This is part 2 of 5. Part 1 LET'S DO THIS!
Big thank you to everyone that upvoted and commented on the last post.
I’m pumped, this is part 2 of 5 for those keeping track at home.
- Start with your revenue and monetization plan (are you targeting a sector that has money and can/will pay - Part 1)
- Align yourself with others in your space (cheapest way to get traction/credibility)
- Work on road mapping your product to align with what complements your partnerships (cheapest distribution)
- Work on building a marketing strategy that can help expose and align your brand while strengthening its recognition with your partners (will this make us both look good)
- Build customer advocates along the way, tell their stories (lead with examples)
Early traction, everyone wants it, very few people know how to do it effectively. Hell I’ve seen it all, run all the experiments, all the tests and I can tell you from experience if you have the patience, slow, steady, and surgical is the way to grow. Especially in the beginning.
In part one we spent a lot of time asking some basic fundamental business questions. Including, an exercise in the importance of being able to niche down.
We’re going to expand on the niching down because it’s how you gain clarity and find people to align yourself with early on.
The goal of this will be to understand:
- How to niche down
- How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
- How to position within that market
- How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
I’ve chosen to outline these in all our steps for niching down.
You’re going to see these steps move from research to market evaluation to list building stopping just short of outreach. We’ll touch on this in part 3.
Last week I took a call where someone told me their target market is males 25-45 that like sports. This is the most important part of your entire business. I’m serious.
Let’s rock through this together so we can get you super focused and know where and how to spend your time and money.
(The below was laid out in part 1 and was the layered niching exercise) LEVEL 1: We’re a helpdesk product. How to niche down
The big question is “for who”?
So you’ve picked the type of product you are building and a use case, the problem is there are lots of people like you out there and this doesn’t tell me much about your market, it’s too broad. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
Because this is so broad, it’s impossible to actually target a market and without being able to do that, it’s not possible to recognize opportunities, there’s just too many of them. How to position within that market
Competition is good and bad, but it’s always better to be a big fish in a little pond, the best way to reduce the size of your pond is to niche down as much as possible while still understanding a large enough TAM (total addressable market). How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
No wasted effort. Every idea, concept, must have a small goal attached to it.
It’s too expensive to try to be everything for everyone and when you take this approach you end up failing at doing any one thing well enough for people to switch.
Let’s build on this. LEVEL 2: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies. How to niche down
Pick an industry or trend that is on the rise - look towards a shift or something that relates to changes people are making in their daily routine.
In this case we picked eCommerce because it’s on track to hit over $7 Trillion worldwide this year and has steadily been increasing across all brands. So we have an industry with a large enough economic driver to let us start niching down. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
We now buy things online that we never would have thought to do so even just a few years ago. Amazon is selling Tiny Homes now, seriously, if you can buy it, odds are you can do it online. There are massive opportunities to bring goods and services to people through convenient online shopping. And with that increase they will all need a help desk platform to provide the best experience for their customers.
Customers today don’t want to speak with people, they want answers quickly and easily. It’s all about reducing friction. How to position within that market
Narrow down within the market. eCommerce is a good starting point, there are different industries, subsets, and categories. Go narrower. Start thinking about where the friction exists in the industry and for what subsets. How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
In the beginning, it’s going to be an uphill battle, picking the right trending industry will give you the best chance of success. Something that is rising up to the right in popularity is way easier to sell into than a trend that is declining.
Know your competitive landscape.
Everyone has a competitor, whether direct, partial, or mildly related. Spend a lot of time on understanding this and knowing that your product is part of a very large landscape or landscape of potential competitors. Any one of the existing partial or mildly related competitors may be building something to more directly compete with you down the road. Practical advice
Most companies stop here and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a go to market plan or a sustainable business model.
There’s an important bit worth mentioning here as it will become a theme of this entire post.
Great products enhance workflows through features, the focus isn’t on the product but what the product enables people to do. Success in the software business is all about understanding existing workflows and simplifying the experience.
As you do this exercise to niche down ask yourself:
What does the current workflow look like?
What are they currently using?
How are they currently using it?
Where are the gaps? What are the best practices for creating workflows?
Always seek to understand how your product works in a workflow - what role it plays, how it best optimizes - this is the data play referred to in Part 1.
What are the things that matter most to people in the eCommerce space?
That’s a lot of questions with even more answers, when you peel everything back it becomes very clear that it’s not possible to answer all of them without going deeper.
Too many people to talk to, too many industries, too much everything.
Let’s take a different approach - how I got to Shopify in the next niche down. No successful new SaaS company today launches without an integration.
So let’s find an eCommerce platform to integrate with.
We have to look for a stable player that has an app store and is a market leader.
As a starting point, my goal is to be a help desk for ecommerce companies.
- I need a list of all eCommerce platforms
- I need to understand which help desks they already integrate with
- I need to understand what people like and don’t like about them
- I need to find out which platform is going to be the best fit for my product
There are lots of sources for this and even more articles, google and read.
If you’re looking for numbers though and data, use BuiltWith and run a search on the platforms after you have your list to figure out which is the most popular.
Ok so we have our list of eCommerce platforms, we’ve analyzed the data, made sure they tick all the boxes and we’ve run our reports and found that Shopify powers 1.2 million stores.
Let’s lock it in as our next step in niching down. LEVEL 3: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify. How to niche down
It’s more than just market size. Going with a market leader is always a safe bet but it also provides the most competition. Sometimes going with a smaller platform that doesn’t get all the attention is a worthwhile research project. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
There are two sides of the opportunity and this is something that I didn’t touch on in the original niching down. Shopify and BuiltWith categorize the types of stores that are on the platform, so you can niche down to a certain type of store, for example just cosmetics or just apparel.
The other side of the opportunity is putting together your list of companies currently operating in the ecosystem. How to position within that market
Smart people are really good at collecting data and interpreting it.
Let’s get some data.
How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
- Go to the shopify app store
- Type in “Support”
- Click paid on the left margin and click the “Support Category”
- Use something like Simple Scraper ( a great chrome plugin, no affiliation)
- Get your scrape on, this shows 87
- Time to get busy - categorize them
- Pick the ones most similar to your offerings
- Click on them, look at their reviews - all of them on shopify Scrape them
- Go to G2 and Capterra and look through all those reviews as well
- Put them all in a spreadsheet, read them all, highlight those that stand out
- Find the ones that are popular, others that have features people like etc.
- Document, and integrate the baseline features into a trello board on your product roadmap
- Take all the bad reviews and complaints - look for gaps that you can fill
So take a look above, we went from a bunch of questions to being able to do a ton of market research to do product research and understand the current market offerings and where we might be able to gain some ground and offer something people might be interested in and ARE PAYING FOR.
How do you stand out?
You need to have a workflow that is 10x better than a current competitor in the market with a strong roadmap that lays out how you intend on optimizing this workflow. Features are built to augment the workflow and simplify the work of your clients employees, less work, more data, better understanding.
Ok so we’ve narrowed it down to eCommerce and Shopify and we have a list of other products that are currently playing in the space. We’re now looking at workflow - let’s figure this bit out. LEVEL 4: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify and Shipstation. How to niche down
Add another variable - it doesn’t have to be Shipstation, but it’s a good example as for eCommerce you’re likely shipping products places. By adding another variable, we’re shrinking our population to target. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
The biggest problem for all companies these days is combining different one off services and getting them to play nicely together. Stand alone products usually outclass all in one products as stated above because the focus is better. This is generally always going to be where you can find a gap in the market as the integrating of products is an afterthought rather than something contemplated in the very beginning.
How do you decide on the technologies you want to work with? How to position within that market
Don’t guess. Understand the workflow of an eCommerce company and how it relates to support. For instance, most support tickets relate to order status, tracking, and returns. These all involve the store, transaction, the service desk, and the shipping carrier. Look for ways to streamline the experience for the service rep - for instance if refunds require approval, build a system that allows for all those tickets to be queued up with an easy interface for approvals or different color tagging to allow for them to be easily sorted by type.
By focusing on two technologies you can start by creating a better visual collaboration between tools to improve overall experience. How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
Stack the deck in your favor.
Focus on where you can drive early alignment between your product offering and the audiences of your now two products. When you reach out to both companies especially the smaller ones like a Shipstation, you can collect more information about who they are catering to, volumes etc.
Most companies have a partner program - look into connecting with the lead.
When the time is right you might even get a shoutout on their social or blog or you can decide to co-publish some research report together. Lots of options.
Let’s double down on what being niche allows us to do:
- Know our audience
- Research with purpose
- Personalize outreach with early feelers
- Better understand a realistic TAM (total addressable market)
- Understand overlap between products
- Early alignment with bigger names
This whole topic is about alignment, alignment with partners, customers, and your product.
We have a list of potential customers now, but we need to segment them down further. LEVEL 5: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify and Shipstation that have less than 100 skus. How to niche down
Why less than 100 skus?
This means they are small enough to try a new product. It also means you can see what works and what doesn’t work on a potentially smaller store. When you’re managing a store with more than 100 skus, things get a little complicated, it’s an arbitrary number but changing internal processes and workflows when you get to that level means that your staff is coming from a place of having used a system before that could handle the volume and trying out something newer or unproven is a tall order.
This process can be applied to anything, if your product does better project management look for people that run less than 20 projects at a time or projects that are less than 6 months, whatever it may be. We’re starting small.
Always default to the path of least resistance. Work smarter, not harder. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
I’m sure this could be automated, but in lieu of it being automated, you should start by manually figuring this out for yourself.
That list you have from BuiltWith that has urls, yeah we’re going to use that one.
Put the websites in the spreadsheet you downloaded, then create a new column and add “products” to the url - so you have the website in cell A, the word “products” in cell B then in blank cell C write “=CONCATENATE
(A:B)” congratulations now you have cell C that will take you straight to the product page to see how many skus they have.
Update this hack doesn’t work on all shopify websites like I had hoped and after some research it seems like this is a bit of a struggle point for others as well.
I’m sure someone could write a script to scrape this information.
Go find an intern or hire someone to do all the lookups for you or find someone to write a script to automate the results - remember always work smart.
Run this and you’ll come up with your go to target list. How to position within that market
The best helpdesk for stores on Shopify using shipstation with less than 100 skus - all of a sudden this starts to sound like something someone would almost search for. That’s the point.
We’re working our way down where it becomes a simple checklist if someone was searching for things.
Shopify - check
Shipstation - check
Built for smaller stores - check How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
Remember you’re not building a product for everyone yet, your goal is to dominate a niche. You can always expand from there.
So we’re about half way through and we have figured out our potential partners and now we’re working on narrowing down this customer list. Before we dive in and start reaching out we need to really understand who we’re targeting and we need to start small.
Let’s narrow this down even further. LEVEL 6: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify and Shipstation that have less than 100 skus and do less than $10 million in annual revenue. How to niche down
Why the less than $10 million in annual revenue? The only reason I would say this in the beginning is that they won’t have as much traffic and ticket volume, they make for better early clients, you can learn a lot more from their use cases and improve the product without worrying about something going wrong and a larger client really getting mad and churning. You also usually have greater access to work with their staff to improve your product. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
Unless you’re currently on the front lines, you need to find some early providers of feedback that are on the front lines. In essence, this is the starting point of a community and information play.
There aren’t a lot of data points available about companies in the early stages. People always have questions and there are limited resources in the early days, even across similar companies.
(Just look at reddit there are tons of repeat answers and questions.)
Someone answering tickets all day is the last person that wants to provide feedback, as much as they would like their job made easier, they don’t have the time. How to position within that market
“But I need a big logo to let people know that I’m real.” You don’t, not in the beginning. All you need is a few good customers that are open to lending you the feedback you need to get better. A lot of smaller brands do a good job of branding, play the long game, find brands that are growing and try to get in early - grow with them.
Logo hunting has its place but you need to find product market fit before you can really make that happen.
By now you have probably figured out that whenever possible you should automate things. The way you do this is through data collection.
Using logic, math, and a spreadsheet you can do enough to be dangerous.
Use a service to figure out what their unique traffic is, take a look at their products and assume that their cart value is around 2-4 products per order then take the conversion rates by industry - you can find these online they are openly listed.
Your sheet will look something like this:
Company, Traffic, Conversion Percentage, Order Value, Sales Percentage, Revenue
eCommerce blended average is 2.2% - go use a spreadsheet and some formulas and bam you now have the revenue numbers. We’re not looking for exacts here, but more generally a good estimate.
I’ve actually run these numbers, if the products are sold through other channels, Amazon, retail, etc, then a rough estimate would be around ~33% of the revenue will come from the ecommerce store.
Factor in a range based on the size of the brand and it’s channels this should give you a rough estimate of the revenue even if they don’t publish it. How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
Provide value - the most overhyped phrase but still true - the question then becomes, with something as subjective as “value” rather than just create, instead ask and create. This part is coming up, we’re almost ready to turn this on.
We’ve started to move from who are partners are to who are our potential customers. This is on purpose - my stance is that your first customers are really your partners and you should work on aligning yourself with those that are the best fit for your product.
You want your first clients to buy into your vision and invest the time to help shape it.
Ok on to the next - LEVEL 7: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify and Shipstation that have less than 100 skus and do less than $10 million in annual revenue with support teams less than 5 people. How to niche down
So now we’re getting into the easier stuff - this is just a simple LinkedIn Search - small teams are usually before the real deep process point, they are also really good at providing feedback on tools that can actually help them out. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
If you have less than 5 people on a team, it’s a small enough number to target the entire team - multi prong approach to product awareness.
For customer support they are often the least paid and they have the most stressful jobs - it’s an all around shitty position to be in, so if you can provide them joy, you’re going to make fans quick. Also, they aren’t usually sold into, they are rarely asked their opinion, etc. How to position within that market
Give them a voice. The same goes for any lower level positions as well by the way. When people are getting started in their careers they are looking to hear about the jobs people have even at the lower levels but the resources just aren’t there. Even for more senior roles, it’s hard to get a beat on what the current status is of their projects, people don’t like sharing - I still don’t know why.
We’re seeing communities around Sales popup SalesHacker, sales
, Bravado etc. We don’t see as many for other roles, there is a wide open space in this. I don’t see any places for people to better understand customer support/success which is THE ONLY INBOUND TOUCHPOINT WITH CUSTOMERS POST SALE. How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
This is part of the philosophy and psychology of understanding human dynamics. Find a persona that you can relate to immediately and build your product around fixing their problems, be obsessed with this.
They get paid nothing, but they’d like less tickets, how do you reduce that ticket count, how do you bring other parts of the business that they may need to have access to more prominently in your support system so they don’t have to have multiple windows open. How do you build something to maximize their efficiency?
Better yet, how do you tag someone in the CRM and flag it over to the sales system to see if they purchase more product as a result of a good interaction with support - this is how you turn a cost center into a revenue generator. This is a killer feature that I’m not aware of out of the box.
This could unlock a commission structure and reward system for what is arguably becoming a dealbreaker for most companies.
Which is a great segway to the next drill down - you should be starting to see how this all really blends together if done correctly. LEVEL 8: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify and Shipstation that have less than 100 skus and do less than $10 million in annual revenue with support teams less than 5 people who are looking to automate their processes. How to niche down
They have to be looking to automate their process or improve their workflow. When people find a tech stack that works, oftentimes new technology doesn’t stick around very long, we’re all creatures of habit. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
You’re only looking for people that are talking about processes or a company that has something related to the pride they take with their process - you can check out BuiltWith and see a list of products they have tried over the last 18 months.
When a company is testing a bunch of different products it means they are looking for a better process. This is your sweet spot. How to position within that market
You’ve seen me sprinkle “workflow” into this post. This is pretty much a preview of Part 3 and the importance of product design.
Your product must improve someone’s existing workflow. If it doesn’t it’s not a viable product.
There are two parts to this, does your product improve an existing workflow AND how easy can your product be inserted into that workflow?
Remember, this is their business and they need to make a transition as smoothly as possible with as little disruption as possible. This goes for any product you’re selling. Change is hard.
Understanding a company’s process really is everything.
If people aren’t looking to automate or improve their process, there’s a good chance you should change your approach immediately and work towards more of an education campaign and double down on what it would take to let people quickly switch over from an existing platform. Focus on reducing friction. How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
Looking for people that are interested, not those we need to educate early on.
Data migration and implementation is one of the main reasons people don’t want to switch or entertain new products. There is always a fear of lost productivity.
Everyone is looking to automate right now, but the price has to be right, and that includes not the subscription amount, but the training, the migration, the new workflows, the time to adopt, the willingness to adopt, etc.
During almost any transition, the company will be paying for two systems at the same time during that handoff. This is rough, not enough companies actually address this in a meaningful way.
The argument is that a pure SaaS play doesn’t exist or shouldn’t exist for an early stage company, there should always be a service and consulting component. Hold everyone’s hand, understand their problems and make them feel like you’re building a product just for them.
Ok we’re almost there - LEVEL 9: We’re a helpdesk product for eCommerce companies using Shopify and Shipstation that have less than 100 skus and do less than $10 million in annual revenue with support teams less than 5 people who are looking to automate their processes who are currently using Zendesk. How to niche down
Zendesk - great platform - but has its limits that only show up based on workflows. Zendesk will work great until you have a workflow that incorporates other tools - then it starts to struggle.
This is true of most large legacy platforms. As legacy platforms moved up market to Enterprise for revenue reasons, they usually forget about smaller teams. Instead relying on dev house partners to do customizations.
This is where industry experience really comes into play - knowing the goals of a company or team, their workflows, and where you can create a better solution for those with those workflows for things that the legacy platforms prefer to source out to their dev house partners. How to use this to target a market and recognize opportunity
Your calls can now go from generic to focused with questions that can hone in on workflows and gaps. For example, Zendesk’s UX/UI sucks for partner integrations, we’ve seen companies like Kustomer, Gorgias, and others become more popular because of a better UX/UI that supports the whole customer experience and journey. This is a fundamental switch in approach.
From one of our earlier research steps we found 87 companies that people were using for support with shopify, we have them in a spreadsheet, we then could take those and put all the competitors in builtwith to run some reports to understand market penetration (you can do this with number of reviews as well by the way if you’re lazy - don’t be lazy).
Download your list - populate your CRM - you now know what people are using, how long they’ve been using them.
Narrow down your list to the top 20 clients - yes only 20.
Even if you have 100 clients or a thousand clients at this point, this process works for every single Sales rep you have - and I’m going on a 95% chance none of them are doing this stuff. And if you tell me they are, I know from the amount of generic ass emails I get regularly spewed out to me they aren’t doing it well and I guarantee you money is being left on the table. (Topic for another day) How to position within that market
You know what software they are using, you know their tech stack, your goal is to figure out their workflow. If you don’t know, ask. You should understand the general business workflows for the industry - again industry knowledge is required.
Engage them with conversation and find out. Base your questions on conversations you’ve had with other people in the space and be a source of information about how other people are doing it.
The above is completely able to be put into a human measurable process, one based on quality over quantity, relationships over transactions, and geared towards long term growth.
Be about the things that other platforms are not. Focus on changing the narrative from cost center to revenue generator.
The helpdesk for Shopify and Shipstation customers looking to streamline their processes and free up their support teams to become revenue generators in an organic and measurable fashion. How to give yourself the biggest chance of success
It’s all about workflows, data, and automation.
Niche down, learn from the inside out, follow the trends and work on being able to tie back data to creating more revenue no matter what your product does and you’ll be able to start conversations with people actively looking to create more optimized workflows.
Focusing on a legacy product and small businesses usually allows you to find a sweet spot, they don’t find value in all the features because they won’t use them all. But they do want the more advanced features like automation and workflow help. These are usually cost prohibitive in the platform.
This is why you focus on workflow over features, you’ll never catch up with the big guys in terms of features, but there are always ways to compete on workflows, because everyone has their own independent goals around them. There aren’t standards, only best practices.
Side note - there are entire companies that are hired to implement systems like Zendesk and build integrations on top of it and it’s a market leader. The same goes for any market leader. LEVEL 10ish: You can add location to the end of our narrowing down. A company physically local to you (at least this was the case prior to COVID-19) can allow for an in person visit which has been massive in building trust with early clients. Makes it easier to have a conversation as well.
That’s it. Go through this process, substitute your values, keep drilling down and recognize opportunity along the way. When you do it correctly you’ll see massive improvements for your initial outreach.
Emails go from:
We’re a new helpdesk company.
We’re a new helpdesk company for customers that use Shopify and Shipstation. We help agile support teams that are looking to better automate their workflows. Our integrations also allows your support team’s interactions to be directly tied into future revenue generation.
I can tell you from experience I’m visiting the url for the second email even if I’m not looking to make a change. This is a good place to stop, we hit question 2 of 5 and we’re almost at the halfway point.
If you have more specific questions about this part just drop them in the comments and I'll respond to them.
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