AWS Startups Blog

Building the Right Messaging (Startup Founder Sales Series, Part 4)

blackboard with a megaphone representing how to construct messaging

What’s in a name? A lot. Just consider the amount of time you spend trying to name stuff. With many of the startups I work with, founders spend in ordinate amount of time trying to get their name right because the decision impacts domain names, SEO, and most importantly, perception.

For example: It is hard to fault Netflix for anything they do, having a string of successes since their founding in 1997. However in 2011, the company announced a spinoff of the DVD rental business into a subsidiary company called Qwikster. The backlash was both swift and brutal to both the strategy of the move as well as the name. Realizing the mistake, Netflix quickly scuttled their plans.

A poorly crafted message can have the same negative impact as a terrible name. Consider how you respond to the typical sales email. It feels generic, offers no value, and has little to do with what you care about. The message is all about their product and company. With no compelling message or value provided, you send the email to spam, where most sales email goes.

More importantly, however, is that bad messaging has a huge effect on the reputation of your startup. It is hard to ever recover or get invited back to sell to a prospect once they have had one bad experience with your startup. You never want to close doors to opportunities because you presented your startup in a way that hurt your brand.

In the last two posts, we discussed how to identify motivations of buyers and focusing on markets that are going to have the most potential. So how can we turn that into a mechanism that creates the type of sales messaging that is compelling enough for people to respond?

It comes down to sales messaging and personalization. Messaging is the idea you are trying to convey to spark recognition of a need or desire for change. Personalization is simply a way to build rapport and a human connection with someone, as marketing consultant Roy H. Williams shares:

“Having the right message is what matters. It’s not who you reach, it’s what you say.”

In the early days of a startup, founders write the messaging. Without much experience, they often write sweeping statements full of buzzwords that sound grandiose. Unfortunately this confuses your market and makes for dull, uncreative writing that no one wants to read.

How then do you craft good messaging? Think of a message as a snippet of content that quickly and succinctly delivers insight. It’s the atomic unit of the overall value proposition that tells the vision of your company. The message serves two purposes, to convey a unique point of value and to connect to something the recipient cares about.

There are three key principles to consider for any messaging in order for it to be received positively and encourage responses::

  • Personalized
  • Relevant
  • Actionable

The first principle of messaging is that it needs to be personal. If the message is all about the sender, it will be ignored. Most messaging reads like a generic template with the person’s name slapped on to make it feel personal. This is lazy personalization.

Dale Carnegie however shared a fundamental truth about people over on eighty years ago in his book “Win Friends & Influence People”:

“Talk to someone about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.”

Real personalization is demonstrating that you care about people by making the effort to learn about them. Everyone appreciates it when they hear something that is complementary or acknowledges their work. If you are trying to reach hundreds or thousands of people however, this could take a long time. How do you pique the interest of prospects in a scalable way?

To help identify “me” triggers quickly, use the 3×3 process for tailoring your messaging. The process is to find three interesting things about a prospect in three minutes searching Google, LinkedIn, YouTube, or other networks. If this does not yield useful results, then find recent news about the company the person works for that might be relevant and interesting.

The second principle is relevant. The message must convey value, otherwise personalization falls flat. Since you do not know the most pressing needs of prospects, use the Motivator Matrix from the post about buyer motivation to map what prospects generally care about (or their “WIIFMs). This gets us in the range of topics that might align to the needs of prospects.

Once motivators have been mapped, create messaging that addresses the motivators in a way that naturally introduces your offering as a potential solution. We do this by finding insightful and helpful content, that either you created or is created by others, and building a Messaging Matrix.

As an example, you want to reach out to VPs of Engineering. A motivation might be “Projects are completed too slowly or inconsistently.” Then we link that to some useful information, such as “Studies show that developers only spend 30% of the day coding because they are waiting for answers to questions” and then add a link to a study that compliments your solution. This ties the problem to an intriguing idea and content, positioning your startup as a problem solver.

The third principle is actionable. Anytime you engage a prospect, you need to have a next step that creates progress and momentum towards a “Yes” or “No” decision. Most salespeople would simply ask for “20 minutes of your time” as a next step. As a founder though, you have the opportunity to ask a question that builds credibility and greater engagement. You do this when reaching out to prospects by asking if you are “Directionally Correct,” which is a way to confirm if your message aligns with the interests and motivations of the prospect.

This means asking open ended questions to elicit a response and longer conversation. For example this might mean asking “if this was helpful, how is it impacting your role currently” or “in what way do the results of study reflect what you are seeing on your team.

This type of question is better received because the first part of the message was personal and relevant. When you put all three pieces of a high quality message together, it resembles the following template:






The first paragraph comes from your 3×3 research. The second paragraph is based on the content from the Messaging Matrix. The last paragraph are your Directionally Correct questions, and it is helpful to have a few to rotate and match with the content in the second paragraph. Altogether, you could have anywhere from four to ten messages to use per persona.

The next step would be to load your prospecting for delivery, but there is an important step before launching your outreach effort. I will address that next week as I discuss how to find the contacts to reach out to and where to find this data from.

Mark Birch

Mark Birch

Mark is a community builder, software entrepreneur, business development expert, and startup advisor. He currently works at AWS as a Principal Startup Advocate advising founders and sharing the stories of how startups across Asia-Pacific successfully build and scale their startups on AWS. Previously, Mark founded the Enterprise Sales Forum, a global community of 25,000 B2B sales professionals, and DEV.BIZ.OPS, a newsletter and blog. Mark was also with Stack Overflow to help launch and commercialize their Enterprise Q&A platform and then led efforts to expand business in APAC working with C-level executives to help them understand how to build internal tech communities in order to improve software delivery performance. Before that he launched an HR tech startup, invested in numerous B2B tech companies and worked at a diverse group of leading technology companies including Oracle, E.piphany, and Siebel.