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3 Things That Even the Best Startups Get Wrong


5 min read

ian C Tomlin pic

Ian C. Tomlin

How do you make sure your startup marketing campaign flies? Here are three clincher issues you need to make sure you get right.

Three must-get-right challenges that B2B startup marketers face

No question, it’s become ever more difficult to reach buying audiences. The competition for time with buyers is precious.

Google’s algorithms increasingly favor bigger brands with bigger budgets that web surfers naturally flock to. It means even the best marketers don’t find digital marketing easy these days.  To make matters worse, marketing today requires a shed-load of marketing people with the right skills to cover all the bases your marketing program requires.

Skills like:


  • Marketing strategy, product management, and solutions marketing
  • Channel marketing (maybe)
  • SEO and web
  • Copywriting and public relations
  • Videography and graphic arts
  • Sales enablement
  • Marketing automation and martech
  • Analytics and data services
  • Outbound and outreach campaign management
  • program and project management

What chance do you have if you don’t have a team of 10 in the back office with the knowledge, experience, and tools to run your brand amplification and outreach?

The answer is not to get overwhelmed by the subject and concentrate on installing some positive habits into what you do and how you do it. 

1. Intimately learn what buyers look like, and understand how to change their behaviors

Startups spend way too much time nuancing their products/services and pitching their offerings, and not nearly enough time speaking to or understanding their customer audience. You need to know a great deal about your potential customers to sell WELL to them. Think about:

  • Written out on a single line, what makes a customer?
  • What event(s) make a customer—i.e. exposing a pain (or risk) they can’t live with, or an opportunity (or benefit) they can’t live without?
  • What job are you doing for them?
  • How do they frame their problem? What are they likely to be looking for as a solution?
  • What do they ‘get’ when they buy your solution?
  • What will the measurable reward be for their investment?
  • What is the consequence of their NOT buying?
  • What change of behavior or habit are you trying to create in the minds of your buyers?

There is a particular issue with attracting site visitors to your site if you are offering a new answer to an old question, or a new answer to a new question that the buyer knows nothing about. This is what I call Innovation Conflict.

Your innovation is likely to conflict with the buyers’ understanding of how the world works and that brings with it uncertainty, fear of change, fear of the unknown, and ignorance of the possible.

It creates that classic caricature of the machine gun seller talking to a King who is in the middle of a bow and arrow battle saying, “I’m too busy right now to look at new ideas, get in touch when I’ve finished my battle.”

In such instances, you have to zero in on the ‘customer problem framing’ and work out a way to somehow intercept potential buyers as they start searching for a solution.

You need to know a great deal about your potential customers to sell WELL to them.

2. Sell pains and gains

In most cases today, effective B2B marketing is about selling the pains and gains of any solution and evidencing value, more than selling the instrument or process used to solve the problem. You really need to get under the skin of the pains and gains that buyers see, acknowledging they don’t think about your subject very much/if at all.

3. Engage site visitors the best way you can

It’s the most difficult thing in digital marketing to get right: how to engage your anonymous site visitors and encourage them to become known to you. Most of your customers will fall between not hanging around on landing pages at all, and those that click on a call to action.

In my opinion, the sliding scale of merit for site visitor attraction is this:

  1. Full knowledge of the person (by having them opt-in to a CTA).
  2. Knowledge of intent. Okay, so you might not know who they are but you can at least find out what your audience is interested in. If you have well-structured pages and some clever on-page triggers, then you can.
  3. Attributed knowledge of your community, allowing you to track site visitor behaviors to then tweak page content, messaging, CTAs, etc.
  4. Closed loop tracking of identities. This is something relatively new in the digital marketing landscape, but it’s about tracking personalized links placed into emails to identify each outbound contact which then allows you to track arrivals on your page. Digital document platforms like Encanvas allow you to do this out of the box which names it affordable for startups.

Only options 1 and 4 on my list above generate actual sales leads. Items 2 and 4 are there just to improve your chances of getting a result next time from items 1 and 4.

As a startup, you need to take this bit of the customer journey really seriously, because it’s the difference between lots of people visiting your site and zero leads, to a mountain of sales leads you can close out.

Final thoughts

While these three areas of digital marketing are essential to maximize your results, they aren’t the only things you need to get right in your business.

Before you can hope to start attracting new customers to your website, you will need to be clear on how your offering beats competitors. You don’t need to be the best solution in the world, but you do need to be better than the next best option your potential customer knows about… so it pays to do your research.

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