April 28, 2016
A Pyramid Scheme for Startups
Most startups traditionally all want to approach the market in a similar way. Scratching an itch. Starting with a great idea. Focusing on fixing a problem that the entrepreneur has personally experienced or seen. This is common. And certainly nothing wrong with this way for getting started. Ultimately you have to feel passionately about the problem you’re trying to solve; the pain you want to alleviate.
If you didn’t have this deep-seated desire there’s no need joy in the task you’re undertaking. But too many times (I’m learning this too as I talk with others) this is the sole foundation and focus of the business. When this personal perspective is the only focus of the startup there will be a struggle. So how does a startup grow beyond this phase? What’s the better approach to take for a successful business?
As I learned from a good friend there is a simple diagram which can be immensely helpful in creating this structure. I call it a pyramid scheme for startups. Only this pyramid scheme is highly beneficial and immensely helpful. And totally legal.
I’ll start by giving you the picture and then digging into it a bit to better explain each level and what it looks like from a couple different perspectives.
How the marketing uses the pyramid
First, we want to look at this pyramid scheme from the position of the marketer. The marketer needs to create the branding and marketing message for the organization. They have to start with the core and work out. In this role they need to take this pyramid, start at the top, and work their way outwards (or down).
A good marketer recognizes they must begin by identifying what the company is (What we are). Once they have a good handle on the “why” for the business; they align with the company goals and objectives; and then they shift their focus to be slightly more broad and begin to create the marketing message. This marketing message should point people to what the business does and funnel traffic “upstream” into the what and why statement.
We’re Different. Here’s How.
Continuing downward the marketer then begins to build on this marketing message into some of the specific ways in which the business is different from the competition. This is the differentiating aspect of the marketing message. Again, this stage is broader still in the overall marketing context and begins to include other sources, the general market space, and a broader reach.
The broadest and most generic marketing message is the bottom of the pyramid. The last part a marketer builds out and focuses on revolves around the practical application of the business/product to an audience. How the customer would use the product.
An interesting point you’ll notice as the marketer builds this pyramid from highly specific (company-focused) to very broad (audience-focused) there begins to form a number of different “channels” or as more commonly known “verticals”. This can be easily shown in the pyramid with the following minor addition.
What you’ll see is with the addition of these vertical markets the marketer continues to funnel everything upwards into a single core message and becoming more company-centric and refined.
It’s a brilliant way of thinking about the marketing message. I think it represents similar concepts to what you’ll find if you look at Simon Sinek’s presentation on Start with Why. Which incidentally is also one of my personal biggest influences. I’ve written on that topic time and again. But this is only one part of the equation.
How sales uses the pyramid
We can take this same pyramid structure and look at it through the eyes of the salesperson. If we start from a sales standpoint we have to approach the situation from the opposite direction
The reason for this is simple but let’s walk through it anyways as an exercise. First, when you’re approaching a business from a sales perspective you have to start from a common point. The best salesperson recognizes that instead of yelling about what makes the business great the best way to begin involves listening. A salesperson that listens first to a customer, understands and helps identify pain points is going to have a much easier job providing a solution that solves specific problems.
You have to listen first.
This approach of listening and identifying pain points means simply identifying how the business/product would be most effectively used by the customer (aka the bottom of the pyramid). This is a critical step. This lays the foundation for the relationship and helps the salesperson reach the broadest possible audience. Keep in mind the verticals we discussed previously. Listening to the pain points and identifying use-cases means targeting a specific vertical path from the bottom of the pyramid.
Secondly, once the customer recognizes and relates to the pain points and how they would use the solution the salesperson can continue to refine the sales message to begin to highlight key differences between the product and the competition. This is still the differentiating step, but specifically as it relates to the pain points previously identified.
Relate to your customers
The third step is the relational step. At this level in the pyramid the salesperson takes the differentiating factors and leverages those along with the pain points to relate to the customer. Here the interests of the customer need to be aligned with the solutions provided by the company. This is the “caring” level where the customer begins to see in a semi-focused manner why this particular company will uniquely be able to help them.
Finally, the last step in the sales process is where the company can share a bit more of their personal message, culture, and experience. This is where the company can open up a bit. Note, that you don’t want this to occur too early in the relationship but rather be saved until the connection has been made and the basis for a relationship formed.
I hope you find this helpful to think about as you work within your company (really any stage company can probably benefit from this). Keep these principles in mind as you build your marketing strategy and your sales strategy. Focus your time and efforts where they matter most. Of course this isn’t a perfect picture and there are ways this could be improved upon both generally and also in specific company use cases.
As I’m learning and thinking on these things I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Have you found a particular pyramid or other diagram that helps identify and organize your thoughts around preparing a marketing message (sales traffic) besides the funnel. Because, yes, I’ve seen enough funnels to last a lifetime.