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Bootstrappers: The New is Not for Everyone. Pass the Others By.

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 23, 2010

Seth Godin touches on one of my favorite themes today.  Here is the money quote:

Experienced marketers and artists and those that make change understand that the new is not for everyone. In fact, it’s not even for most people. Pass them by. They can catch up later.

This is some of the best advice for startups you can ever get.  A great corrollary came from a TechCrunch post on Saluto:

There’s a saying: “if you’re 100% certain it can be done, you’re probably not far enough ahead of the competition”.

And that one is followed closely by, “If 100% of the world wants it, you’re probably too late to do it as a startup.  Somebody big will come in and take it away from you.”  That’s right, startups actually may want to be left alone to grow for a while before everyone “gets it”.

At a startup, forget about selling your customers.  Assume you can’t convince them of anything.  It isn’t that you’re not great salespeople, it’s that you don’t have the resources to convince everyone of everything.  Startups are weak, like newborn babies.  If you set out on the road of convincing everyone you encounter on your path who may disagree, you will quickly get bogged down and you have a long journey ahead.  Pass them by.  They can catch up.

That doesn’t mean you don’t market or sell, but it means you need some different tactics.  Create your content from the perspective that your likely customer wants what you have, they just don’t know who you are or that you have what they want.  You’re getting the word out, not converting them to a new religion.

I like the concept of self-selection.  Create a marketing presence where those who are pre-disposed to love what you offer find the path of least resistance.  Make the ones who will take the most convincing encounter quite a lot of resistance.

Consider a simple example.  Your web site will have a certain look and feel.  It could be anything from seriously buttoned down corporate to more playful and points in between.  This isn’t a B2B vs B2C issue.  All three sell their product to businesses.  It’s an early adopter versus late adopter issue.  Late adopters will hate GetSatisfaction’s playful theme, and will probably dismiss it as too unprofessional for them.  That’s fine, they were not good candidates for the very webby forward looking social customer service solution anyway.  SaaS is a lot further along than Social CRM, so Salesforce wants to be less playful, but at the same time, it’s not ready to be hardcore buttoned down like IBM.

That’s an example of using very subtle cues to get your audience to self-select.  You can certainly be much more explicit too.  If you’re doing something that incites passion, there will be passion on both sides of the argument.  You know what you need to do–fire up those on your side and piss off those on the other side.  Larry Ellision and Marc Benioff exchanged this kind of repartee around the Cloud this week as a result of Oracle Open World with such memorable quotes as:

“We come in peace. We’re the cloud people. We are the peaceful people.”

You can decide for yourself who won the match, but the reality is that the winner will largely be a function of who self-selected to the messaging.  Those kind of lines aren’t meant to change anybody’s mind about anything.  Instead, they strengthen your conviction that the speaker is already in your camp, and hence that you should do business with them.

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