Taking the Long View in Startup Marketing

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

This post was initially published on the Crowded Ocean blog –  a terrific source of inspiration for marketers in startups. 

Marketing in a startup is often a crazed endeavor. Desperate for growth, an understaffed marketing department struggles to keep up with constant demands for more leads.

I’d like to suggest something almost heretical: Startup marketers should focus just as much energy in creating practices for engaging with customers after the sale.

Invest your time now planning how you’ll engage with customers to increase their success and ongoing loyalty. (I call this practice value nurturing, as the natural follow-on to lead nurturing.)

Start marketing as if you’ve already won the customers.

Spend time up front creating new customer launch plans, building customer communities, and fine-tuning the customer interactions throughout the lifecycle.

There’s Always Something More Urgent

When most startups hear this suggestion, they respond with something like this:

“That sounds great, but right now we are focusing on getting leads. When we have enough customers, we can start doing those other things.”

This answer has three logical flaws:

  1. You never have “enough” new customers. Startups are always chasing aggressive growth targets. New leads are urgent, while long-term customer loyalty is important.
  1. Once established, the marketing culture is difficult to change. A startup has the opportunity to build a culture focused on long-term customer success rather than quick wins.
  1. Increasing customer retention and loyalty takes pressure off growth and lead generation. You don’t have to acquire new customers to replace ones that churn. Better yet, happy customers will refer others, essentially doing your marketing work for you. (See my blog “It’s never too early to start planning for customer retention” to talk about the compounding effect of changes to customer retention rates.)

Not convinced yet? I have two words for you: Homejoy and Slack.

Homejoy and the Hazards of Chasing Growth

Homejoy was a cleaning services marketplace. Note the past tense. The company has shut down. And according to Ellen Huet’s article in Forbes, the company chased growth at the expense of customer retention.

Heavy discounting lured in new sign-ups, but attracted the wrong customers, resulting in high churn rates. Houses don’t stay clean by themselves – cleaning is a recurring business. If you can’t keep the customers, you don’t have a sustainable model.

Slack and the Focus on Delivering Value Quickly

Now look at another startup success story, Slack.

As an enterprise collaboration tool, Slack needs entire work groups to start using it if it’s going to provide any value to its business customers. In an interview with Kara Swisher on the Re/code podcast, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield shared his strategy:

“We focused all of our effort on the new user experience, and I think that’s what’s made the difference.”

The strategy is has served the company well – people love it, and the company is tearing into the enterprise software market. In April 2015, Slack had a market valuation of $2.8 billion.

You may not be able to create a clever Slackbot to inform the new user experience. But marketing can certainly step up to the challenge in other ways:

  • Creating marketing campaigns to help customers find a rapid success
  • Creating customer communities where loyal customers support others and share insights
  • Finding ways to be relentlessly helpful to customers over time

Competitive Advantage Comes After the Sale

Startups have a unique advantage over established competitors: the opportunity to completely design the way that the company will interact with, support, and nurture customers. You don’t have long-established practices and immovable walls dividing the groups who interact with customers.

As a startup marketer, you can look beyond traditional lead generation strategies and find creative ways to differentiate your business after the sale.

Market as if you’re maintaining a long-term relationship.

Build the ongoing customer focus into your marketing organization from the start, and you’ll reap ongoing dividends in the form of sustained growth and long-term viability.

To download a value nurturing checklist filled with ideas for nurturing value after the sale, join the subscription marketing group.

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