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The only monthly goals that matter for pre-product B2B startups

Before your B2B startup has a product available you’ll want a few – but not too many – metrics to help you steer the ship in the right direction.

Based on my experience at a couple of startups that I joined pre-product or founded here are the handful of metrics that I suggest you measure/goal.

Customer Development conversations

It doesn’t matter what your startup is building if customers don’t want it. 

Get out of the building and make sure you are talking to potential customers often. This is the only way you’ll get a deep understanding of your potential customers’ needs.

When you’re getting started a good pace is somewhere on the order of 1-2 conversations (new potential customers) per business day. Once you reach 25-50 conversations you should have a good sense of whether or not your product idea has legs.

Don’t cheat on this metric by counting conversations with potential partners or investors as ‘customer’ conversations. These groups can provide useful feedback but their feedback shouldn’t be weighed as highly as what you hear from potential buyers (Customers rule!).

If you’re having trouble finding enough potential customers to meet your goals, here are 4 tips for finding those ‘earlyvangelist’ customers that are so important to a customer development process.

Potential employees met

If your  little startup starts to make progress you’ll need to hire quickly. Without a pipeline in place you’ll struggle to make these hires.

Start developing relationships now which may turn into hires down the road:

  • If you’re a technical founder without a counterpart on the business side you should make a point to meet a bunch of sales/marketing/product people each month.
  • If you’re a non-technical founder without a technical counterpart then make sure you’re meeting a bunch of software engineers each month.
  • If you have a complete team in place then just try to meet lots of great people each month.

Like anything in startupland, this is a numbers game. If you’re meeting 5, 10, 20 really sharp people per month you’ll quickly have built up a great pool of future talent for your company.

And if you can actually get them to quit their cushy job to join your budding startup before it’s on the tech community’s radar, then you may be on to something. On the flip side, if you’ve met 40 people and none of them want to come work for you, maybe that’s a signal you need to consider as well.

(Here’s some great guidance from Paul English, founder of Kayak, about how to make your startup really great at recruiting, interviewing, and hiring.)

“Marketing”

Even if you don’t have a product available you need to start your marketing engine ASAP.  Otherwise you’ll be caught completely flat-footed if/when you reach product-market fit and you want to scale up fast.

Pick one metric (be it leads, blog visits, Twitter followers, Facebook likes, or something else), set a goal for that metric, then execute.

Content marketing is probably your best bet – and most capital efficient way – to reach whatever goal you set (versus buying ads or paying to acquire traffic) at this early stage. And it is the gift that keeps on giving because you can re-use and re-purpose your content to drive future marketing efforts.

That’s why content marketing makes so much more sense when you’re at this early stage. You can develop an audience and a following by creating helpful, free resources to people in your target market.

If you do this content marketing thing right, that audience will be very eager to hear about what you have built once the product is finally available.

One more thing. Even though you are “marketing” don’t market your product. Because you don’t have one (at least not one that works) yet. Plus, the features you promise today may not (OK, 90% likely will not) be the ones that actually ship.

Product features completed

Last but certainly not least you should be setting product goals each month.

These goals should be focused on user facing features (“deliver user-facing feature X”)  and not platform features (“build interesting backend queuing system that a customer doesn’t actually use directly”).

One exception? Perhaps a system for your team to monitor customer usage. Kind of important, eh?

What metrics did I miss? Let me know in the comments or just tweet at me and I’ll respond.

Thanks to my enterprise software / SaaS savvy pals:

for their input on this post.

 


Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: customer development, startup marketing, startups

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More Stories By John Gannon

John Gannon is an Associate at L Capital Partners, a $165-million fund looking to advance companies with the potential to take groundbreaking products to market. He blogs at http://johngannonblog.com. Prior to joining L Capital Partners, John worked with Highland Capital Partners and Chart Venture Partners to identify and evaluate new opportunities in the enterprise IT sector. He also served as a consultant advising startup companies on business development, product strategy and venture capital fundraising. He currently sit on the board of advisers of VAlign Software.

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