job, much like a scrum development. You'll have many cycles running at the same time and it's essential to follow all of them, evaluating results and always improving.

For a marketing and sales strategy, that would mean to make projections and define goals. Ones that you hope to achieve in so many weeks or months, see your progress, what might be holding you back and how can you grow even more.

As we've mentioned before, a Business Intelligence (BI) tool that allows you to cross data and generate personalized reports is key. Not only that, but it will give the flexibility to see what you need to know whenever you need it.

And don't forget to listen to your clients: that's the secret to retain them!

Marketing options for startups 101

Here are some ideas for your marketing team to actually make your business sell and grow:

  • Content Marketing: having a blog and creating content allows you to have total control over the communication with the public. You can do link baits, viral content, ebooks, videos, infographics and other highly shareable contents.
  • Growth Hacking and Link Building: not only you'll need to have a presence online, but people must notice you, and reference your domains on their content or website. This will increase relevance and will make you go to the top of search engine rankings.
  • Social Media presence: when faced with a new brand name, most people will search for it on social media. Before hiring the product or service, people will look for reviews, comments and how is the relationship between company and client. And when in need of guidance, or even to complain, a lot of people will use social media. See why your startup needs it ASAP?
  • E-mail marketing: these are single emails sent in bulk to a large number of contacts, used to inform, alert or simply notify them of something that may be of interest. We have a content about this, and how it can help your startup and we encourage you to see it. It's short, don't worry.
  • Traditional media and PR: in case you're thinking of doing a hard launch or want to put your startup's name out there quickly, Public Relations is a great option. But for it to be successful, you'll need to have a good story and an awesome (and innovative) product!

An extra tip: Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is the study of why people are not converting to you. You really should use it in your startup. That means testing: hire professional testers, apply QA, use A/B tests in forms, landing pages, CTAs, pop-ups, everything you can to maximize conversions. It will be essential to your business.

Think about internal communication/marketing as well

Most people will neglect internal communication and team engagement until it becomes a problem. But top startups have shown that having a great internal communication strategy is key to being successful. When you're able to inspire people to your cause and having them believing on the value of what they're selling/supporting, you know that your message is being successfully transmitted to customers.

Not only that, but you'll have a team that is aligned on reaching the same goals and that believe in your startup (hopefully as much as you). Here are some important tips:

  • Be open: talk about strategy, revenue, investments, clients, etc. This will make your team feel like they're part of your company, and not just working there.
  • Use tools to facilitate internal communication: Slack and a kanban board are examples of tools that help integrate teams and make it easier to exchange information.
  • Focus on integration: parties, breakfasts and happy hours are great ways to interact with one another and having some quality time with the team.

We have reached the end of our guide to building a startup marketing plan! As you can see, there are a lot of steps, but don't get freaked out. Just go through them step by step and remember that you can go back and change something at any moment. That's the beauty of having a startup - there's always room for experiment and improvement!

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