You Do Not Have to Fake It Until You Can Make It
Growing a company from startup to global market leadership is not only a matter of having a great product for which there is a desperate need. Even when your customer value proposition is superior to your competitors’ you will face the solid wall of inertia and conservatism in the market. For companies bringing new approaches and technology to the market, this phenomenon is expressed well in Geoffrey Moore’s book “Crossing the Chasm.” But even when you are providing an improvement of what is already available there still are similar barriers to conquer.
You are a risk
The fact that you are new and small is considered a risk by the majority of your potential customers. This risk is probably real, but the magnitude and consequence are in the eyes of the beholder. How can you minimize the perceived risk to your potential customers?
The most effective antidotes to reflective resistance are recommendations and testimonials. Therefore you must go out of your way to create ambassadors of all kinds that are prepared to endorse your company and your value proposition. You must proactively ask, and you must author drafts for the statements that you would like your ambassadors to provide. Customer endorsements have the highest value, but also comments from analysts and consultants with particular insight are of value. I know that some people spend time entering competitions and while I don’t personally assign any value to such awards I cannot deny that some may.
People make the difference
To get the full value from the endorsements, you must appear ultra professional. A professional appearance and behavior will make potential customers more comfortable. Professionalism is not something reserved for large enterprises. For startups, it means engaging professional marketing and business development people. I know it can be hard to accept for a team of engineers who believe that their product is self-explanatory. But trust me, dressing up for the party can make a huge difference. With easy access to the web and social media and with an abundance of tools and resources available, appearing professional is much simpler and much less expensive today than it was 15 years ago. The key here is the people. One or two people can turn the tide if what you have is genuinely valuable. With just one person on the payroll, you can hire most of the additional skills on the freelance market. (Go for long term relationships with your freelancers and subcontractors. There is a learning curve for them too and switching can be painful.)
You need a growth hacker
And then you need a growth hacker. A growth hacker is someone who understands marketing engineering, which is the discipline of reaching your potential customers at almost no cost. The growth hacker will help fill the top of your pipeline by finding the path through the noise and clutter of today’s media. He or she is primarily a technical person who understands the plumbing of marketing and the analytical skills needed to interpret the data that tells you which adjustments are required in the ongoing optimization of your communication.
I don’t believe you can find all these skills in one person (at least I haven’t met such a person yet). If you are short on funding, you should lure the anchor person with a nice portion of shares. The anchor person should preferably be the content generator, but any of the three profiles will work. Having such a person on your team can make the difference between success and failure.