Build it and They Will Come – Won’t They?

3 Minutes

"Build it and they will come" is a common mistake that many startups (and more established f...

"Build it and they will come" is a common mistake that many startups (and more established firms too) make.

They build a product based on their vision of how it should be without actually speaking to prospective buyers and truly understanding customer needs and then building a solution (not a product) that meets those needs. They end up burning time and money building what they believe to be a truly awesome product that everyone is going to buy and then struggle to work out how to sell it and to whom.

Often the root cause is that product marketing gets left to the very end, once a product has been built, by which time it’s too late. The product marketing function is critical to the success of a product and so product management and marketing teams need to be collaborating and working closely together from the very beginning.

Having worked in product management and product marketing for FinTechs as well as advising on both, I have outlined some of the key factors for achieving product success:

Understanding that Product Marketing is not Brand Marketing

Product marketing is often confused with brand marketing and many firms may think that they are already ‘doing marketing’ but product marketing is very different from brand marketing. Brand marketing is much broader and is focused on building and promoting the company brand while product marketing is focused on product positioning, messaging, pricing and essentially building out the GTM strategy. Understanding the difference between the two is the first step to success.

Establishing Product-Market Fit

‘Is there a gap in the market and a market in the gap?’ – This is what product management and marketing teams should be thinking about when evaluating and validating ideas and products. Both teams need to be working together to understand the underserved needs of the market, identifying target customers, researching competitors, and then building the product’s unique value proposition, design and roadmap off the back of this. The focus should be on building solutions that address real-world customer needs and pain points and moving away from pushing products that don’t fit who you are selling to (or worse still, anyone at all). 

Communicating the Product Strategy

Often product management and engineering teams are found working in silos which results in the product strategy not being communicated to client-facing functions early enough, and sometimes, not at all. It’s vital for the success of the product that product marketing is included and aligned with the product strategy from the start. Marketing needs to understand the overall vision of the product as well as the detailed roadmap so that they can bring their perspective to the table and both teams are working together towards a shared goal.

Positioning, Messaging and Sales Enablement

Many FinTechs fall into the trap of building sales and marketing material that talks about all the wonderful features of their product without describing the customer problems they are solving or scripting stories that resonate with the target audience. Defining how to position the product in the market, the problems it solves for and the benefits to customers are the basis for a solid set of sales and marketing collateral (demos, sales decks, use cases, articles, videos, blogs, events, campaigns etc.). The important thing here is the messaging and storytelling need to be consistent and resonate whatever the format.

Industry Expertise

One of the key reasons for product failure is the lack of industry expertise and knowledge within a startup. If you don’t understand the markets you are selling to and the business of your prospective buyers, how can you build the right solution and strategy? Therefore, whether it’s establishing product-market fit, developing the go-to-market (GTM) strategy and execution plan, understanding how to position the product, writing the key messaging and stories, putting together the sales and marketing collateral or simply requiring input and validation of your solution, strategy, and materials, bringing in industry expertise to help you is priceless.

Continuous Customer Discovery

Developing an idea or creating a product launch is not a one-time exercise nor is developing a GTM strategy. It’s a journey that requires a continuous process of customer discovery. Having regular check-ins with customers, validating new ideas for the product, establishing feedback sessions and customer communities, hosting roundtables and workshops, reviewing product and marketing metrics, and carrying out regular customer surveys are all part of validating product and strategy success. If it’s not working, take the feedback, review the strategy, and go again.

Front-to-back Strategy Alignment and Focus is Key to Success!

Random sales, partnerships and marketing strategies simply do not work. Period. Whether you are 3 people, 30 people or 130 people in your startup, front-to-back strategy alignment and focus across all functions is vital to success. It is therefore product marketing’s responsibility to educate, empower and communicate the GTM strategy across all functions, so whether you are part of the C-suite or work in business development, presales, sales, partnerships, customer success or other, the focus and messaging are consistent. The benefits here are manifold: 1. incentivising and motivating all functions towards a common goal 2. ensuring product success 3. building brand credibility and trust, and 4. being recognised as experts in your space.

Final Thoughts

In the words of Ben Horowitz (Co-Founder of Andreessen Horowitz): “You can have a great product, but a compelling story puts the company into motion.” Ultimately the difference between product success and product failure is good marketing. Product marketing will help you sell the problems you solve, not the product. So, if you can build a solid GTM strategy and take on board the factors mentioned above then you might just find that ‘they will come’.

By Reena Raichura, Founder of Finergise

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