8 methods for punching above your weight class.
Startups have an uphill battle at the outset in more ways than one. Even if the company is new, the industry incumbents (aka the competition) may not be, so a startup needs to go head-to-head with industry leaders and newcomers alike—often on a small marketing budget—from the very beginning.
It used to be that startups selling to other small and even enterprise-sized businesses didn’t need to come out the gate with world-class marketing and design, but that has changed due to ever-increasing customer expectations and technology advancements. Potential customers now need to know a product or service is worthwhile and reputable even if the product is brand new, regardless of company size.
The good news is that it is possible to punch above your weight class even as a startup. With attention to detail and strategic planning, startups can present themselves as innovative, reputable and noteworthy even if they are brand new.
- Highlight how your startup challenges the status quo: Especially in a crowded industry, a startup may be offering features that are largely available elsewhere. But even if some attributes are similar, there is usually something different about any startup's product. Highlight those differences. Shine big lights on the why that will intrigue potential buyers.
Part of your positioning and messaging should tie the product and brand to the larger narrative of the industry as a whole. Showcase the current state of the industry and how the company provides a fundamental and necessary shift to the status quo.
- Price for value, not experience: While offering founding customers some unique packaging and services in exchange for feedback is not a bad idea, offering deep discounts and super-lowa prices at the offset is actually a mistake many startup founders make. Including big figures in those early proposals may seem counter-intuitive, but many potential customers will evaluate products and services based on the confidence and sophistication displayed in the pricing structure. Price too low, and some potential customers may assume the product is cheaply-made or not fully-flushed out. When you price the product well, it is normal to have some push-back. According to Harry Beckwith, author of Selling the Invisible, 15 to 20 percent of people should resist your pricing. Yes, even in the startup stage.
- Build relationships with analysts: Analysts want to be perceived as all-encompassing guides for technologies in any industry, so it behooves them to know about innovative startups just as much as it benefits the startup founders. While not every startup is featured in notable reports like the Forrester Wave Report or the Gartner Magic Quadrant, it is beneficial to open the door to relationships with analysts that work with these and other agencies early-on. You can also focus on industry-specific analyst firms at first like SiriusDecisions before you start to engage Gartner. Most analyst firms offer free briefings even if you’re not a customer, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities.
- Go after big competitors: Think strategically about what companies already exist that could be deemed competitors, and call those companies out by name in pitches. By associating your company with big-name competitors, it will make your company appear more credible and confident. Startups may be small at the outset, but that doesn’t mean it’s beneficial to think small when planning for the future. Showing early customers there’s a long-game will only make them feel more sure they’re not selecting an average, fledgling startup.
- Provide an exemplary onboarding experience: One thing that can set a startup apart is an exemplary onboarding experience. Unfortunately, not even all enterprise-level services provide great onboarding experiences, so it can be even more impressive from a startup. Since startups often have fewer customers, it offers the opportunity to provide even more personalized touches, like handwritten notes, messages on social media or other small tokens of appreciation.
- Create your own momentum: Startups have a notoriously fast internal operating system. Externally, however, many startups appear to be inching along slowly in large part due to a lack of momentum. There is an incredible opportunity for startup marketers to build their own buzz in the form of product launches, press releases, blog posts and community-building events. Defining the drumbeat of a startup can create a major impact. Setting a regular cadence of strategic buzz will help build a community around a brand that may at first be larger than the actual customer base. That is not a bad thing. Lurkers often become customers. Give them a reason to know your brand even if they aren’t buying from it… yet.
- Implement good design everywhere: Some people think design is relevant in two areas: logos and marketing materials, and product. The truth is there is far more to design, and it can be felt in every aspect of a company. Design isn’t just about aesthetics; it must be holistic across the board in look, feel and structure. There should be thoughtfulness and intentionality put on every aspect of the company’s customer-facing brand, including the email newsletter, contact page and social media profiles. Having a seamless brand experience literally everywhere that someone could engage builds brand recognition and affinity. At High Alpha, we have incorporated that ethos into building a Minimum Viable Brand for all our new companies, providing them with the right balance of structure and flexibility to let their brand look much bigger than they are.
- Leverage happy customers: If a startup is checking all the boxes above, it’s likely they have some happy, loyal customers early-on in the company journey. Leverage those customers in ways that will generate more growth. Ask customers to leave reviews on websites like Capterra and G2. When prospects see that others have taken the time to use and review your product, it increases the chances they will also buy. Plus, having multiple reviews can make a startup appear much larger than it is in those early years.
There is often an unconscious bias against startups, likely because so many of them fail. By following these tips, even brand new companies with few customers can punch above their weight class, and delight existing users while steadily growing their user-base.
Drew Beechler is the Director of Marketing for High Alpha, a venture studio that has raised over $260 million across three funds and three studios, launched over 30 companies, and invested in 60 world-class founders.