In 1998, the tactics we used to get our story out lacked the new-age options, such as social marketing and search-engine optimization. We simply used word-of-mouth, the trade press, and invested tens of thousands of dollars in a dynamic web site featuring animation, a unique innovation at that time.
Two other critical elements in the success of a startup is the relentless focus on sales, more so than on marketing, and a simplified tag line.
First, let’s look at sales and marketing. In June 2014, an article in the Wall Street Journal summarized the approach startups should embrace, and the path Cerent took in its sales and marketing outreach, “. . . 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 a startup, narrow and deep is what you want—not just in the way you appeal to [customers], but in the type of product you build.”
This meant that our marketing was indistinguishable from sales: We talked to a small number of early-adopter customers who were seriously interested in the Cerent 454, not a broader audience of larger telephone companies who were relatively indifferent to changing the status quo.
At Cerent we had to implement a laser focus, pun intended, because of our limited resources. The Wall Street Journal article acknowledged this fact, “Successful startups start narrow and deep because they don’t have the power to reach a big audience, so they have to choose a very interested one. But also because the product is still being defined. The conversation with initial users is also market research. Begin by seeking out some core group of early adopters and then engaging with individual users to convince them to sign up.” And as we found out, there’s nothing like getting a purchase order for a new product just about to be released.
Second, we had to find our tag line to define and differentiate us. This tactic may seem a bit formulistic, but it works. The Cerent management team took an afternoon (which carried into the evening) to come up with the fewest possible words that defined our startup. This session included our founders and CEO and executive team. While Facebook’s tag line might be “fast, bold, open” and Google’s might be “data, big visionary,” as the Wall Street Journals suggests, Cerent’s chosen words became ‘The revolutionary network element.’”