Let’s be honest. Investors may not want to spend a lot of time demoing your product in its current iteration. And while they want to make sure you have a 12-month roadmap, it’s unlikely to capture more than a few minutes of their attention. A PE or VC partner will be most interested in your team and their backgrounds over your product demo, because they ultimately want to assess the future potential of your company. Total Addressable Market (TAM) is a useful shorthand for this high-ceiling vision, quantifying the largest possible user base for your offering.
The problem is, early stage B2B tech companies are often so focused on listening to current users and solving problems for their well-defined, very specific audience (SAM), that they can be myopic about all the potential use cases out there in the world. For instance, a platform designed to help independent, residential plumbers run their businesses from the field might be a great tool for electricians or cable installers as well.
Much buzzed-about management philosophies like Blue Ocean Strategy, Category Design, and even elements of Agile methodology are built on the idea of a flexible company that can adapt its offering to serve the widest possible audience – essentially taking the blinders off and thinking through your TAM from every perspective imaginable. That may require outside counsel from an analyst group, or a diverse group of advisors.
As your company moves through this journey of audience discovery, a well-organized communications program is essential. Orchestrated correctly, it can tell investors, partners, future customers and employees about an innovative company on the way up, and illustrate your leaders’ vision for a much bigger prize on the horizon:
In ‘Crossing the Chasm,’ Gordon Moore talks about the bowling alley principle: go for a pin that, when knocked over, will knock the maximum amount of others over too. So, talk about your business model and market in generic terms so it can catch the attention of the optimum number of customers. Remember at the end of 19th century the automobile was considered a luxury and a novelty that wouldn’t last. Henry Ford thought otherwise.
Stay broad in early storytelling. Your TAM will evolve, and the comms program should set the set the stage for that expansion. As such, the stories you tell, especially during the early fundraising years, need to resonate with audiences that you’re not necessarily selling to right now.
Keep listening to users along the way. The majority of users will follow predictable patterns. But outlier users that are pushing your product in a new way, or making unusual support requests, could be patient zero for a new market or a new audience to expand into. Customer Advisory Boards and customer listening tours can be very illuminating and might even shine a light on a whole new market whose problems you already solve. Write those case studies up, if possible, in multiple versions that appeal to the specific industry sector and to other sectors as well.
Talk the future – thought-leadership needs to strike a fine balance between today’s opportunity and tomorrow’s. No-one wants to see a start-up get ahead of their skis. But a well-trained spokesperson with a gift for storytelling can fight his or her way into the broader media opportunities that will catch the attention of business leaders hungry to find new sources of innovation. Remember there is always room on a short-list for a wild card.
For more about communications programs to show thought-leadership business momentum and support financing, please see our latest ebook here.