The first step in any marketing plan

(Yes, I am aware that just last week I said that the first step in your marketing plan should be to define your value proposition. However doing this well help you define that.)

We are all about leveraging your marketing and sales efforts so that a little bit of work can pay off 10x or 100x but there is one important task to do before anything else.

Start by talking to your customers.

Customer development is important to undertake prior to going down the path of creating a product. It is just as important for marketing and these are three ways it helps.

Learn what content to create

Inspiration for creating content often is hard to come by. Sometimes the content you are inspired to create is not the content that your customers want to read. A great way to combat these issues is by learning more about your customers.

Based on the questions that your customers pose to you about your product, and in general about the industry, you can identify what your content should cover. Specifically what you create should teach them about a topic they are interested in or answer a specific question.

Responding directly to their questions is also a great writing shortcut. For me it is much easier to write a response to a question than it is to fill a blank page about a topic that I have deemed important enough to write about. That is similar to the hack where you start a blog post by writing, “Dear Sam” (or whatever your best friend’s name is), at the top of your blog post and then write the post as if you are writing to them. Then delete that line prior to publishing.

Learn what language to use

When I say language I’m talking about what words and phrases your customers use. Learn the industry jargon and be able to use it to describe the solution you are providing to their problem. Being able to do so better frames your product or service as one specifically for their niche and thus they will be more trusting that it is the right solution.

If you learn the customer’s language and then use it in your sales and marketing you are going to be able to establish your expertise. Without it you are just a random sales guy who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Nobody likes dealing with those guys.

Learn where to promote

You might have noticed when purchasing a product or entering giveaways that you are asked, “how did you hear about us?” There is a good reason for that. Knowing where your audience spends their time online is important as wherever that is is where you should be promoting the content you create.

When talking to customers ask the following questions:

  • Where do you get your industry news?
  • Are there any websites you visit at least daily?
  • Do you use social media for work? If so, is it more for consumption or promotion?

The answers to those questions point to where you should direct your content promotion efforts. The rule of thumb for Internet content is to spend at least as long promoting it as you spent creating it. Twice as long is even better. Because of the big time investment that is both the creation and promotion you want to make sure you are getting as big an ROI as possible.

It might not be something that comes naturally to some of us but your life will be a lot easier if you pick up the phone and reach out to some (potential) customers. Do not procrastinate on it. Start today by adding a line in your next email to your list asking if anybody can spare ten minutes for a conversation with you. If you are still working on building your list, reach out to people on Twitter or, if you are selling to businesses, call companies you find online or in your local phone book.

Business is hard enough so make it a little bit easier by asking your customers how you should market to them.

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