“A company with great tech but not enough customers” is an unfortunate yet common story.
Without customers, your business generates no income or value, and – almost as importantly — the individuals who personally invested in the project don’t get the satisfaction of seeing anyone’s appreciation for the work that’s gone into it.
The business-to-business(B2B) segment is especially brutal for emerging companies, who must prove their worth to the scrupulous decision-makers who will decide if their product is going to add value to their own business, and whether or not to adopt it.
Without effective strategies to reach your audience and convert them into customers who consume your product and provide valuable feedback, your business will not grow and may fail to get off the ground entirely. I know this all too well through first hand experience – and, somewhat ironically, it's partially what led me to becoming a technical content writer.
Building a great app is only the first step in building a great app
I had a proven concept: a software platform developed based on the requirements of real business customers, which were not met by any existing commercial solutions. This application was already tested and used in production, successfully powering the businesses that were involved in the initial design and development of the product.
It was time to expand. I had a stable, battle-tested application that solved actual problems and already had satisfied customers, and I was confident that there were other businesses with similar requirements.
I implemented a licensing and partner program, wrote thorough documentation, and polished up my product with additional customizations and enhancements. Everything was tied together with a shiny website with pages explaining the benefits of the product for both end users and potential partners. And then... crickets.
Nobody knew I was there. I’d created all of the above to convince people to use my product, but in my naive enthusiasm, I’d completely overlooked actually reaching those people. I could see that I had a great product, so naturally others would flock to it and sign up — right? Wrong.
You must find your audience
Yes, I was appearing in search engine results, had listed myself on app comparison websites, and had even made some introductory forum posts in relevant places. The benefit of providing ways for your audience to discover your product is obvious. What was less obvious at the time was the benefit of me learning more about my audience as well as finding new audiences.
Feedback from satisfied users is highly valuable — it tells you what’s working and what features to enhance and promote. My existing users had already had their problems addressed and their suggestions implemented, and they had little more to add. There was no further discussion and no feedback from new users with different opinions and requirements. Without new customers and new feedback, how could the product improve and the business expand? Simply introducing yourself to your market isn’t enough — you must engage with them.
As a fledgling developer I was reluctant to invest the resources to effectively perform ongoing outreach — limiting my ability to expand my audience, even once I had become acutely aware of how detrimental this was.
…and help your audience find you
Marketing and outreach provides an avenue for you to communicate to potential new customers why they should use your product, explaining the problems it solves for them. Audience research performed in the process of building content marketing campaigns is also likely to reveal undiscovered pain points that your product solves, and uncover potential new customer sources.
I came away from my first forays into marketing my own products with a few hard lessons, and had to quickly learn and adopt marketing strategies to reach new customers. In the end, content was king: interested parties could learn about my product and its features, see it in action through tutorials, and discuss and ask questions through comments and call-to-action forms.
The lessons I learned about audience research and content marketing proved incredibly valuable — to the point that I now provide that value to others, helping them avoid having to learn those hard lessons themselves.
Don't become someone else's focus group
There is a fate worse than obscurity that I have seen befall some small developers as they are starting out – being scooped.
Launching too softly and not quickly acquiring a critical mass of users leaves the door open for your idea to be appropriated. A competitor could see your product, identify the value in it and the fact that it’s not being effectively marketed, and then replicate it while investing the appropriate marketing resources.
All of your design and research will be worthless — your doppelganger will attract a larger user base, and your users will slowly drift away to the more popular competing product.
While launching softly makes sense to test the technical aspects of a product or receive early feedback, your product cannot remain in this phase for too long.
You have to launch it. A robust marketing strategy to drive early adoption is a must — your product must set the standard that others try to emulate, if you don’t want to be left behind while someone else succeeds with your concept.
Regardless of the dedication of your team and the size of your development budget, if you take half measures with your marketing and outreach at launch, you will fail and be left wondering whether better outreach would have made the difference. A product that could have been a roaring success may be relegated to being an over-engineered portfolio piece.
You're asking others to invest in your product — lead the way and invest in it yourself
Once of the primary reasons developers and businesses don’t invest in marketing is the perceived cost. Cost, of course, is a misnomer: marketing is an investment that can generate incredible returns when done right. Businesses are right to balk at throwing a double-digit percentage of their budget towards unproven marketing campaigns with lofty promises, but they should not let this detract from the business success stories powered by thoughtful, well-executed advertising campaigns.
You’ve invested your time and resources into building a great product. You’re now expecting businesses to invest their time and money adopting your product and integrating it into their potentially business critical processes. Before they can do any of this, they need to be able to find it, and understand how it benefits them.
If you expect others to believe in your product and the solutions it offers, be ready to back it up with landing pages, documentation, blog posts, tutorials, and other content that explains your product. This way, you can assure potential stakeholders that the resources they allocate to testing and implementing your product and training their teams to use it are well worth it.
Effective marketing won’t just help users find you — it will help you find them and better meet their needs, while proving your commitment to an ongoing customer relationship and ensuring that your business doesn’t get off to a false start.