With the decade long bull market and excessive fundraising environment, unprofitable startups are gobbling cash at a remarkable pace. The mantra is “grow as fast as possible, raise the valuation, figure out profitability later.” That can certainly work for some, unless the music stops. If there are unforeseen circumstances — a new product doesn’t work or the business model shows some flaws — that spigot of never ending money may stop flowing.
I felt this pain acutely at my last startup. We grew quickly and let hefty expenses, many for products and services that we didn’t even need, pile up. Our leadership team was eager to add more staff to scale, but we didn’t carefully consider how the additional costs would reduce our runway and increase our risk, especially if revenue did not grow as quickly as we projected, or if we couldn’t collect accounts receivables promptly. Not surprisingly, we encountered both of those obstacles. This forced us to make layoffs, which is agonizing for everyone involved. It was a valuable lesson learned and shaped my current philosophy on cost management.
This article is the 1st in a series about startup product and engineering.
If you’re building a software company, one of the most important things to get right is… (drum roll)… building software. Yet building good software is among the most challenging parts of a tech startup. Most founders can hack together a minimum viable prototype that gets the job done for early customers. However, as more customers use it, that prototype typically breaks and becomes difficult to maintain. Therefore, it’s critical for startups to hire a great team of engineers and product managers to make that prototype scale.
Growing, organizing and managing a product and engineering team brings an entirely new set of challenges. The costs of getting it wrong are staggering: software bugs, instability and perhaps most acutely painful, not being able to quickly iterate on your product to get to product market fit.
Suppose you are in the early stages of launching a B2B startup. You have a minimum viable product ready for the world to use. You then realize, “oh crap, now we actually need users/customers, I better figure out marketing…”
The most difficult part of getting off the ground is often not building the product or even getting customers to pay. Instead, it is the fundamentals of marketing: driving traffic to your website and converting visitors into users.
Here we are… the last post in this blog series of building a marketing team at a B2B startup. We’ve covered a tremendous amount in the last 50 posts, and hopefully the content has been helpful in growing your team. As a startup evolves, the marketing needs and team structure will as well.
In this final post, let’s consider what you need to account for as you scale the marketing function for a growing business. For my team at Netpulse, we hit a certain level of growth where we started to struggle with challenges such as:
We’re out of content ideas… what do we write about?
Did our team grow too fast… what should our interns do?
Are we seeing diminishing returns from our inbound strategy?
To help answer those questions and more, let’s outline a philosophy on scaling marketing:
Throughout this blog series on marketing, we’ve gone deep on metrics, dashboards and the tools you use to track them. We’ve covered budgeting and how the different areas of a marketing budget power your lead generation and product marketing. As marketing leaders, you need to effectively communicate the ROI of these marketing efforts to various stakeholders at your company, from other functional leaders to the CEO and CFO. This ensures that you have the necessary support, budget and collaboration with the broader team to expand. Below is a breakdown of the steps to do this effectively:
1. Set expectations
As with any function or project, you need to set the right expectations from the beginning, and adjust them regularly as conditions change. When I first took over marketing at Netpulse, our team was building nearly everything from scratch. I needed to make sure the sales team didn’t expect an immediate flow of MQLs before we got the messaging correct or implemented our marketing automation system.
An important ingredient to successful inbound marketing is variety. Some targets will prefer to read ebooks. Others will attend every webinar and re-watch the recording. In order to appeal to a wide range of targets, you need to build content in many different mediums. One of those is online courses.
While on the surface it may sound like a big undertaking, launching an online course is pretty simple. In most cases, it is just an automated campaign of emails that link to content (i.e. articles or “lessons”) that is dripped to the lead in chronological fashion, guiding them through the lessons. Here is a breakdown of how to get started:
1. Identify topics
Start by figuring out what topics the course should include. This should be based around your company’s core story and positioning. For example, for my business that sells mobile apps to health clubs, we might launch a course on “How to Grow your Club with Technology.” Throughout the course we’d outline best practices for launching new technology, including (but not limited to) mobile apps. This way, the lead is getting educated and nurtured.
The CRM and marketing automation system are the two most important software packages that make up the modern marketing stack. Together, they serve as the core infrastructure required to operate a successful inbound marketing program. Therefore, it’s critical that you tightly integrate them, sharing data so leads get the right message at the right time.
For simplicity, the automation system is home-base for marketing and the CRM is home-base for sales. Ideally, the sales team is rarely — if ever — interacting with the automation system. Your goal is to only present the information most relevant to the stakeholder. For example, the sales team should only be focusing on MQLs and opportunities, not leads higher in the funnel.
There are two integration paths to consider:
Sync all incoming leads
In this model, every time a target fills out a landing page form to download content or register for a webinar, their contact information will be synced to the CRM.
For every piece of content in your inbound marketing strategy, there is a landing page hosting, displaying and providing the ability for targets to download. The landing page is a critical gateway to your content. Depending on design and copy, it will make or break the conversion from targets to leads, a crucial step in the marketing funnel. Therefore, you need to pay close attention to how you develop and optimize landing pages.
This post outlines some best practices in building and scaling landing pages for B2B startups:
1. Always use the marketing automation system
Landing pages are tightly integrated with other components of inbound marketing, controlled by the automation system. This includes CTAs, content distribution, lead capture and the automations that run when a target converts to a lead by downloading content. While it may be tempting to use a separate service specifically designed for landing pages, it’ll make your life so much easier to keep it all under one roof. I use Hubspot to handle everything.
If you are operating a B2B startup, your website still reigns supreme among the most important communication channels. It is the most visible public display of your messaging, story and products. The website is also the primary gateway to engaging with your inbound marketing content, typically through a linked blog. Not surprisingly, building a website is often at the top of the early stage marketing to-do list. It is also one of the more challenging, time-consuming and expensive endeavors.
There are many online resources outlining how to design and develop a website, from being mobile-first to creating content that is optimized for search engines. This post will instead focus on the general approach a marketer should take in launching a website, and some pitfalls to avoid:
1. Prepare the fundamentals
Prior to building a website, you need your messaging, positioning and story solidly outlined. The website will simply be repeating the same core story over and over again, in text and graphics. Once you have it defined, making the website is a lot easier.
An exciting step in a startup’s growth trajectory is when you start expanding internationally. From new laws to currency exchange, international growth brings a fresh set of challenges to the team. For Marketing, international expansion can be intimidating… will you have to run many simultaneous campaigns to address different regional markets? Getting started with marketing internationally is actually fairly simple. Consider the following pointers to kick off:
1. Pay to get started
Some paid acquisition can go a long way. Start by identifying who the major publications (print/digital) and events are, and secure a few sponsorships. If possible, set up a booth at a local event. You need to kickstart your international marketing with an initial list of targets, so manual efforts like paid email blasts and events can get the engine started. This can compliment a locally targeted digital campaign on Facebook, Google and retargeting.