Get Out of Your Building Again, Part II
Steve Blank popularized the concept of getting out of your building to conduct customer development in the pursuit for the ultimate product/market fit. The benefits were obvious: get to know your real market, test your hypotheses, and gather insights from your customers.
But there is a Part II to this advice. Fast forward to having been successful, nailing the product/market fit, and growing like crazy. Now you need to get out of your building again, but this time, it’s for marketing outreach activities and to establish your physical presence where your customers and markets are.
There comes a point when online referrals, peer to peer viral growth, and centralized command and control online processes can take you so far in terms of reaching maximum visibility, awareness and preference potential to attract new users and customers.
Not all products are conducive to an infinite network-effect-driven growth curve via user-to-prospect referrals, and lateral message propagation.
So, if you’ve reached close to 100 employees, and you think you’re doing well, but 95% of your employees are still in head office, it’s time to re-consider that. If you are the CEO, get out of your building and start reaching your community on the ground, wherever they are. You can’t just push a button from central headquarters and expect local markets to be favorable to you by remote control. Even better, start hiring people in the local markets where your customers and prospects are.
Even Twitter has been opening regional offices, as they need to have feet on the ground where the (paying) customers are. Dropbox and Mailchimp regularly sponsor local activities where their customers and prospects hang out. The reason why Drew Houston hits the speaking circuit so often is because he’s spreading the Dropbox brand around. Facebook knew that a long time ago. They had been cozying-up to the local developers around the world since 1999 when Facebook Connect came out, because they knew that they would in turn evangelize early on in their local markets. Local Facebook Connect meetups were routinely attended by hundreds of developers and marketing agencies.
The battleground for market share consists of reaching your prospects, i.e. the majority of the market who doesn’t know about you. You need to get into their heads before the competition does.
Most startups are comfortable dealing with their customers, but they struggle reaching the outer layers of the market they really need to attract. You cannot wait to be led to that market. You need to go and be in front of it. Matt Mullenweg, CEO/founder of Automattic, revels in attending local WordCamp meetups around the world. It’s how he stays in touch with the local communities globally, and how he continues to spread the WordPress brand by staying inside the minds of the market.
You could think of your market potential progression in 3 stages (see figure):
- Product/Market Fit: Demand driven by early adopters of your product
- Growth: Reaching the fast followers
- Local Markets: Being in the global/local market where your prospects are
Here are some (partial) ideas for local outreach activities to assert your marketing presence in local markets:
- Sponsor and/or attend local meetups
- Create your own brand of events (e.g. WordCamp)
- Get invited to fireside chats
- Speak at conferences and participate in panel discussions
- Visit your local customers
- Send someone from headquarters to spend a week per city and have them infiltrate and participate in the communities where your target markets are
There is nothing wrong in having a strong head-office, but if you’ve experienced a relatively pleasant growth phase, and you’re wondering what’s next, you need to start asserting your presence where your market is. You can typically start with the major metropolitan or regional concentrations where your customers and prospects are. You don’t need to open new offices, but you may need to hire local people that are feet-on-the-ground with the local communities that you are trying to reach. If you don’t do that, you’re really making it harder on yourself to be successful, and making it easier for the competition to beat you if they are already local and you’re not.
Go capture the imagination of users where they are, and get into their minds early on, before the competition does.
At one of my companies, we would say ABC (Always Be Closing) but also NOP (Never Outsource Prospecting). While not as clever as ABC, ABP sounded awkward 🙂
The theme was that no matter how large your funnel and how many deals you had closed, you always needed to make sure you had the next set of customers lining up.
Couldn’t agree more that you both need to be where your customers are and that the only way to touch them is to become part of their local communities.
It is highly unlikely though that to your example it is possible to have company of 100 people and not already be there. Companies start somewhere than build out logically where their markets take them.
Thanks Arnold. My post was inspired by a real case, but I can’t disclose the name of the company. And there is more than one example that comes to mind. Maybe not all with 100 employees, but close enough.
Good analogies & true. Thanks Scott.
The Part II reference is a great add-on to Steve Blank’s model.
It is common sense. But so many put things like this at the bottom of a very big To Do list.
I think customers are pleasantly surprised when they meet the people behind the products. “Getting out of the building Again, Part II” is akin to a time when people use to write thank you notes and hand deliver them. Little things do matter.