No matter how great your customer pain-point solution, as a business startup in an existing industry (see “Threat of Potential of Potential New Entrants” in the diagram above), the bigger challenge may be penetrating your target market. Many of you may not think of it this way, but penetrating a target market with your startup is a lot like a military invasion. I’ve learned over the years that you need to start with specific goals, a focused strategy and a motivated/prepared team in order to break through competitive defenses. Too many entrepreneurs I know charge into the industry rivalry battle with only their passion for their customer pain-point solution, and hope for the best.
Here are some key strategy thoughts I see highlighted by the military:
- Gather intelligence (industry research) on where and when to hit first. Too many entrepreneurs push their product out without properly researching the high return or weak points in the existing market. Don’t assume your innovation will overwhelm any competition.
- Focus on one key objective rather than the broad global invasion. Almost all startups have limited resources, so don’t try to win with the initial charge. A broad attack will likely confuse potential target customers and will spread your resources too thin to satisfy everyone. There is always time for expand or scale your focus to pick up additional market target segments.
- Penetrate territory the competition has overlooked. Use your unique selling proposition to quickly get a foothold in the market. Be realistic using intelligence gathering to find pockets of real interest, rather than assuming that “everyone wants one”. This always means targeted marketing and special promotions.
- Recruit business resources and training before you roll out. Some entrepreneurs think they can do it alone or can learn as they go. It takes a team to run a business, with the tools and training to handle any skirmishes. I’m sure you have all heard of a highly promising startup that failed due to a lack of inventory or non-existent customer support.
- Marshall friendly forces within the territory for support. Smart entrepreneurs use social media and third-party endorsors within the target market to build momentum and provide direction and support, even before they are ready to attack. In today’s age of communication, customers look to friendly forces to find a new invader they trust.
- Exploit competitor vulnerabilities and premier opportunities. Initial penetration and success are what you need to convince mainstream customers to switch or try your new solution. Don’t be afraid to pivot or adjust your attack as you see weaknesses in competitive offerings or major customer opportunities that you didn’t anticipate. General George Patton once said, “No battle plan survives the first contact with the enemy.” The same is true with an entrepreneurial idea — “no product or service stays the same once you get customers,” said AOL co-founder Steve Case.
- Build collaborative partnerships. Many entrepreneurs forget about “white labeling” or strategic supplier relationships as routes to customers and long-term leadership. Don’t be afraid to communicate and negotiate to find win-win opportunities.
- Send out scouts and be ready to counter any flank attacks from your competition. Charging into battle with blinders on, expecting no surprises or resistance, is foolhardy. Every smart entrepreneur reviews his strategy and progress at least weekly with their management team. Be sure to save some resources for changes and counter-attacks. Be willing to take risks, but don’t be reckless.
In my experience, almost every startup has the challenge of tackling larger and more established adversaries or existing alternatives in the market they choose to serve. It makes sense to treat it like the life or death operation it really is. Don’t let your passion and ego limit your ability to enjoy the legacy and long-term success you have always dreamed.
For more thoughts on startups introductions, view the free micro-thought video entitled Business Plan Development Session 2.
Copyright ©John Trenary 2022