How to Find Your Ideal Customers

Trying to market your product without knowing whom you should market to is like walking blindfolded. You might still end up in the right place. But it’s not very likely.

Any Customers Vs. Ideal Customers

A new startup might try anything to get its first customers. At this exploration stage, you cast the net wide. You approach different individuals and companies and do whatever it takes. Any customer is a great customer.

But as the company grows, it learns that not all customers are created equal. Some are easier to acquire. Others benefit more from the product and are easier to retain. Yet others are easier to expand and upsell to.

This raises a question. How do you know who is your primary target audience?

At an early stage, you “just know” your ideal customer. Your ideal customer profile is whoever was willing to buy your first product or sign an agreement before you even developed a prototype.

Of course, you can always stop here.

But if you’re planning to become a world-class company, you might need to take it to another level and make sure that your marketing is also world-class. All top technology–, and more narrowly, Software as a Service (SaaS) companies have a very clear understanding of their ideal customer profile. Even though this post will be particularly relevant to this type of companies, the general principles can be applied to any industries.

A side-note on terminology: terms such as “ideal customer profile” and “target audience” are often used interchangeably. “Buyer Persona” is another similar term that emphasizes the focus on individuals – as opposed to companies.

Why Define Ideal Customer Profile (ICP)

An ideal customer is a customer that is more likely to like your product and pay for it. Knowing your ICP should help you grow revenue while investing less. This higher return on investment is achieved through better targeting among other things.

Imagine, you sell software that helps cities analyze traffic patterns and make better urban planning decisions. You could place a TV commercial and hope that the right people will see it. This would be utterly inefficient.

Alternatively, you could identify a subset of cities that are most likely to adopt this type of software, then identify the right officials who are most likely to be decision makers and target them with a proposal that addresses their specific pains and explains how your product can alleviate them. Needless to say, this would be infinitely more effective.

And, by the way, customers will also appreciate this targeted approach. See “Principles of Ethical Marketing” for more on this.

If you need more reasons:

Ideal Customer Profile benefits: marketing targets, sales enablement, customer-centric products

How to Develop ICP

The approach will depend on a number of things:

  • Company size and stage
  • Available resources
  • Available data

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How to Hire a CMO or VP/Head of Marketing

So, you’re a founder and a CEO with no or little experience in marketing who needs to hire a CMO, VP or Head of Marketing.

You know you want to grow revenue fast but you might be skeptical about marketing. How can you ensure that whoever you bring on board is going to help you build a rocket ship?

As with any key hire, the impact on the company success is hard to overstate. An “A” player will help the company achieve and exceed its goals. An “A player” will also build and continually develop a team of “A+” players. They, in turn, will help you fill key marketing leadership roles from inside.

A lot of smart and experienced people tried addressing this topic. I think I can bring unique perspective coming from marketing myself.

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Monthly newsletter: technology, startups, business growth and marketing

Monthly Newsletter: Issue 2

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max


Now, get a cup of coffee and enjoy!

Technology and Startups

Growth and Marketing

  • Intercom on Marketing (ebook). A good intro to marketing and, in particular, product marketing that will be interesting to those who are relatively inexperienced.
  • How to Design Marketing Campaigns. Basics of marketing segmentation, messaging hierarchy, and campaign management – this article will be useful to those who’re new to marketing or looking for a refresher.
  • HubSpot’s Pricing Page Redesign → MQL Conversions 165%↑ & Free Sign-Ups 89%↑. How: research first – usability testing, internal feedback, and customer intelligence; then design based on insights and A/B test.
  • What’s next in growth?” (video) talk by Andrew Chen who leads the rider growth at Uber. Andrew recommends you ignore “growth hacks” and focus on fundamentals that worked for decades. E.g. user referrals, shareable content, and using discounts to jumpstart demand for new products.

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How to Develop and Validate a Value Proposition

If I asked you these questions right now, would you be able to answer them?

  • What does your company do?
  • What product does your company sell and how is it different from the competition?
  • Whom is this product for?

Seriously, stop reading right now and try to answer these questions aloud or in your head.

Can you answer these questions in 1-3 sentences and in a clear way that wouldn’t invite follow-up questions from an average customer?

Can everyone in your organization?

What is a Value Proposition?

A value proposition is simply a way to connect a product offering with customer needs in a clear way. It should resonate with customers and would motivate them to try or buy your product. Essentially, the value proposition is synonymous with unique selling proposition and product positioning.

In order to find its product-market fit, startups need to come up with value proposition statements for its products. At first, you start with a hypothesis or a guess if you will.

This hypothesis then needs to be validated with customers and refined as the product evolves and as the company acquires more knowledge about the market and customers.

A validated value proposition statement is the ultimate outcome of finding the product-market fit. This statement should encapsulate key insights you’ve gathered about customers, as well as unique product strengths.

Do You Need One?

If you don’t have one, you’re shooting in the dark. If you have one but it’s not validated, you might be deluding yourself.

Here are some practical benefits of developing a value proposition:

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Monthly Newsletter: Issue 1

This is an issue of my monthly newsletter. Main topics: technology, startups, business growth, and marketing. See other issues on my blog or subscribe. ~Max

Technology and Startups

  • Ten-year Futures – a presentation by A16z. New technologies enable new use cases. Seeing them, as well as non-obvious “second order” effects, is key. E.g. mobile enabled Instagram, Instacart, and ride-sharing.
  • Decrypting Crypto – another presentation by A16z. Bitcoin is a combination of three old technologies: hashcash, public key cryptography, and distributed ledger. Value of cryptocurrencies goes beyond the traditional store of value and medium of exchange. E.g. tokens can help bootstrap new protocol-level innovation and incentivize developers, customers, and investors to contribute.
  • AlphaGo Zero masters the game of Go from scratch. The ML algorithm learned the game without any pre-existing understanding of rules or strategies. Building a general or at least a-little-bit-less-narrow AI appears to be a big priority for DeepMind. Perhaps this can count as a small step in this direction?
  • Delivering blood with drones in Rwanda – a TED talk by the founder of Zipline. What an amazing application of new technology and a case study in social entrepreneurship.
  • Tacotron 2 is a new text-to-speech technology by Google that is (almost?) indistinguishable from a human voice. If Google manages to make it less computationally demanding and ship it as part of the Android OS, all kinds of interesting use cases will be made possible. I personally will listen to more of my Pocket articles in audio.
  • Magic Leap is launching its SDK, shipping in 2018. AR/VR is already quite a saturated market. It’s not entirely clear yet how hyped Magic Leap technology will compare to Microsoft HoloLens, as well as to VR headsets: HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

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Key Growth Metrics, Part 2: CLV/LTV, and CAC

I wrote this blog post as part of blog series on growth and marketing. See more here: Growth Map: The Missing Guide That Connects Marketing Strategy, Research, and Campaigns.

Managing a business is a little bit like flying an airplane. Keep your eyes on the speed, altitude, drag, and fuel and you’ll get to your destination fast. Try flying blind and you’ll crash and burn.

Who Should Read This

Startup founders, marketing managers, and growth hackers who are new to the growth game. Anyone who’d like to understand basic business metrics tech startups use. Here is why you might care:

  • You’d like to grow your business faster and understand the highest-leverage areas to focus on
  • You’d like to evaluate performance of your marketing
  • You’re raising a new round and want to be ready for the questions VCs are going to ask

So, let’s dive right in.

What We’ll Cover

Last time we focused on user growth. We looked into acquisition, retention, and virality metrics, as well as interactions among these three. Today, we’ll assess the dollar impact one user has on our business. To do it, we’ll learn to calculate and use another metric: customer lifetime value.

Summary (TL;DR)

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) = dollar value a company can earn from serving one customer.
  • Retention ↑ => CLV ↑
  • Price ↑ => CLV ↑
  • Discount rate ↑ => CLV↓

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Key Growth Metrics, Part 1: Churn/Retention, and Virality

I wrote this blog post as part of blog series on growth and marketing. See more here: Growth Map: The Missing Guide That Connects Marketing Strategy, Research, and Campaigns.

Managing a business is a little bit like flying an airplane. Keep your eyes on the speed, altitude, drag, and fuel and you’ll get to your destination fast. Try flying blind and you’ll crash and burn.

Who Should Read This

Startup founders, marketing managers, and growth hackers who are new to the growth game. Anyone who’d like to understand basic business metrics tech startups use. Here is why you might care:

  • You’d like to grow your business faster and understand the highest-leverage areas to focus on
  • You’d like to evaluate performance of your marketing
  • You’re raising a new round and want to be ready for the questions VCs are going to ask

So, let’s dive right in.

What We’ll Cover

First, we’ll focus on user growth. Here we’ll look into acquisition, retention, and virality metrics, as well as interactions among these three.

Second, we’ll focus on the monetary value associated with users. Here we’ll look into customer lifetime value and customer acquisition cost.

Summary (TL;DR)

  • There are multiple variables that will define business growth dynamics
  • Main ones are acquisition rate, retention rate, and virality coefficient
  • At any given time you might choose to prioritize some of these metrics over others
  • This decision will depend on the business strategy, available resources, customer feedback, stage of the product lifecycle, and hundreds of other factors
  • Models like the one shown here can assist you in making better decisions by letting you see where your business will be at in the future under different scenarios

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HBR on Corporate Culture Design

I had a chance to work for companies with very different corporate cultures. In my experience culture does not just happen. Instead, it should be deliberately designed and reinforced. So I found this Harvard Business Review article relevant and insightful:

Think carefully about each of these four elements:

  • Incentives are a basic element of doing good work. People should be paid fairly and competitively for their roles, and increases in compensation should be a predictable process. In addition to pay, the culture should work to reward results generated versus hours worked. Employees shouldn’t feel anxious about how visible they are in the office or on projects, and strict timekeeping can create a sense of mistrust between teams and management. Lastly, and this is something we care about a lot, good failure should not result in career suicide.
  • Context and rules will determine what rituals and processes allow people to do great work. If initiative is punished instead of rewarded, people will feel less compelled to push new ideas internally. The ability to make quick judgment calls and move decisions forward will outpace any lengthy or cumbersome internal approvals process. The same goes for autonomy and flexibility—do you trust your teams to lead while you get out of the way? Are teams allowed to participate in flexible work options that encourage their productivity? Your teams need the right tools and resources to do their job—are they spending more time fighting for what they need? If access to those resources is limited, individuals will be less inclined to take part in initiatives with so many blockers in front of them.
  • People are the core of a great organization and the processes and systems you use to hire, promote, and reward them can be both enablers and blockers. Bob Sutton’s famous “no asshole rule” is an important factor when hiring people for your company, especially if they’re “star performers”. Sutton believes that star performers who are demeaning can wreak havoc on organizations. You just can’t compromise your business on people like that.
  • Leadership has to play a role in the culture if the whole organization is to transform. And leading by example is a pivotal component of management enablers (and blockers: leadership can lead by poor example as well, of course). If leadership exhibits the behaviors expected of teams and individuals, then people in the organization will follow suit.

Guide to the Real Silicon Valley

Steve Blank, our UC Berkeley professor, wrote an awesome “Guide to the Real Silicon Valley”. I recommend it to everyone who is planning to visit and even to those already living in The Bay. I’m quoting an excerpt here:

For the ultimate startup experience: talk yourself into carrying someone’s bags as they give a pitch to a VC. Be a fly on the wall and soak it in.

If you’re trying to get a real feel of the culture: apply and interview for jobs in three Silicon Valley companies even if you don’t want any of them. The interview will teach your more about Silicon Valley company culture and the valley than any tour.

Meet some locals in tech: attend at least three tech-oriented Meetups or Plancast events in the Valley or San Francisco (Meetup is a deep list. Search for “startup” meetup’s in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Clara.)

Go to the best events: Check out the meetups from iOS Developers and Hackers and Founders and 106Miles and Ideakick and Startup Grind. Catch a monthly hackathon. Subscribe to StartupDigest Silicon Valley edition before you visit.

Cowork with a startup: Find a real 3–10 person startup, working from a small crammed co-working space and sit with them for an afternoon. Offer to code for free. San Francisco has many co-working spaces (shared offices for startups). They’re great to get a feel of what it’s like to start when there’s just a few founders and you don’t have your own garage. Visit Founders Den, Sandbox Suites, Citizenspace, pariSoma Innovation, the Hub,NextSpace, RocketSpace, Startup House, The Hatchery, PeopleBrowsrDolores Labs and DogPatch Labs. Check out here for more SF sites

See where hackers hang out: Driving down the valley see Studio G in Redwood City, Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, the Plug & Play Tech Centerin Sunnyvale, Semantic Seed in San Jose. Check out this site for the latest updates on co-working spaces.

Rub shoulders with the makers: Head to an event at Blackbox.vc or Galvanize. See if there’s a Startup Weekend or SVForum event going on in the Bay Area. I’m serious — talk yourself into a job.

“How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt notes

How Google Works” by Eric Schmidt, despite being quite self-congratulatory and maybe even prone to confirmation bias, is full of inspirational ideas and bids of practical wisdom to learn from. I took a few (ok, quite a few) notes on smart creatives, decision making, hiring, innovation, strategy, career, management and even managing email.

On smart creatives:

“And who, exactly, is this smart creative? A smart creative has deep technical knowledge in how to use the tools of her trade and plenty of hands-on experience. In our industry, that means she is most likely a computer scientist, or at least understands the tenets and structure of the systems behind the magic you see on your screens every day. But in other industries she may be a doctor, designer, scientist, filmmaker, engineer, chef, or mathematician. She is an expert in doing. She doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes. She is analytically smart. She is comfortable with data and can use it to make decisions. She also understands its fallacies and is wary of endless analysis. Let data decide, she believes, but don’t let it take over.

She is business smart. She sees a direct line from technical expertise to product excellence to business success, and understands the value of all three. She is competitive smart. Her stock-in-trade starts with innovation, but it also includes a lot of work. She is driven to be great, and that doesn’t happen 9-to-5. She is user smart. No matter the industry, she understands her “get it right the next time around. She is self-directed creative. She doesn’t wait to be told what to do and sometimes ignores direction if she doesn’t agree with it. She takes action based on her own initiative, which is considerable.

She is open creative. She freely collaborates, and judges ideas and analyses on their merits and not their provenance. If she were into needlepoint, she would sew a pillow that said, “If I give you a penny, then you’re a penny richer and I’m a penny poorer, but if I give you an idea, then you will have a new idea but I’ll have it too.” Then she would figure out a way to make the pillow fly around the room and shoot lasers.

She is thorough creative. She is always on and can recite the details, not because she studies and memorizes, but because she knows them. They are her details. She is communicative creative. She is funny and expresses herself with flair and even charisma, either one-to-one or one-to-many.”

 

HIPPOs:

“Hippopotamuses are among the deadliest animals, faster than you think and capable of crushing (or biting in half) any enemy in their path. Hippos are dangerous in companies too, where they take the form of the Highest-Paid Person’s Opinion. When it comes to the quality of decision-making, pay level is intrinsically irrelevant and experience is valuable only if it is used to frame a winning argument. Unfortunately, in most companies experience is the winning argument. We call these places “tenurocracies,” because power derives from tenure, not merit. It reminds us of our favorite quote from Jim Barksdale, erstwhile CEO of Netscape: “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

When you stop listening to the hippos, you start creating a meritocracy, which our colleague Shona Brown concisely describes as a place where “it is the quality of the idea that matters, not who suggests it.” Sounds easy, but of course it isn’t. Creating a meritocracy requires equal participation by both the hippo, who could rule the day by fiat, and the brave smart creative, who risks getting trampled as she stands up for quality and merit.”

 

On technical insights as a driver of innovation:

“Bet on technical insights, not market research. Product leaders create product plans, but those product plans often (usually!) lack the most important component: What is the technical insight upon which those new features, products, or platforms will be built? A technical insight is a new way of applying technology or design that either drives down the cost or increases the functions and usability of the product by a significant factor. The result is something that is better than the competition in a fundamental way. The improvement is often obvious; it doesn’t take a lot of marketing for customers to figure out that this product is different from everything else.

For example, at that time Google was experimenting in applying some of our expertise from online advertising to other advertising markets, including print, radio, and TV. These were clever efforts, supported by smart people, but they lacked that fundamental technical insight that would shift the cost-performance curve non-incrementally and provide significant differentiation. All three ultimately failed. And when we look back at other Google products that didn’t make it (iGoogle, Desktop, Notebook, Sidewiki, Knol, Health, even the popular Reader), they all either lacked underlying technical insights from the outset, or the insights upon which they were based became dated as the Internet evolved.”

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