Have you ever found yourself making a major strategic decision for your start-up with absolutely no historical evidence to guide your decision-making process? It almost feels like you are making your best guess with the little information you do have and crossing your fingers that you didn't make a bad call.
Yeah, you’re not alone. In my experience working with roughly 7+ B2B SaaS start-ups, this seems to be the situation most of the leadership team is put in. The area that many brand new SaaS start-ups struggle the most with is building out customer personas. How are you supposed to know your audience if you’ve never had one?
Uncovering your audience unknowns
If you don’t have an audience, you are operating in an environment of uncertainty. What does that mean? Well, according to Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer, authors of the “Innovator’s Method,” an environment of uncertainty arises from the unknowns associated with solving any problem, which is sometimes called the “unknown unknowns,” such as hidden customer preferences or undiscovered elements of a technical solution.
They came up with two types of uncertainty that can influence your ability to create a customer:
Will customers buy it? Is anyone else selling this same solution or am I creating a new category? (see understanding category creation versus category differentiation to find out where you fall). If you are creating a new category, demand uncertainty increases.
Can we make a desirable solution? What is the rate of invention in your industry? Will a new technology emerge that will outdate or outcompete you? As the overall rate of invention increases, so does the technological uncertainty.
The higher the demand and technological uncertainty for your company, the harder it will be to make an accurate ICP (ideal customer profile) and personas. Typically, if you are a B2B SaaS company that is pre-PMF (product-market fit), you are operating in an environment of high uncertainty.
Embracing experiments for your SaaS start-up
I say all of this is not to be discouraging. It is very normal for tech start-ups to operate in uncertain environments. But it’s vital to acknowledge this fact and understand that because of this, as a leader you need to position yourself as a Chief Experimenter instead of your typical Chief Decision-maker.
The reality is that you probably don’t know many of the answers and that’s okay. The journey to building a successful startup involves a lot of learning and flexibility. As a Chief Experimenter, try running quick and effective experiments that allow you to let the data guide your decision-making process.
This directly applies to creating your customer. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time around and building a perfect marketing strategy that targets the ICP you have in mind. Just build out a starting point, a place where you can begin to test your environment and confirm or influence your assumptions.
You don’t need a fancy website or flawless messaging framework to do this, because it will likely change in the future and there’s no sense in wasting your time on something that will need to be iterated on. When you are experimenting you just need something that gets the job done and once you have confirmed your audience then you can focus on refining your marketing efforts.