How Talking Like Your Customers Helps Your Startup Gain Traction

2016-03-30-1459351594-1498570-RobWalling.pngBy Rob Walling

We've all seen it. Especially if you're in business to business sales, you know how marketing content can quickly devolve into vague, watered down "corporate speak."

When I co-founded Drip, a lightweight marketing automation tool, I knew it was going to be a challenge for us to nail our positioning and messaging. Email marketing and marketing automation are highly competitive spaces. The Google Adwords keyword "marketing automation software" costs more than $25 per click. So we needed to stand out, and we needed to do it quickly.

One day, while talking with one of our early beta users about his frustration with incumbent marketing automation tools like InfusionSoft and Marketo, he confessed to me, in a moment of total honesty, "I just want you to build lightweight marketing automation that doesn't suck." Not your typical B2B tagline. But being believers in A/B testing, my co-founder and I tossed this quote into our pile of homepage headlines to test.

To our surprise, this honest headline won. It drove more trial sign-ups than other, more benefit-driven headlines like "capture and convert more leads" and "see a double-digit increase in your conversions." So we kept it.

Fast forward two years, in the cutthroat email marketing space, our scrappy seven-person team has played the role of David against massive Goliath companies with hundreds of employees. And without any outside funding, we've managed to take the 12th highest share of websites in the Alexa 1M running marketing automation software.

We're convinced that a big reason has been the candid, casual manner we use to talk about our company to customers.

Here are a few helpful frameworks we've used to drive real growth and how you can do the same, even if you're up against bigger, better-funded Goliaths in your space.

Don't be afraid to explain your solution at length.

Imagine you're designing a homepage for an app. Software landing pages are usually short-- often just 100 or 200 words. They include big promises to get you to sign up and not much else that could distract you.

Evernote's alluring promise: "Remember anything." Buffer's promise: "A better way to share on social media."

At Drip, by contrast, our homepage is a whopping 1,400 words long--which is five to 10 times longer than most competitors in our space.

Why? Despite the conventional wisdom, we've found that we convert more website visitors into leads when we take plenty of paragraphs to explain why we're different.

Of course, you'll want to test this for your company. Long-form product pages won't work for every product, and A/B testing tools like Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer have made it easier than ever to optimize your site.

That said, if you've been struggling to sum up your value in 140 characters, then maybe it's time to A/B test new versions of your homepage. Give yourself or your writer permission to explain your product's nuances-- in detail-- and see if the new version resonates. Oftentimes, the real buyers don't mind reading a bit to learn more.

Use survey tools to learn how customers actually talk about you.

At Drip, we're fans of tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Forms to collect feedback on our products.

One of our best questions for new customers is: "What was a pleasant surprise once you started using Drip?"

For marketers, this question is powerful. Here's why:

When clients point to a "pleasant surprise," this often highlights your solution's best selling points that you're not marketing. This question revealed to us that one particular feature called "Liquid Tags" was enormously popular with our users, yet we were barely promoting it. So when we published a recent white paper on choosing the right marketing automation software, we made sure to mention Liquid Tags much more than we had in the past.

The bottom line: when crafting your messaging, it helps to get outside your own head. Try asking your loyal customers for written feedback. Oftentimes, you can tweak their exact quotes to come up with high-converting headlines and white papers.

Find the "blue ocean" in your market.

At Drip, we've succeeded largely by emphasizing what we're not. For example, we don't have a robust customer relationship management, and we make that clear. We also make it clear that we have no setup fees, whereas many of our competitors have mandatory $2,000 training fees to get started. Instead of making customers sign a contract, we offer a 21-day free trial.

Instead of trying to be everything to everybody, we make it clear who's a good fit for our product--and who's not. You can do the same.

With your market, think hard about the downsides that cause customers to defect from competitors to your solution. Ask existing and potential customers what they don't like about their current solution. Find those points of differentiation that people are really up-in-arms about, and focus on them. If you're not sure about your unique selling proposition, then it's time to get outside your own head and gather some data.

Nailing your messaging is hard. We've taken some leaps of faith with how we write content, and we've had our fair share of doubts. But in a world of "me too" brands, we've learned that customers appreciate us taking a stand, writing casually, and championing our points of difference in the market. The only real "secret" to Drip's growth-- besides working hard on our product-- has been showing leads exactly how we're different. If you try talking more like your prospects, you might find that more of them start listening.

Rob Walling is a serial entrepreneur who most recently started Drip, an email marketing and automation tool. He's also the author of the 7-day mini course, Why Marketing Automation Is The Future Of Email Marketing.