I met with 2 very successful entrepreneurs this week. With one, we discussed customer discovery, mainly how many startup entrepreneurs either don’t get it or just refuse to get it. With the second, we discussed digital marketing analytics. Neither of these concepts was around when I started my first business in 1999.
If customer discovery had been a thing in May of 1999, we might have gotten off to a faster start. As it was, we didn’t find our way until nearly 2 years after we incorporated. The audience was out there, and we knew exactly who they were, but we didn’t think to simply ask them what they considered a problem in the realm of what was, at the time, “wireless ethernet.” We thought the smart thing to do was to keep it as secret as possible, not tell anyone until we were ready to launch, and then unleash the beast on the IT world. Yeah. Right.
However, it amazes me that today, as much as we preach the lean startup methodology to entrepreneurs, many times the message just doesn’t reach the cerebral cortex. In one ear and out the other. People remain laser locked in on their idea, while refusing to actually go out and talk to prospective customers in search of the problem that requires a solution. I get it. I’ve done it. It’s really, really easy to conjure up the very best of ideas and business models in a vacuum, while never talking to any potential customers. I’ve done that, too. I was wrong, and I failed.
If you haven’t already, please read Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup. I just can’t say that enough. Especially for those of us who came into the business world when it was still cool to write a 50-page business plan and have quarterly MBOs.
Of course, I also came into the business world before “digital marketing analytics” was a thing. We counted leads on paper, tallied phone calls in and out, manually entered business cards from trade shows, and many other intern-torturing tasks that shall not be named. Today, the reach of social media, either via created or curated content or via paid ads, is so tremendous and so laser accurate that you can make last decade’s marketing plans just look plain silly.
That said, the one thing that has not changed is the marketing funnel. I remember thinking that “marketing” was all about signage and logos and advertising slogans and jingles, and while that’s part of it, it’s a small part. I got corrected in a B-School class by a great professor who reminded us daily that marketing is simply a numbers game. How much revenue do you need? How much do you get per sale or transaction? What’s your closing percentage? What’s your response rate? Do the math, and you get to the top of your funnel. That’s how many you have to reach.
How to reach that market segment is now so much easier, but yet so much more complex as we navigate through social media channels, messages, and noise, noise, noise, noise, noise! But that’s the new way of thinking. Find a problem and fix it, and reach your audience wherever they are on the interwebz. No matter what you’re selling, you still gotta do the hard work, because there’s another thing that hasn’t changed and won’t ever change: there is no silver bullet.