Over the years, we’ve worked with thousands of startups on developing their go-to-market strategy. While products and markets may be unique, the path to finding product-market fit is not; it’s a formula.
In helping founders all around the world implement our go-to-market formula, we’ve found that there are eight common go-to-market strategy questions that most startup founders ask before they get started executing. While each of these go-to-market strategy questions touch upon a different topic, there is a common theme: how do I go to market as quickly as possible.
Our answer to this important question comes from decades of go-to-market experience with thousands of startups around the world.
We hope our deep experience helps you avoid learning the hard way.
8 Common Go-To-Market Strategy Questions
1. Should I hire a salesperson for my startup?
If you do not have product-market fit, the answer to this common go-to-market strategy question is an emphatic “no.” Hiring a salesperson should not be part of your GTM strategy at all. Why?
For startups, salespeople aren’t well suited to be successful in an early-stage startup environment. They often come from later-stage companies where they were incredibly well resourced, had a known product, a large existing customer base, and established and proven sales and marketing processes where they were handed market qualified leads.
As a startup, your company does not have a reputation that drives inbound leads. You’ve likely not yet defined what a market qualified lead means to your company. In most cases, startups don’t even have a defined customer profile or customer acquisition strategy.
Bringing someone in who has never been in the early-stage environment often starts out well (with the salesperson landing a few new customers from their existing relationships) and then everything slowly grinds to a halt and ends poorly.
Most founders hire a salesperson because they think, “I don’t know how to do sales,” so I should bring someone in who knows what they are doing. But take a moment to think about that.
If you don’t know how to do sales, then you probably don’t know what to look for, watch out for or hire or train for either!
2. Should I hire a marketing team?
See #1 above! At GrowthX, we work mostly with B2B companies and when we get asked these kinds of go-to-market questions, it’s usually already too late. Let us be clear, A B2B company at the go-to-market stage should not hire a marketing team.
If you’re at the go-to-market stage and have yet to validate your Ideal Customer Profile(s) or repeatable sales process, a full-on digital marketing campaign is not the right path for you.
Marketing campaigns require a lot of time and capital just to get up-and-running. Then you have to wait for the data to begin coming in for a while, 2-3 months in most cases, before you can do anything with the insights. Can you afford to spend precious runway on digital ads for a few months without bringing in any new business?
Anything you spend on marketing takes money directly away from other, more targeted activities that can help you achieve a tangible revenue goal.
At the go-to-market stage, most companies’ customer acquisition goal is between 5-15 new customers. This means your top-of-funnel isn’t full of 10,000 names. In fact, your top of funnel is likely less than 100 hyper-qualified contacts.
So. even $1,000 per month spent on SEO or premature website branding is a significant detraction when you could instead work towards more direct calls, cold emails, or a flight to visit a lead in person.
At the end of the day, you should only spend money on marketing once you already know the characteristics of your ideal customers and how to close them once they enter your funnel.
3. So…when should I hire?
Hiring a full-time staff is an antiquated model for startups that carries a lot of risk with it. Rather than hiring for roles like sales, what you should optimize for is securing talented resources for very specific jobs.
A lot of companies spend money hiring advisors or sales people who promise to open up their rolodex and bring revenue in exchange for your runway and your equity. Don’t make this mistake.
Instead, outsource specific tasks such as social or email lead-generation to fill the top of your funnel. If you don’t like working with them, you can quickly get rid of them and keep your equity. If you do like working with them, you can up your budget.
If you want to hire a salesperson or marketer, you don’t need to do it until you’ve gone through enough cycles and have a process for them to follow and a funnel to pick up.
Hire them as you see progression happening, not when you’re under duress, because then you won’t have time to vet the person and make sure it’s a good fit.
4. What’s the one thing that all successful go-to-market strategies have in common?
Without question, all successful go-to-market strategies have a clear and tangible ideal customer profile (ICP). The companies we’ve worked with that have been the most successful know exactly which people to target, and they do it in an incredibly focused and disciplined manner.
They don’t stop at the surface with a lean canvas or persona, and they aren’t distracted by shiny objects. They focus on one singular outcome, which is a definable goal of revenue by a specific target date.
Any activity that isn’t focused on turning your ICP into actual revenue should not make it into your daily life.
5. What’s the most common go-to-market mistake?
The most common mistake when startups develop a go-to-market strategy is “spraying and praying” instead of focusing on an ICP.
Founders tend to want to reach out to everyone with very generic messaging in exchange for feeling productive and fast. This strategy is highly inefficient and rarely works.
The other challenges of spraying-and-praying are that you rob your business of valuable data and insights, and you bring bad insights into your startup (that might turn you in the wrong direction).
If you focus on the right market rather than just conduct activity for activity’s sake, you’ll get specific, relevant feedback that helps you learn and, in turn, helps you get to market faster.
6. What’s the best trick for shortening sales cycles?
Most founders assume that when they get in front of their ideal customer, the customer will know what to do, but customers are busy and have other priorities. You need to control every step of the process.
The simplest way to control the process is to never get off the phone without having a clear call-to-action, definition of next steps and a deadline for next steps. Get the lead to put that next step on their calendar while they are on the phone with you.
It’s incredible what happens when you keep your leads focused on clear, easy next steps and timelines.
7. How long does it take to go to market?
This depends on a variety of factors such as pricing, sales cycle, customers, and more. For example, if a product costs $5,000, sales should close in about six weeks or less. If it costs $250,000, be prepared for an eight to 18-month sales cycle.
The good news is that you’re primarily in control of the time it takes because you can adjust all of these factors to fit your runway.
Rather than reacting to sales cycles, define when you need to see results.
Pick a timeline that works for you and your runway, and then adjust your levers to match that goal.
That said, from our experience it takes about two months of focused effort to plan and execute a successful go-to-market strategy. It’s not something that gets done over the course of a couple of lunch-and-learns with the team, during a whiteboard session on a weekend or with an ill-prepared mentor session.
Two months might sound like an eternity in startup years, but it’s really not. Those two months easily save you about six to 12 months in painful learning and long sales cycles should you choose to take the spray and pray approach instead.
There’s a famous Albert Einstein quote that says, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” That’s how your startup should approach the go-to-market strategy.
8. How do I know that I’ve chosen the right market?
This is perhaps the most common go-to-market strategy question we get asked. Some founders are so afraid of deciding who their market is that they spray-and-pray or they suffer from paralysis by analysis. Then, when they fail, they fail big because they spent six months winging it.
At the end of the day there is no certainty in being an entrepreneur. Your entire startup is an experiment. You won’t know if you’ve chosen the right market until you begin to see revenue from like-minded customers.
But just because you can’t be 100% certain something will work, does not mean that your only option is to fly completely blind. When it comes to your go-to-market strategy, your job is to identify a market that is highly likely to be a good fit based upon reasoning, logic, research and common sense.
For example, we were working with a founder who built a technology that makes it easier for software developers to build integrations. The founder was stuck choosing between two potential markets. The first ICP was early stage startups that were time- and cash-poor, but had a considerable need to build efficiently and scalably. The second ICP was enterprise tech companies that would require buy-in from multiple stakeholders and might be more difficult to break into.
In breaking down the two ICPs, we asked a simple and practical question: which of these two ICPs is already spending money on solving integration issues? The problem with the startup ICP is that it’s almost impossible to tell.
However, with the enterprise ICP we were able to quickly identify significant capital spend on integration development simply by going onto LinkedIn and searching for tech companies that were hiring software integration developers. These roles typically cost around $125K in salary (information found by looking at open job postings) and many companies were actively hiring for multiple positions.
Because we had identified a tangible signal that this ICP was spending considerable budget on integrations, we went ahead and decided to move forward with this ICP. Is it certain that it’s the right market? Of course not.
But, when you go through the exercise of comparing the two and actually looking for common sense signals, you enable yourself to leverage data to make informed choices and reduce the risk of being wrong.
Conducting active market due diligence will help you select an initial market with a higher likelihood of success.
What success looks like for your go-to-market strategy
All go-to-market strategies start off as a hypothesis. Initially, they are preliminary plans and then they become tactical go-to-market strategies for you to execute. The only thing that is certain is that your go-to-market strategy will likely have to change or adapt.
Build a GTM strategy that is built for rapid iteration. In the end, if you are successful, the signs will be a predictable sales cycle, minimal objections and questions about your offering, and low churn and/or high pilot conversion.