My 8 Commandments for Marketing Your Startup

I’m one of the co-founders of two-year-old startup Marketo, a marketing automation company serving B2B companies. I’m also VP of marketing, meaning I’m under constant pressure to take Marketo’s own messaging to new heights. After all, if we can’t market ourselves like a world-class company — and make it look easy — why would customers ask us to help them do it?

The challenge: How to do all this with a limited budget and limited resources. At Marketo, we’ve had our share of ups and downs, but I’ve learned important rules about how to be a better marketer that I think will help you, too.

The 8 Commandments of Startup Marketing

1. Use free distribution. Our early goal was to extend as many online tentacles as possible so anyone searching for a solution like ours would “come across” us. Since we didn’t have a lot of money, we focused on low-cost tactics like my blog and search engine optimization. This helped us generate search rankings and free site traffic.

2. Date your prospects. Like all companies, most of the prospects on our site are just researching and don’t want to talk to sales, so we needed to excel at lead management. We’ve put in place automated processes that synchronize our marketing with the prospect’s research and buying stages, allowing us to build relationships over time.

3. Test it – but not too much. We test everything — offers, copy, forms — you name it. Testing removes debate over what works and what doesn’t. But one thing we’ve learned is that too many variables yield insignificant results, so we’ve created a free online test calculator that shows how many tests you can run on your site.

4. Seed a community. Provide a good customer experience. Besides investing in customer support, build a marketing success community where customers, employees, prospects, partners, and other influencers can share ideas and best practices. It’s hard to get a community started – if nobody participates, what’s the point? So, we “seeded” our community with content and some initial friendly users to get the ball rolling.

5. Don’t talk ‘in costs.’ The most common marketing metric is “cost per lead,” but framing the discussion in terms of activities, rather than results, perpetuates the perception that marketing is a cost center. Instead, demonstrate your product’s impact on sales and growth. By using the financial language that other executives use, you will establish marketing as a revenue generator, not a cost.

6. Train sales people. When we launched, I focused too much on the marketing aspects of our product, leaving it to the salespeople to figure out how to sell. But selling today is really hard, so be sure to train your salespeople to craft a compelling message that telegraphs your differentiators. It’s worth the investment.

7. Balance. At startups you must do a lot at once. Just yesterday I had to review a press release, prepare a webinar, update our lead-scoring rules, give a demo, and interview a job candidate. Take a cue from yoga and let go of anything unnecessary. And each day, do one task to address each of these four goals: build awareness, manage leads, create sales support and build the product.

8. Build in stages. When we started, just naming the company and getting our web site launched felt like a victory. Then we added an AdWords campaign; after that we captured our first lead. There are destinations along the way, but each is just a step up a big staircase, so focus on building one marketing capability at a time.

Jon Miller is a co-founder of Marketo, a maker of marketing automation software funded by InterWest Partners.