Why Startups Need to Focus on Sales, Not Marketing

I published this article about a year ago on the Wall Street Journal's Accelerators forum. I think the content is still very relevant to early stage startups, so I thought I'd post it on my personal blog. 

The most important thing an early-stage startup should know about marketing is rather counterintuitive: that you probably shouldn’t be doing anything you’d use the term “marketing” to describe. Sales and marketing are two ends of a continuum. At the sales end your outreach is narrow and deep. At the marketing end it is broad and shallow. And for an early stage startup, narrow and deep is what you want — not just in the way you appeal to users, but in the type of product you build. Which means the kind of marketing you should be doing should be indistinguishable from sales: you should be talking to a small number of users who are seriously interested in what you’re making, not a broad audience who are on the whole indifferent. Click here to read the full article on the WSJ

4 responses
If you're creating a new market and your customer is not easily identifiable by some obvious demographic measure, then you also need a way to drive the top of the funnel to surface these customers. Marketing gives you a way to get people to self-select.
Hi Jessica, thanks for the great article. Knowing that founding teams at Stripe, Airbnb and Pinterest have found this to be true is of course convincing. It seems like a large part of the startup learning curve is getting away from the idea that a startup is just a smaller version of a big company and that if a big company has a process eg:marketing, then so should a startup as a part of it's search for product market fit. The point you describe here is one I am already familiar with, but I am sure there are others that arise from the same seemingly valid logic, but turn out to be equally unsound. It would be great to hear if you've seen any similar mistakes that startups tend to fall into while imagining they are simply a smaller version of a large company. Thanks, Sergey
Jessica, it's unfortunate that you do not understand the breadth and depth of marketing, and the value true marketing strategy incl. data sciences, etc., offers startups.
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