When it comes to marketing, distribution is key… getting your product in front of your ideal customers is the most important thing.
And yes… there’s more to life than AdWords.
But no matter what distribution channels you leverage, the most important thing you can do is get to know your customers and prospects better than they know themselves.
In fact, what channels – as well as sales processes, customer success methods, metering/billing, etc. – you need to leverage all start with knowing your customers intimately.
You need to know how your customers buy, where they look for information, who they trust, how they pay, etc.
How you get that information is through customer development as well as primary (stuff you do yourself) and secondary (stuff other people have done that you get access to) market research.
Here are some methods I use…
First, an example.
Sell Cookies to Pot Smokers
In February 2014, headlines were made by a Girl Scout in San Francisco who setup shop outside a medicinal marijuana store… and sold over 200 boxes in just 2 hours.
While this girl will also gladly sell cookies to anyone who asks – she’s not ONLY selling cookies to pot smokers – she thought about it and came up with a group of customers super-ready, willing, and able to buy… and she got in front of them.
If you don’t know – and I’m only relaying what I learned from the movies here – smoking pot makes you hungry. So… 2 + 2 = 4 and… go sell cookies to pot smokers.
I assume her next sales trip is to Colorado or Washington.
Anyway, keep this story in mind as we move forward.
Which reminds me,…
Who’s Your Ideal Customer?
Ugh… there’s that question again, huh?
But you know what, everything starts with an ideal customer definition.
If you don’t know who your ideal customer is – and yes, you can have more than one – then everything from this point on is going to be difficult if not impossible to do.
Okay, so once you figure out who your ideal customer is (understand their characteristics, demo and psychographics, etc.), it’s time to seek out more people or companies that fit our ideal customer template.
Sources for Ideal Customer Analogs
You might find that they’re existing customers (not all customers are Ideal… but some of your current customers might fit the template), unconverted prospects, or even customers of competitive offerings.
From asking current customers – either via email, phone, chat, etc. or through in-app messaging/surveys like Qualaroo or Intercom “how’d you initially hear about us?” and “what blogs do you read?” (or whatever) – to industry-level secondary research and surveys, there are lots of ways to get this info.
Talk to Your Customers
But I need to be clear on this… the most overlooked resource for understanding customers in most companies is… current customers.
This is generally because we don’t want to “bother” customers and that is often due to vendor insecurities and a perceived fragile relationship with the customer.
Or it’s a real problem – they actually do have a fragile relationship with their customer – and they don’t realize that
talking to listening to customers would actually be a good thing that might strengthen their relationship.
But I digress…
Sometimes you want (need) to get a wider perspective than just those folks who already bought into what you do, so you’ll need to talk to non-customers, too.
Your list of cancelled customers, free trials that didn’t convert, etc. are also AMAZING resources most companies fail to exploit for better understanding.
Eventually – or to start, depending on your stage I suppose – you’ll need/want to go talk to people that you’ve never interacted with, but that fit your ideal customer profile.
Talk to Your Competitor’s Customers
Sometimes I will hunt down customers of a competitor and reach out to ask about that competitor.
How can you find them?
- They’re named in testimonials and case studies on the competitor site
- They mentioned the app in their LinkedIn profile
- They ‘re a member of an app-specific group on LinkedIn
- They have a certification from the vendor
- They’ve tweeted about a product
- They mention the product in their oDesk profile
- They’re a fan on Facebook
- Use your imagination… or pay me to use mine
When I get an audience with them – and remember, this is NOT a pitch session – I’ll ask about other competitors they may have evaluated (and why they chose the one they did), who else they trust in the industry, (consultants, advisors, analysts, etc.), what blogs they read, did they buy direct or through a distributor/VAR/app store, etc.
I’m learning about their product selection process, what they look for when making a decision, who they trust, etc. You’d be surprised at what you can learn in a 5-minute conversation.
BTW, it helps if you aren’t publicly associated with the company you’re doing the research for… this is just one reason companies hire me to do this for them, but this is something they could do themselves with some creative thinking.
Oh, and you now how I said it isn’t a pitch session when you’re doing this research… it’s not. But you will learn things that could be turned over to a Prospector / Market Dev / Sales person to run with. Sneaky.
Infiltrate Their Ecosystem!
In your discussions you’ll learn about analysts, consultants, and associations from whom you can buy secondary research – which is cool – but don’t forget that you can also use them for primary research (i.e. you talk to them and learn stuff directly from them).
Also look for associations your ideal customers belong to – both industry-specific and wider-scope associations – and events they attend. These can be national events or local meet-ups.
You can get a TON of intel just from the industry event websites; sponsors, speakers, presenters, board members.
Of course by actually attending the event and networking with all those folks as well as other attendees, you can accelerate your understanding of the market in just a couple of days.
Look for Patterns
If everyone I talk to says they read XYZ’s blog or buys research from ABC Firm, then I probably need to figure out a way to piggyback on those folks somehow to get in front of my ideal customer.
Do they read this magazine, or listen to that podcast? Do they go to this event or trust that consultant? Are there ways to use that knowledge to get in front of my Ideal Customer? Ads, Guest Blog Posts, Distribution Deals, Email Drops…
Does it seem like most buy through intermediaries such as VARs or Distributors? Do they seem to use corporate app stores? How can I get my app listed in those corporate stores or be included in distribution deals with VARs?
Are there a lot of independent consultants in the market? If so, maybe an Affiliate Program is what you need to leverage for Distribution.
The patterns will start to give you insights into how to get in front of your audience or what distribution channels you’ll use.
Take Appropriate Action
Then you’ll need to get creative to come up with the best way to leverage those, depending on whether they’re owned, earned, or paid channels.
Here are some additional posts that will help you with this:
- 43 Ways to Get Traffic to Your Site
- Use Partner Offers to Quickly Grow Your Business
- Warm-Up Your Leads Before You Email Them
- 21 Growth Hacks to test Today
- Where is Your Ideal Customer on the Awareness Ladder?
- SaaS Distribution: Time to Change the Channel
So there is no “best” distribution channel for all SaaS apps… there are only “best” distribution channels for each Ideal Customer type.
A Note on Customer Development
You know the part about understanding their buying process like who all is involved in the process (personas), how do they actually pay, can they use a Credit Card or do they need to be invoiced and pay by check, do they need a 3-year contract, do they go through intermediaries, etc.
Yeah, if you aren’t asking questions – or otherwise learning – about these things, you aren’t doing *customer* development… you’re doing (functional) user development.
How they buy or it’s not customer development!
So, to reiterate… no matter what distribution channels you leverage, the most important thing you can do is get to know your customers and prospects better than they know themselves.
For more check out Lincoln’s full webinar on 5 Simple Steps to Get in Front of your Ideal Customer.
Editors Note: Lincoln Murphy is the Customer Success Evangelist at the leading Customer Success SaaS company, Gainsight. Stay tuned for his upcoming and ongoing series on Customer Success Hacks exclusive to SalesHacker.com. This post was originally published on Sixteen Ventures and has been republished with permission.