B2B marketing for an early-stage startup

By Jasper Meurs
July 8, 2021

Over the past decade of my life as a marketing consultant I’ve been approached by multiple startups for my expertise. Some of them were already established and servicing their first handful of customers. Others just starting to build their first product or moreover,  some had nothing more than a great idea for something.

Right now, I’d like to talk about the latter, the early stage startup that’s just getting their feet wet. All too often I see these startups wanting to advertise their product just as you would an already established enterprise.

I’m advising against this for several reasons. Let’s explore them.

You don’t have the necessary trust yet

Trust is one of the most important things you need to close a sale. The person on the other side of the table needs to be able to trust that you will keep your end of the bargain. And if you are an early-stage startup, chances are nobody will recognize your brand except for maybe your best friends and your mom.

Think about it this way: when your seventeenth LinkedIn stranger of the  day asks you to add them to your network, what is the reason you are not answering?

I bet they are either promising you a lifetime opportunity, solving your biggest problem, unlocking the key to a vast increase in sales, or all of the above. You’re also probably not answering because you already have enough on your plate, you don’t know the person, and thus, you are not convinced they’re even worth your time.

How to actually build trust

Now for the more difficult part, how do you actually build trust? One of the best ways of building trust is by actually providing value. Something you can do by creating content.

Take my friend John. He’s building a new app that will help users focus on the right things. John has the idea for his app, he knows exactly how he is going to build it, and the first interactive prototypes are begging to be used already. He just knows people are going to love his new app, so he starts by setting up a LinkedIn campaign. Using the most beautiful ads you’ve ever seen with the best looking screenshots of the app.

But he doesn’t receive nearly as many clicks on his ad, let alone receive any downloads from his landing page.

The mistake John is making here is one I see quite often. He is going straight for the sale.

In this case, it’s a lot like dating. When you’re talking to someone for the first time you’re not necessarily asking them “my place or yours?”. You first talk to get to know eachother , who they are, their hobbies, and if they like pineapple on their pizza or not. Getting your first customers’ is no different.

You need to prove to people that you know your business. You know how to help them or their company solve a problem, or you can help them grow.

Now, how can you achieve this at scale? Enter content marketing, one of the best ways to build trust at scale. Content marketing gives you the means to actually solve your customer’s problem. And guess what, millions of people are searching for a solution to the problem you’re already solving. Are they immediately going to pull out their wallet and pay you? No. But are they willing to accept your help? Absolutely!

Content (marketing) is king

Let’s go back to John for a minute. Instead of directly promoting his new app, he can start creating content. This can be a blog, video, a podcast, or even better: all of these.

The point is that he will not be asking people to immediately commit to what he is selling. He will however, help people solve their problem. Take Ahrefs, they are great at this. Ahrefs’ blog is one of its biggest drivers for new customers buying their tool.

Thanks to Ahref’s blog, if you’re trying to solve an SEO issue, I’m pretty sure you’ll find the answer to your question in their blog. And while reading the blog post, you’ll learn how to get great at SEO. And while you’re learning, you’ll begin to understand how Ahrefs’ tool can make this work even easier for you. Will this be enough to convince most consumers to make a purchase? Well, it just might be.

This same dating stage is what you want for your product as well. It ensures that your customers take the time they need to really understand your product. You’ll also have the chance to get to know them, and what their real needs are. Once they see that you’re an expert in your field with a great product or service, trust has been established. This creates a great opportunity in the form of ammunition to do your sales outreach, create campaigns that really connect with your customers, and give you a fantastic source for your social media marketing.

Playing the long game

But Jasper, this won’t immediately sell my product. How will this help me achieve my goals?

Good point! I believe in playing the long game. Working very hard on the right initiatives will yield results, even if not immediately.

Do this well and before you know it, people will be asking to buy from you. Because of the value you provided them, the trust they have in you, and the opportunity to get to know you better.

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