How Small beat Big

Jorge Araluce
May 9 · 8 min read

Yes, it is agile and social ..and some smart automation

In a previous article — Startup Yourself- I present the case of adopting Startup practices at a personal level, to become more focused, driven and ultimately successful at anything you do.

But how can a small team or even an independent professional compete in the Market? It seems an impossible race not to win but even to get noticed.

In this article, I discuss a trend that goes in favour of the individual via the reach social networks. But if you play by their rules you will be working for the platforms not for you . You need to scale yourself.

Markets are not fair but bigger is not always better

The most overcrowded market is not only hyper-competitive but is also fragmented and ephemeral.

There are many alternatives, competitors or simply “things” that will take the customer attention away from you.

The market is thinner than ever, ultra segmented in a long tail of segments. Often as small as groups of people or even a single individual could be your market ( ie — for a job or an investment)

Any of your marketing actions, videos or campaigns will have a very short spotlight — almost ephemeral — before getting buried by the next funny post. So no more blockbusters. The market requires a constant feed of smaller — but still good- pieces of content.

The long tail market is -counterintuitively- a positive factor for smaller team or individuals. Big players do have a bigger budget but there are no economies of scale producing content and value propositions tailored to a long tail. There is not a single market accessible via mass media — broadcasting TV or Media ads.

You can play it in your favour by developing ultra-specific content pieces each targeted to a list of stakeholders. Find your niche and be very personal.

The Buyer Journey is not linear, not even one way only

The buyer does not travel a smooth journey from awareness to conversion until sales help them to put things together and place the order. The modern buyer initiates the process. Appears to be very close -when does research. Seems to jump into buying stage when checks a demo or your price page but then disappears again. Maybe for months. And maybe the prospect will come back again influenced by a non-official channel. Someone — a student, a connection shared something about that triggered their attention.

In this scenario, you can not use a unique central distribution where marketing holds all responsibility for demand generation up to a specific point to then hand it over to Sales.

Corporations still model their organisations in the old way, splitting marketing and sales, inbound and outreach. The split is not real. It does not exist in the customer’s mind but only in our organisations.

The problem is not just business efficiency but a total misalignment with the way people- customers- relate to business now. It has changed — we all know because we are consumers and buyers ourselves.

We don’t like to receive calls, ads or cold emails and barely pay attention to content- even to good one. But when we put our business hats on ( or suits) that’s the way we operate.

The more natural the flow between how a customer finds out how to solve their problem with our solution, the better. This is in essence how the startups get their initial customer base. A customer -or a friend- hears that some techies are working in something cool that could help their business. Become curious and check it out. Then talk to them and together they came out with a solution that solves a problem.

So simple that they don’t even call it selling.

The key points are i)hearing about it ii) curiosity/interest and iii) the matching of a problem to a solution. i )Your network, ii) something that contains your value and iii) laser focus in a need.

Markets have gone social.

Markets have become a collection of individuals. And social is personal ( if you reading this and making sense of it, chances are that you are a human…give some claps if is true 😉 )

The way people consume information has changed from passive-massive to a model where people define what they get.

By choosing channels and subscriptions. Then watch whatever lands in your feed. The passive element is proven to be addictive ..

People create their media — learning, information — experiences by choosing who to follow. And people follow other people, not brands. Nobody wants to get spam by ads (or people by the way).

But people still need to learn, solve their problems and progress in their careers. So they are eager to connect with anyone that can help them in any way.

Social is an equalizer but not a fair game

The social web is a virtual world that blends people and companies at the same level. Influencers, top executives and newcomers share the same space -and attention- with powerful corporations, startups and independent professionals.

The only thing that matters is the relevance of your message to the person that -both you and the big guys- are trying to influence. In that moment you are in a one to one fight at the same level with anyone.

Of course, what is not entirely fair is the whole social game -nor the referee is impartial:

The bigger your network the more exposition you will get. The “Algorithm Gods” of the social platforms also favour the already hyperconnected with more followers. They expose promoted publishers to more people, more time ( being on top of the timeline…)

Also, the big guns have more “tickets” in the attention show. They buy sponsored updates from the social platforms itself. And have media and other influencers mentioning them.

Life is not fair and social life even less if you don’t have big pockets

You cannot beat them at their game, but hell you can outsmart them in many ways💪

Play by the book is swimming against the flow

Sharing your content online is like pouring a drop in the ocean.

Seems an impossible race to win for a single person or small startup team. And it is indeed impossible if you swim against the timeline current.

Every piece that you produce -after hours, even days of hard work — receive a tiny spot of attention. A few likes from a random connection that happens to be around. Before getting swallowed in the constant flow of the new posts.

You could score a few hits from time to time with a nice video or a good post but it will fall quickly into oblivion.

Spray and pray strategy is a waste of resources even for enterprise brands with deep marketing pockets.

Your strategy must be different- a guerrilla marketing where you know your targets and you make sure your content reaches the ones you need. But how?

If you play the Social Selling by the book — literally the LinkedIn book (link here)- you will be working for them, not for you.

I am not saying that LinkedIn or social selling is a waste of time. No, quite the contrary, I am certain it is the best tool for any sales professional. But following the “formula” that most LinkedIn-approved gurus — will tell you will produce very little.

In Sales is easy to do a million things and not advance much. Social media amplifies the risk; random comments, engagements or new connections may bring some serendipity and hope.

Good for networking but very little sales — at a high cost of opportunity, your time.

Shortcuts do not work-build a foundation and jump from there

Using shortcuts like basic auto-responders or bots does not the trick. Even outsourcing your LinkedIn is not going to bring you anything, with quite a risk.Basic automation, like autoresponder or most LinkedIn bots, will be counterproductive.

Automation If detected misses the point — building trust.

There is a basic principle of reciprocity that inclines a person to respond back when someone has made an effort to get in touch. That is lost when we know that is a mass promotional message.

You need tools to enhance you, not to do the job for you. That is where smart personal automation can help. But you need a process first and then use tools. Because yes, there are tools that can help to automate some low-level task that frees you to do what humans do better.

That is the key, use automation to be able to focus your time in building better human relationships

To end with personal advise- you don’t need to start buying lots of expensive tools or building complex systems.

Startups start by building MVP, minimum versions of anything they do.

When you learn a new sport or hobby you wouldn’t buy the most advanced — expensive- equipment the first day (well, sometimes we may fall into temptation with the cool stuff but we know we shouldn’t )

It is the same when trying your demand generation strategies — put together your process with cheap, free or trial versions and see how it works … for you. Don’t get dragged to the promises of big platforms. Invest in learning the process, not in the tools.

Startups get things done

So here the last take away from how startups work; is about getting things done.

Successful startups are hustlers and hackers — they find ways around or use any workaround to get shit done. They have the will and they find their ways.

You have to be laser focus on evolving relationships with your targets. They are quite unique but not unique — you can replicate work. Create a process. Automate. You can make ultra segmented propositions and messages and look for clusters with very similar needs.

Use tools and process to get closer to your targets. Tools to help you to maximise your reach of the targets — but- always keeping the personal touch.

All of this is not an attempt to discourage you but to prepare you. To be ready for the hard work and to have the focus to do it the right way.

Because doing it the right way pays off. But the most important part is doing it. Just start to get it done

In the next few articles, we are going to see how can we play the game to win.

The Startup

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Jorge Araluce

Written by

Startup Sales & Growth. Working with VC &Corporates in Open Innovation.Slow learner but obstinate, seeking experiences and balance

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +469K people. Follow to join our community.