Who are your customers and what do they want from you?
Part 2 on positioning your business ft. Product Marketing expert Alicia Carney, whose number one recommendation is to get 'uncomfortably narrow' to begin with.
Continuing on the current theme of finding your niche (Why is it so hard to pick?!) and choosing the right customers.
Spoiler alert: this involves knowing who they are and listening to them. We’re not doing it nearly enough in our businesses.
Read on for:
A super tactical interview with Alicia Carney who helps you position your product
Ideas, extra reading and frameworks for finding your people aka niche
Ways to level up in before 2021 is up, through workshops and support
PSA: We have 3 themes left in this company building series: Getting visible and building in public; making decisions and leading yourself, and how to scale your business. If you’re new here subscribe for all three.
Q&A: Alicia Carney, Head of Product Marketing at Lune
Alicia Carney is Head of Product Marketing at Lune, she is San Francisco-born and London-based and has spent the last 10+ years scaling fast-paced startups across US, EU and APAC resulting in one merger, one acquisition, and one IPO. There isn’t a lot Alicia doesn’t know about finding customer focus.
Watch the full interview or read the summary below
Tell us about yourself?
From San Francisco, I fell into startups and building businesses from the ground up including several B2B startups. I’ve recently finished three years at Deliveroo where I launched 15 restaurant technology products and crawled through the IPO!
Regardless of a business’ maturity I’ve always found positioning the single most important thing to get right, to make sure we are speaking to someone in particular. It’s an elusive exercise and so easy to misunderstand (which is why I’m so passionate about it!).
How do you support Founders, outside of your day job?
It’s a passion project to work with really early stage founders as I see so much consistency in their perception of the path towards sustainable growth. I don’t want to scare any founders but it’s usually the opposite of what you should do! They always say “the beauty of this [product] is that it can work for anyone and there is so many different ways that people can get value out of it”. This is a big red flag because it’s very easy to slip into being ‘something for everyone’ vs. being the thing for someone in particular.
You will get to build for many different needs and audiences but my number one recommendation and the starting point is to get uncomfortably narrow and to start small. Try to understand one particular customer first and move on over time.
Consumers are inundated by messages like ‘look how great our product is’ so you need to stand out by speaking to someone’s particular needs.
Let’s talk about your newsletter: Finding Customer Focus
It was born out of a smack in the face revelation I had when I found more empathy for people trying to hold onto customer focus.
I had assumed everyone was customer focused at first, but soon realised it was not the case. I saw how many people operate with a rigid framework of what success looks like and how decisions get made quarter by quarter in many businesses. This is very reactive and everyone is sprinting to hit targets so it gets really easy for the customer to get lost in key decision making such as the product roadmap, marketing campaigns, or strategic direction.
I saw an increasing delta between the values that are being touted by companies about customer obsession and what was happening at the ground level where I wasn’t seeing it. So I took a more empathetic approach towards customer focus during the whirlwind of scale. A need for a change in mentality; for businesses to see customer focus as the secret weapon to long term growth and differentiation. On my soapbox I wrote down what I wasn’t seeing in the market (a radical focus on the customer) for startup product marketers.
In a small company without a product marketing department, who takes responsibility for this?
It should be one of the first hires you should make. In my new role at Lune, we are creating climate impact into customer experience and I am one of the first employees because I don’t want to scale a marketing or sales team before I am sure we can validate early Product-market-fit confidence and that our message resonates.
You need someone owning the voice of the customer and creating needs-based materials, someone who turns conversations from customers into case studies and marketing campaigns. So make someone own this, to prevent issues down the line when your product gets copied by competitors. It helps you to hold onto your unique value.
What can solo founders do, to ensure customer focus?
The no.1 thing is to focus on talking to customers and to really listen. When you pitch you want to be hearing this language repeated back to you as that means it is really sticking. So once you speak to enough customers you see how they understand or interpret your value.
Overtime you will get more narrow in who you speak to, as once you’ve spoken to all your target audiences you can whittle it down to one or two. Then create a version of your pitch specific to their needs.
If you’ve been a founder for 6 months-1 year and you have some customers and growth I recommend taking a step back and putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. What are the channels they are finding you from? What sales materials are they seeing? What is the early product experience like? For those who become customers, and for those who don’t?
Its easy to get lost in the weeds - but when you take yourself out and think about things from a customer perspective the higher priority things to do reveal themselves.
Businesses can niche based on product, problem or customer profile, is that right?
My view is that there a million ways to do it but my strong preference based on what has worked is starting with a pain point.
Teams can get indoctrinated to the idea that ‘this product = this customer’ but if you start with a pain point and build a process to understand it then everything else falls into place whilst maintaining customer focus over time.
Why is finding focus so hard for founders, who might resist getting ‘uncomfortably narrow’?
Because it feels like you’re shooting yourself in the foot, as a Founder you think, I have this amazing product, and you have this huge addressable market so the world is our oyster.
When you get really narrow it feels like you’re capping your own opportunity when in fact you’re protecting your ability to execute effectively. It’s a sequencing because once you have the customer experience down you can move onto the next one you want to tackle.
But it can feel counter-intuitive to visionary founders who want to solve everything at once.
What are some activities businesses should do to find this clarity?
Get all of your assumptions out on paper, ideally in the same room as the whole team to explore “who is the customer, what do they care about, how do we pitch our product?”. Turn these assumptions into something needs based, whereby a product has a functional value proposition to understand its benefit.
Market research, finding the right segments to hypothesise which ones to focus on, then knocking on doors to interview people and learn about them. Trends in the feedback allow you build and execute off the back of them to create a pitch that says ‘Here’s your problem and here’s how we solve it”.
Building personas helps you accelerate your sales conversations.
Strategic messaging frameworks also help you tie your high level vision down to the features and functions that make up your product so that there is a connection between messaging and the engine under the hood.
Building a culture around the customer, for the whole business, where it is prioritised.
What resources can you recommend on product positioning?
James Doman-Pipe writes Building Momentum a newsletter for founders and marketers accelerate SaaS growth
My course, WTF is Go-To-Market is a short course to up-skill marketers
Thank you, Alicia!
Psst! We have two special guests left in this series and I’m already thinking about next year so if you have something to say do get in touch to explore a collab!
Ready to go deeper on product positioning and niche exploration?
April Dunford, let’s call her the ‘godmother of product positioning’, has written Obviously Awesome and shares this product positioning exercise on Medium.
Katie Tucker, product expert who bangs the drum for putting your customer front and centre has five tips to conduct knockout market research for you.
‘Ideal Client Avatars’ are your dream customer. Follow these prompts to figure our what your businesses’ ICA is with this guide from Gigi, One6Creative.
(Resharing from The Ask archives) Key questions to help you design your business model with a 3-part framework that makes sure what your customers want, and what the market demands are considered as much as your own wants and needs: Download your free template:
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Ellen Donnelly, Founder + Chief Coach, The Ask.