Pic-MarketsSteve Blank popularized the concept of getting out of your building to conduct customer development in the pursuit for the ultimate product/market fit. The benefits were obvious: get to know your real market, test your hypotheses, and gather insights from your customers.

But there is a Part II to this advice. Fast forward to having been successful, nailing the product/market fit, and growing like crazy. Now you need to get out of your building again, but this time, it’s for marketing outreach activities and to establish your physical presence where your customers and markets are.

There comes a point when online referrals, peer to peer viral growth, and centralized command and control online processes can take you so far in terms of reaching maximum visibility, awareness and preference potential to attract new users and customers.

Not all products are conducive to an infinite network-effect-driven growth curve via user-to-prospect referrals, and lateral message propagation.

So, if you’ve reached close to 100 employees, and you think you’re doing well, but 95% of your employees are still in head office, it’s time to re-consider that. If you are the CEO, get out of your building and start reaching your community on the ground, wherever they are. You can’t just push a button from central headquarters and expect local markets to be favorable to you by remote control. Even better, start hiring people in the local markets where your customers and prospects are.

Even Twitter has been opening regional offices, as they need to have feet on the ground where the (paying) customers are. Dropbox and Mailchimp regularly sponsor local activities where their customers and prospects hang out. The reason why Drew Houston hits the speaking circuit so often is because he’s spreading the Dropbox brand around. Facebook knew that a long time ago. They had been cozying-up to the local developers around the world since 1999 when Facebook Connect came out, because they knew that they would in turn evangelize early on in their local markets. Local Facebook Connect meetups were routinely attended by hundreds of developers and marketing agencies.

The battleground for market share consists of reaching your prospects, i.e. the majority of the market who doesn’t know about you. You need to get into their heads before the competition does.

Most startups are comfortable dealing with their customers, but they struggle reaching the outer layers of the market they really need to attract. You cannot wait to be led to that market. You need to go and be in front of it. Matt Mullenweg, CEO/founder of Automattic, revels in attending local WordCamp meetups around the world. It’s how he stays in touch with the local communities globally, and how he continues to spread the WordPress brand by staying inside the minds of the market.

You could think of your market potential progression in 3 stages (see figure):

  1. Product/Market Fit: Demand driven by early adopters of your product
  2. Growth: Reaching the fast followers
  3. Local Markets: Being in the global/local market where your prospects are

Here are some (partial) ideas for local outreach activities to assert your marketing presence in local markets:

  • Sponsor and/or attend local meetups
  • Create your own brand of events (e.g. WordCamp)
  • Get invited to fireside chats
  • Speak at conferences and participate in panel discussions
  • Visit your local customers
  • Send someone from headquarters to spend a week per city and have them infiltrate and participate in the communities where your target markets are

There is nothing wrong in having a strong head-office, but if you’ve experienced a relatively pleasant growth phase, and you’re wondering what’s next, you need to start asserting your presence where your market is. You can typically start with the major metropolitan or regional concentrations where your customers and prospects are. You don’t need to open new offices, but you may need to hire local people that are feet-on-the-ground with the local communities that you are trying to reach. If you don’t do that, you’re really making it harder on yourself to be successful, and making it easier for the competition to beat you if they are already local and you’re not.

Go capture the imagination of users where they are, and get into their minds early on, before the competition does.