“If you build it, they will come.” It’s a line from an old movie “Field of Dreams” which is still leading to the demise of too many startups, led by entrepreneurs who really started their business to build an exciting new product or service.  Most struggle with the idea and practice of marketing and sales, and see these as a necessary evil, if even required.

Of course, for a price, there are many marketing organizations and gurus willing to come to your aid. But marketing is not “rocket science,” so I’m a big proponent of self-help and practicing the pragmatics in-house first. A great resource is the classic book by Drew Williams and Jonathan Verney, “Feed the Startup Beast: A 7-Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Sales Growth.”

This book correctly characterizes every small business as a beast that has to be well fed to grow. The ingredients for growth are well known: patience, persistence, and a plan. The first two p’s are up to you, but I agree with the authors that an effective plan and execution in this new Internet world needs to be built around a minimum of the following seven steps:

1. Ask the single most important question.  The only question you need to ask is “How likely are you to recommend my [product/service/company] to a colleague or business associate?” In every constituency, there are fans, fence-sitters, and critics. Fans contribute 2.6 times more revenue than “somewhat satisfied,” and critics kill revenue at twice the rate that fans increase it. Too many critics and not enough fans spell disaster. Take a look at our post “7 Keys to Hard Hitting Social Media Use for Business” to learn more about using social media to engage with customers and promote your business.

2. Listen to targeted prospects through real engagement.  Engage first, sell later. The laws of engagement require targeting the best prospects first, offering a real value proposition, and making an offer which is valuable, timely, and relevant. It’s also essential to engage with prospects in the medium they prefer. This is especially true with millennials. B2B buyers frequently turn to their smartphones when researching products and services, so it’s important to make your content mobile friendly.

3. Focus your resources to convert prospects to customers.  Build a plan with automation to manage the volume, but every customer has to feel like you are reaching out to them personally. Fine-tune the marketing and sales conversion engine to narrow the funnel, and build a sales team to close every sales-ready lead. To give your sales team more time to spend with prospects, look for ways to cut the amount of time they spend doing anything else. By removing document processes that get in their way, you’d be able to give each salesperson thirteen extra hours to personalize their proposals.

4. Use partners to attract and get found by the right prospects.  The planning is done, and now it’s time to execute.  Make your startup valuable and visible through partners, with great content that cannot be missed by online search, influencers, and offline events. Use social media in concert with a web site and offline media. In all venues, 20% of the effort gets you 80% of the results.

5. Pursue and intrigue prospects who respond. Content is key in 2017. Put your best efforts into helping                prospects break through the clutter, engage them, and intrigue them. Your goal is to get them to think different, like Apple, or be surprised and delighted with the experience.  Be sure to track the engagement rate, and be quick to pivot if the breakthrough rate is low.

6. Nurture customers and influencers into real fans.  Turning your customers into real fans is the best leverage you have.  Fans have a triple impact: they are more profitable, stay longer, and bring in others. Customers are increasingly savvy, price-driven and informed, which means that brands have to work harder than ever to retain their business. The Genuine Xerox Rewards loyalty program gives customers added incentive to engage with Xerox. Learn more about making customer loyalty stick in this post.

7. Grow and measure the conversion rate.  Here are four essential conversion rates you need to track: prospects to engaged prospects (target 38%), engaged prospects to sales-ready leads (20%), sales-ready prospects to customers (35%), and customers to fans (60%). This kind of conversion can easily result in 100% year-over-year revenue growth.

If you want success in selling your product, you need to put the same focus, intensity, and innovation into marketing and sales, as you have put into building the product.  It won’t happen magically, but it doesn’t require an army of experts or a huge budget.  Really, it’s all about having great information, great tools, and the determination to learn what customers really value.

Completing each of the above steps allows your startup beast to pick up momentum, fueling a breakthrough in growth, and ultimately making it unbeatable in the marketplace. The modern day field of dreams mantra has pivoted to “If you market it, they will come.” Are your customers coming fast enough?

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