Marketing for startups – know thy customer

by andy on February 2, 2010

I’ve had several people recently ask for marketing advice for their startup venture. One of the things I typically want to Help! New customers wantedfigure out before we even get started is who the target customer is.  I ask  “who is going to buy what, and how much will they pay?”

It’s a three part question and requires an answer to all three parts.  It’s amazing how varied the responses are to this basic question.  Such as “I don’t know”, “good question”, or “we have lots of target customers”.  To the latter I ask them to name their top three target customers.  Sometimes I get blank stares.

Invariably the responses expose weaknesses in the entrepreneur’s go-to-market strategy.  Usually the weakness is… they don’t have one.  Or its “I’m building this really cool widget and then people will come buy it”.  Really?

Lots has been written on the need to do customer development and build an MVP, so I won’t go into that.  As an entrepreneur you should be able to at least hypothesize:

1) Who might buy your product,

2) why they want it,

3) what their other choices are (including doing nothing),

4) how much they might pay you for it.

You need to answer these questions and then go test-market it.  Ask 10 people you know that might be target customers for their feedback.  Ask them if you had it for them to purchase today, would they.  Put them on the spot.  Ask them to give you a $0 Purchase Order, a preorder, or a down payment as a commitment.   In other words, see if they are willing to put some skin in the game, not just nod their head so you will go away.

Peter Drucker’s adage is never truer than when figuring out who your customer is.  “The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that there are no results inside its walls.”    As an entrepreneur you need to get out of the office and talk to customers.  Or potential customers.  Early and often.

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