Define your hypotheses, interview potential buyers, build a minimum viable product and take it from there. Sounds familiar? What if I told you there is an earlier, as important and powerful, stage that can help you in customer development, validation and early customer acquisition if done correctly? This post discusses landing pages as powerful tool for all of the above. It is one of the strategies I implement in each one of my portfolio companies and strongly recommend it to those I help build viable startups.
First, what’s a landing page?
A Landing page has one objective: capturing leads. It does so by minimizing or eliminating navigation links and focusing on conversion through a headline, text, image/video, and a call to action.
Second, how can we use landing pages to validate our solution even before building the simplest product?
Nothing beats one to one customer interviews. You hear the tone, see facial expressions and body language, hear chosen words and ask follow up questions. It is your best customer understanding channel. You’ve spoken to 200 potential customers and got all the insights you needed, does this make your product viable to address the needs of those buyers? A question that cannot be answered with interviews alone. Validating a solution and its counterpart (need) can’t be accomplished with customer promises but only with their actions. Therefore, customer interaction through interviews, surveys, emails and others help in understanding while other forms of startup development help in acquisition then activation. Landing pages are one of those other forms.
Simply put, customers who have an urgent need for your solution will go above and beyond to get and use it. With this fact in mind, let us discuss how to leverage landing pages for acquisition then activation. We will picture the process through a funnel.
Companies like AT&T, Pepsi, Geico and others create awareness for their new products and services through multiple channels. T.V. ads are what most of us see. Luckily, in a startup, we don’t need to wait for the product to create the awareness. Buffer founders built a massive list of followers from their content marketing through their blog. Neil Patel emphasizes on the importance of content marketing by claiming all his businesses are built on great content. Creating awareness is the start line. Only those who see value (interested) in your product will move to the next stage; validation phase 1.
Before product launch, landing pages have commonly been used to get user sign ups. Signed up users are prompted to either use the beta version or a minimum viable product. Landing pages have a bigger purpose to serve. Before building the simplest version of the product, founders can use landing pages to measure users’ real interest in the product. This is done through a series of registration steps that, 1) demand an extra effort from the user and, 2) evaluate the urgency of their needs through pricing plan selection, payment, inviting friends, etc. depending on what founders seek to validate.
Let’s look at the essentials of highly converting landing pages, three examples of startups that leveraged the power of landing pages for early traction and validation, and finally your options for quick landing page development.
Landing pages are conversion tools. A conversion is essentially a type of sale that doesn’t necessarily need to be monetary. It is about moving a person (lead) from one stage to the other in the process. Every sale/conversion starts with users’ interest. Keeping this in mind, your analysis of users’ behavior on your landing page will reveal many insights about their need for your solution. In other words, a high number of users leaving your page as soon as they land can have two interpretations: they either have no interest or the landing page is not articulating and showing the value proposition the way it should. I often assume it is the earlier reason to be conservative.
To grab users’ interest, you need a killer headline. A short, concise, and unique sentence that informs users about the product or service. MVSOT, a startup outsourcing team, gets to the point through a short and intriguing headline supported by a relevant picture. The headline puts visitors into perspective while the image helps them connect the dots.
At this point, visitors are seeking an explanation. It is about explaining how the product or service will benefit them; how it will solve their problems and address their needs. Crazyegg does a great job at combining their value proposition with an image to quickly explain how their product is of value to users.
The details come in the How It Works, Guide or Video section. MVSOT founders narrate their story and the details of how they work in a post.
In their landing page, they provide a snapshot.
What pain is the product relieving? Pain can be shown through previous users’ opinions, however, as an early stage startup, you may not have testimonials to show. You can use text, a video or a before and after infographic demonstration of what the product will do. Here is how MVSOT puts it:
Finally, one of the most critical components of a landing page is the call to action button. Big, bold, and accompanied with an exciting text that conveys trust and excitement.
It is important to keep in mind that there is no one size fits all with landing pages. Variations such as audience, objective, product, intent, business model, and many others will determine their layout, content feel and look. In some cases, such as Kollecto (see below), a landing page is a big part of the core product. For others, it is only for product introduction and awareness. In all cases, landing pages can be a powerful validation tool. Here are three examples.
Tara Reed founder at Kollecto, an online survey that offers users curated selections of art, used a series of steps to introduce the product before asking for the emails. Below are the first and last steps.
By looking at the percentage of people reaching this point and inputting their email, you learn a lot about their interests in the solution. The traditional Notify Me message can get you a lot of emails but does not serve as a validation tool. Ramli John, mentor at Lean Startup machine, says: You can email them. Good luck trying to get a response back.
Here’s what Buffer did instead. The team used a landing page as an initial validation of whether potential users would go through a long sign up process for the product they pitched on the first page. Co-founder Joel Gascoigne says, “it’s easy to fall into this trap. You throw up a landing page and ask for emails right on that first page. As soon as you do that you’ve lost an opportunity for validation. Ask them to click a sign up button at least before giving you their email and you’re doing a little better. Ask them to click a “pricing plans” button, choose a plan and then give their email and you’re actually getting some validated learning. Follow it up with a conversation and you might learn why they gave you their email and whether they truly have the problem you’re solving for.”
Buffer’s last pop up message may have been a disappointment for many. Joel immediately sent a very personal email to those who reached this point. This was another opportunity for the team to meet and speak with potential buyers in a more direct and personal way. The team at Buffer leveraged the power of landing pages to the fullest though I strongly believe they should have taken users’ money with a refund guarantee in case product fails to meet expectation. This would have been another motivator for the team. Out of 120 sign ups in 7 weeks, 50 started using the product the moment Buffer was launched.
MVSOT is entrepreneurs’ Most Valuable Startup Outsourcing Team. As experienced freelancers, they got a chance to work with a number of entrepreneurs with different backgrounds and needs. Few months ago, they started asking each entrepreneur, how would describe your most valuable startup outsourcing team? The answer was summarized in a sentence: a team that shares my passion, one that is trustworthy, accountable, responsive, and skilled.
To test the need for such a dream team, they used a registration process that tests entrepreneurs’ urgency to work with them and their filtered and trained freelancers through personal questions, by introducing the product, seeking entrepreneurs’ degree of urgency and finally prompting them to share how the startup came to be. This process not only allows them to test needs but also only introduces them to those who are ready to hire.
On a separate note, not necessarily for validation purposes, I found that a slightly longer than a name/email/submit sign up process discourages the majority of users but only keeps those who see value in what you are offering. At AbdoRiani.com, about 3% of visitors and readers convert which is relatively low but for the quality one to one discussions, support, mentoring, advisement and others I provide to those who take an extra 10 seconds to confirm their emails and click Subscribe, it is worth the filter.
If you lack the technical skills, here are your options for getting a landing page up and running quickly:
Wishpond provides you with a selection of landing pages that you can edit and publish directly through their platform. Social promotions, popups, forms, email marketing and other services can also be found at Wishpond.
Envato, parent company of themeforest, describes its platform as a themed marketplaces. Thousands of themes are available for purchase, customization and sometimes only to discover interesting examples that you can replicate in your page.
Upwork is a freelancing marketplace. If you are looking for custom built landing pages, you can browse, interview and hire through Upwork.
MVSOT provides entrepreneurs with technical and non-technical services that aim to help them build stronger startups through outsourcing. Designing, developing and launching landing pages for testing and validation purposes fall under their area of expertise. More information about their startup services can be found in their website.
Validation Phase 1 is the process of leveraging landing pages for an initial quantitative test of users’ interest and need for the proposed solution. One of the things you’d be surprised occurring sometimes is users’ lack of interest in the product despite their sign up, pricing selection and taking other actions you’d want them to take for testing purposes. Sometimes, not until you launch your initial product version that you learn users’ real interest in the solution. Most of the time, though, this scenario will not happen if sufficient quality time is taken to meet and speak with registered users through Validation Phase 1.
The objective of each phase is to serve as a brick of validation that justifies the development and introduction of the next. Therefore, many users taking the time to go through a long registration process through your landing page signals strong interest but not necessarily a guaranteed acquisition unless their expectations are clear and well implemented. Take the time to reach out and speak with each early user before introducing your simplest version. Many argue that it may be too late to start building the product after Validation Phase 1. I say, let’s not forget about what comes first in the whole venture initiation process, interviews and surveys. Through this initial customer interaction, you will have a very good idea as to how potential users/buyers expect their problem(s) be solved, if they have any. This would be your qualitative validation stage. At this point, I define the features and their development plan. In other words, for each one of the top suggested solutions, I make sure we know our development path and all the tools and resources needed. Development only starts with some quantitative validation through a landing page. For some if not most products, using non-scalable methods as a step before MVP launch is another way entrepreneurs can ensure users’ needs are addressed through the introduced business model.
An MVP is never meant to serve the mainstream market. MVPs help you quantitatively test your hypotheses and users’ claim for needing a solution. This will be proven if they use and continue using a horrible first version. Validation Phase 3 doesn’t necessarily mean building an advanced product with all the features you envisioned in the platform. It can be as simple as making the best out of the MVP by fixing bugs, using a better experience and interface, and perhaps adding a feature or two suggested by MVP users. In other words, it is about introducing a better quality and slightly more advanced MVP. This process, as meant to be, helps you not only validate before or sometimes as you build which can save you months if not over a year building products people don’t need, but also, for me and the team, it helps us celebrate the small milestones which is a powerful energy boost from time to time.
MVPs are meant to save you time, energy, money and get you to market for fast learning, iteration, possibly pivoting, and validation. Landing pages are simpler, faster, and cheaper tools for initial validation before MVP development. Groupon started with a blog and by manually sending PDFs with vouchers. ZeroCater, a Y combinator company, started with a page and a lot of manual work in the back to connect companies with restaurants for catering. Landing pages are not great tools for initial validation only but also in fundraising. Investors are a lot more interested in listening to you if you show them some data that backs your claims.
- Define your business hypotheses beginning with target buyers and value proposition.
- Meet with 50-100 hypothesized potential buyers.
- Redefine your hypotheses (if needed).
- Retest validated hypotheses by creating a landing page that prompts users to take actions that reveal their real interest such as choosing the needed features, pricing, filling out a long application and others. Use MVSOT, Buffer and Kollecto as a guide. To create a landing page, refer to platforms like Wishpond, Envato, Upwork or MVSOT.
- Invite those interviewed to visit the page. Grabbing other users’ attention can be accomplished through blogging, social media, and social events.
- Build an MVP based on your qualitative (interviews) and quantitative (landing page) validation.
How else can landing pages be used for validation purposes?