Getting Go-to-Market Right at a Startup is Ridiculously Hard

By: Randa Minkarah

By: Randa Minkarah

So many startups are founded by brilliant engineers with great ideas. But ideas are not execution, and without a strong go-to-market plan, the startup will never be able to achieve real revenue development.

Revenue is the true mark of success. The market has to validate the idea and demonstrate adoption widely in the marketplace. Marketing and revenue development cannot be left to chance or scheduled for later. It takes considerable time to figure out the right formula for go-to-market, and waiting until after the platform is at the MVP stage is too late. The work has to be done simultaneously to have a shot at succeeding. The process is long and usually takes a couple of years to develop.

Go-to-market is hard. The more unique the application of a platform or solution, the more difficult it is to create the market while simultaneously selling the product. There is no customer pipeline. The sales process begins from a standing start. Customers have to believe not only in the product and the company, but that the product will really solve their problems. It requires a new approach that factors in the internal customer culture. Yes, they may need it, but can they apply it? Will the customer trust a new company with a critical initiative? Building trust as a startup takes a series of meetings and requires thoughtful and persistent outreach.

Solution selling along with targeted marketing to establish thought leadership is usually a good approach. Initially, most startups do not have the budget for a PR firm and an extensive marketing budget, so blogging and writing consistently is a good way to start (case in point: what you’re reading). This, of course, means that a good content writer is a critical early hire. Founders cannot do it all. A strategy to pepper the market consistently with good content is critical. For the record, good content is not selling the Company itself. That will get boring fast. Share opinions and observations and be sure it is something that you would want to read before publishing.

Another requirement is a sales team made up of resourceful hunters. The team needs to be seasoned, connected and nimble. Members have to truly understand the technical advances that the platform solves and have enough relationships developed previously to get going, but also can’t be too set in their ways or expecting a ton of resources and big T&E budget.

Too many leaders and not enough followers is another early startup mistake. You don’t need a huge and expensive leader to get going. The founders are the best people to support the sales team. Once the go-too-market is well established, then that can change.

The sales team has to listen very carefully to potential customers and be able to refine the approach nearly weekly at first. Beta customers are a terrific source of refinement and approach. We beta a new product offering with a customer or two before fully defining the go-to-market. The necessary skill is to listen between the lines – what are the customers not saying or what are they implying. A new market with a new product will have a long sales cycle of usually 12 months or so. The sales cycle will be truncated in the future but not at first. There is no shortcut to adoption. A customer success team is a necessity at this stage to overcome the customer culture issues and assure ongoing success and adoption.

But in the end it comes down to what your sales team is capable of. If they’re not onboard by the time the MVP is ready, then you are already behind.