On the train to New York a few days ago, I met a couple of Manhattan PR account executives who work with technology start ups. They talked about one client in particular who, they described as having “a pretty good brand” and website that “needs work.” They mentioned something about a flashing graphic on the site that is a bit irritating.

A product or a vision?
Flashing graphics aside, the company, it turns out, is overseen by some pretty talented scientists who have an innovative product. Their brand, their website and their graphics, all correspond with that one product.

I asked the account manager if this firm plans to expand beyond one product and grow the company. Of course, he responded, isn’t that every small company’s plan?

Perhaps it is, but in this case, their marketing doesn’t reflect it. Logos, messaging and imagery often start out centered around the one product that a company offers. Once they grow bigger and bring in strategic business experts, their vision broadens to solving a problem or problems in a certain industry with a series of products.

Growing Up
When smart start ups grow up and begin thinking with a bigger picture, that’s when the scientists, engineers and other product developers make room for business and marketing strategists. This company knew enough to seek out and retain a PR firm. That’s a good start.

Now they have an opportunity to tap into another key expert group: their customers. To make a real play in a competitive market, you have to keep an ear to the ground, which is the big payoff when you engage in social media and open a conversation with your customer.

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Asking, Not Telling
“How to Qualify Leads with Targeted Online Surveys”, a case study from MarketingSherpa, profiles a company that filled their pipeline and closed sales by conducting an online survey that was industry or role relevant, not overtly sales-oriented. Once the company understood the customer issues, they were able to have informed conversations with their customers.

What are the problems in your industry? What criteria does the customer have for the solution? Does customer insight hold the key to growing your business to the next level? There is no better way to get the answer than to ask.