May 24, 2022

Why do so many founders fail at go to market strategy?

Why do so many founders fail at go to market strategy?
Table of contents

So many SaaS companies fail because their go-to-market strategy is all wrong.

After working with hundreds of founders over the years, I often ask myself why cut corners on a marketing strategy that you wouldn't with your product. Yet, I found these two things tied to each other's success, whether from a sales-led or product-led motion.

But the truth is, go-to-market isn’t simply about marketing. It’s about how you position your whole organisation to prepare for the rigours of driving growth through product adoption and revenue. As a member of the product marketing leaders council at the PMA, they wrote a fantastic deep-dive piece on a GTM strategy that’s well worth bookmarking.

Table of Contents

But what is typically wrong with the go-to-market strategy?

Okay, let's start with what the process looks like pre-launch:

  • Value proposition and validation
  • Competitive analysis
  • Personas
  • Narrative design (if creating a new category)
  • Positioning & messaging
  • Storytelling framework
  • Pricing
  • Segmentation; hypothesis and experimentation
  • Sales enablement
  • Onboarding

And post-launch:

  • Further product development
  • Ongoing positioning and messaging review
  • Persona reviews and updates
  • Segmentation hypothesis review and analysis
  • Sales enablement monitoring and assessment
  • Quarterly onboarding reviews

Through my years of experience, this is what I now expect a fast-growth Saas company to have planned. Most won’t, but don’t be put off by that; our job is to test, fail, learn and iterate. However, this is also because the product marketing role is still becoming prominent. You’ll likely find that the people in your organisation focus only on their individual goals; marketing, sales, and product. So, the team leaders silo, and that’s a killer for your organisation.

In addition to this, if you look at my pre-launch checklist, many early-stage SaaS don’t know who their direct competitors are. They know the more prominent players in their space. Still, with many verticals having incumbents and each founder seemingly assuming their “difference” is what separates them, things start to go awry.

Competitive intelligence is a must for continued success.

For founders reading this article, it’s a case of accepting that proper competitive intelligence is required for ongoing success. This includes fundamental research for customer feedback completed before your positioning work. You can learn a ton of quality information that lets you know how your potential buyers perceive and talk about products and services like those you offer.

Doing this can better inform your positioning and understand if you need to create a new narrative.

Remember, the order of things is this:

Narrative design - sets the scene for why your product is new or revolutionary and how it changes the game.

Positioning - tells your buyer how your product benefits them most and why you are the go-to choice.

Messaging - tells your buyer how to capitalise on your product and get quick time to value and reward.

Beyond the order of things, note that SaaS owners with multiple products make another mistake: they believe they can only adopt one position. One overarching message that resonates with all buyers, this simply isn’t true.

Image from April Dunford

Positioning guru April Dunford has a handy quickstart guide to positioning, and she talks to five points to focus on:

  1. Competitive alternatives - what are the options if you don’t exist?
  2. Key unique attributes - what features and capabilities do you have that others do not?
  3. Value - what value do the features enable for your customers?
  4. Customers that care - who cares a lot about that value?
  5. The market you win - what context makes the value obvious to your target segments?

Did you or your team answer all of these questions? If not, it’s time to task this to your team or external support and ensure you have correctly covered your bases.

Do this for each product/persona, see if your viewpoints change, and then feed this into your messaging on your website and sales materials. And for one last piece of help from April - take on her product positioning exercise.

You have to understand your audience

The teams I have worked with in early-stage SaaS often make too many assumptions about their personas in favour of their product or service. The purpose of personas is not to assume too much and fill in the blanks but to understand what you DON’T know.

Every incorrect answer, assumption, or fantasy about how this particular buyer wants to have your product or service damages your ability to sell value, communicate well in your content and undermines your sales team's efforts to close deals.

Check out this ultimate guide to buyer personas to see what you and your team can do to maximise the opportunity to convert more prospects into customers. This guide talks about the five pillars of success for personas:

  1. Priority initiative - explains the single most compelling reasons that a buyer would decide to invest in a solution like your business offers.
  2. Success factors - are about discovering the operational or personal results that your persona expects from purchasing a product or service like yours.
  3. Perceived barriers - will give you an understanding of what your persona considers “bad news”.
  4. Buyers' journey - understanding this pillar helps you develop the behind the scenes story about the work your buyers do to evaluate their options, eliminate contenders and settle on their ultimate choice.
  5. Decision criteria - helps you understand what exactly appeals to the buyer about your product or service. It clarifies what the buyer is evaluating between your solution and others and why they consider alternative approaches.

What I would imagine is as you read this list, the item you recognise is point 4, the buyer's journey. If that’s all you focus on, you are operating on one-fifth of the required data you need for ongoing marketing and sales success.

Testing your pricing

Once you understand your customer and nail your position and message, you can talk to these personas on LinkedIn or through your network and test your pricing strategy based on the perceived value of your product. This type of real-life feedback can be the difference between fast adoption of your product or service or lengthy delays in growing revenue. Make this a priority even if your product is already on the market. 

Read more on pricing; check out this resource on go-to-market, with a specific read on the pricing section. The worst pricing strategy you can adopt is competitor-based pricing, which uses an average of your competitor's pricing and adopting that as your own. Research your audience and ask for their perceived value on your pricing, or you may find you are leaving money on the table.

Hypothesising scenarios for experiments and future growth

The best companies do not focus solely on sales; they are constantly probing their customer base and their marketing audience to test new messaging, the potential to adopt new features and so on. And rather than blanket message your whole audience, you chose segments of your data and run tests; ads, messaging, and product features.

You can establish patterns and different persona segments for added value by doing this. As overwhelming as this may seem to achieve great results, you simply need two things; purpose and repetition.

Sales enablement is NOT a maturation of your sales program

Sales enablement is not the maturation of your sales program, which is why SaaS growth stalls. By taking a haphazard or gung-ho all in on sales approach, you will struggle to set your revenue goals on fire. Check out this article on how to build a Saas sales playbook.

Building a successful sales enablement process involves using a decent CRM like HubSpot, curating brand assets, battlecards to counter prospects gravitating towards your competition, and more.

In addition to your sales playbook, complement this approach with a structured demo. Ensure all of your team members, sales or marketing, can demo your products and use a demo checklist.

Onboarding starts with strangers

It’s true. To nail onboarding, you have to look at how you bring a stranger through your digital channels into your sales pipeline, pop them out at the end as a paying customer and encourage them to evangelise on your behalf. Do this, and it's a surefire way to catapult your SaaS to further success.

Things I would consider are:

  • What type of language do we use?
  • Tone of voice
  • Specific words
  • Images and videos etc
  • How do we standardise our sales process to be measured for bottlenecks and dropouts?
  • How do we align marketing, sales and customer success to learn from each other and use that in our outbound communications?
  • How can we align marketing, sales, success and product to commercial success?
  • Ensure we standardise onboarding once a sale completes - 30,60,90 day gameplan.
  • How do we ask our customers for referrals?

These are a few of my thoughts and scenarios that I have solved for SaaS teams over time, and I certainly advocate taking these to a whiteboard and mapping them out.

All of the suggestions I have mentioned are part of my playbook when working with SaaS leaders, and customer acquisition is a favourite area of focus. And once you complete these ideas, put in place a quarterly review to keep an eye on market shifts, and new players in your space and ensure that you best capitalise on the process, process, process.

I hope you enjoyed this article, my first for passionfruit and keep an eye out for more content on topics related to SaaS growth, product marketing and customer engagement.

Paul is a freelance Growth Marketer. He works with SaaS and Tech companies on customer acquisition and product-led growth. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Access a large talent pool of carefully vetted growth marketers and find your perfect specialist in 48 hours.

Less time, less stress, less risk of choosing the wrong person when working with Passionfruit.

Sign up for free
Written by
Professor Passionfruit Illustration
Table of Contents

So many SaaS companies fail because their go-to-market strategy is all wrong.

After working with hundreds of founders over the years, I often ask myself why cut corners on a marketing strategy that you wouldn't with your product. Yet, I found these two things tied to each other's success, whether from a sales-led or product-led motion.

But the truth is, go-to-market isn’t simply about marketing. It’s about how you position your whole organisation to prepare for the rigours of driving growth through product adoption and revenue. As a member of the product marketing leaders council at the PMA, they wrote a fantastic deep-dive piece on a GTM strategy that’s well worth bookmarking.

Table of Contents

But what is typically wrong with the go-to-market strategy?

Okay, let's start with what the process looks like pre-launch:

  • Value proposition and validation
  • Competitive analysis
  • Personas
  • Narrative design (if creating a new category)
  • Positioning & messaging
  • Storytelling framework
  • Pricing
  • Segmentation; hypothesis and experimentation
  • Sales enablement
  • Onboarding

And post-launch:

  • Further product development
  • Ongoing positioning and messaging review
  • Persona reviews and updates
  • Segmentation hypothesis review and analysis
  • Sales enablement monitoring and assessment
  • Quarterly onboarding reviews

Through my years of experience, this is what I now expect a fast-growth Saas company to have planned. Most won’t, but don’t be put off by that; our job is to test, fail, learn and iterate. However, this is also because the product marketing role is still becoming prominent. You’ll likely find that the people in your organisation focus only on their individual goals; marketing, sales, and product. So, the team leaders silo, and that’s a killer for your organisation.

In addition to this, if you look at my pre-launch checklist, many early-stage SaaS don’t know who their direct competitors are. They know the more prominent players in their space. Still, with many verticals having incumbents and each founder seemingly assuming their “difference” is what separates them, things start to go awry.

Competitive intelligence is a must for continued success.

For founders reading this article, it’s a case of accepting that proper competitive intelligence is required for ongoing success. This includes fundamental research for customer feedback completed before your positioning work. You can learn a ton of quality information that lets you know how your potential buyers perceive and talk about products and services like those you offer.

Doing this can better inform your positioning and understand if you need to create a new narrative.

Remember, the order of things is this:

Narrative design - sets the scene for why your product is new or revolutionary and how it changes the game.

Positioning - tells your buyer how your product benefits them most and why you are the go-to choice.

Messaging - tells your buyer how to capitalise on your product and get quick time to value and reward.

Beyond the order of things, note that SaaS owners with multiple products make another mistake: they believe they can only adopt one position. One overarching message that resonates with all buyers, this simply isn’t true.

Image from April Dunford

Positioning guru April Dunford has a handy quickstart guide to positioning, and she talks to five points to focus on:

  1. Competitive alternatives - what are the options if you don’t exist?
  2. Key unique attributes - what features and capabilities do you have that others do not?
  3. Value - what value do the features enable for your customers?
  4. Customers that care - who cares a lot about that value?
  5. The market you win - what context makes the value obvious to your target segments?

Did you or your team answer all of these questions? If not, it’s time to task this to your team or external support and ensure you have correctly covered your bases.

Do this for each product/persona, see if your viewpoints change, and then feed this into your messaging on your website and sales materials. And for one last piece of help from April - take on her product positioning exercise.

You have to understand your audience

The teams I have worked with in early-stage SaaS often make too many assumptions about their personas in favour of their product or service. The purpose of personas is not to assume too much and fill in the blanks but to understand what you DON’T know.

Every incorrect answer, assumption, or fantasy about how this particular buyer wants to have your product or service damages your ability to sell value, communicate well in your content and undermines your sales team's efforts to close deals.

Check out this ultimate guide to buyer personas to see what you and your team can do to maximise the opportunity to convert more prospects into customers. This guide talks about the five pillars of success for personas:

  1. Priority initiative - explains the single most compelling reasons that a buyer would decide to invest in a solution like your business offers.
  2. Success factors - are about discovering the operational or personal results that your persona expects from purchasing a product or service like yours.
  3. Perceived barriers - will give you an understanding of what your persona considers “bad news”.
  4. Buyers' journey - understanding this pillar helps you develop the behind the scenes story about the work your buyers do to evaluate their options, eliminate contenders and settle on their ultimate choice.
  5. Decision criteria - helps you understand what exactly appeals to the buyer about your product or service. It clarifies what the buyer is evaluating between your solution and others and why they consider alternative approaches.

What I would imagine is as you read this list, the item you recognise is point 4, the buyer's journey. If that’s all you focus on, you are operating on one-fifth of the required data you need for ongoing marketing and sales success.

Testing your pricing

Once you understand your customer and nail your position and message, you can talk to these personas on LinkedIn or through your network and test your pricing strategy based on the perceived value of your product. This type of real-life feedback can be the difference between fast adoption of your product or service or lengthy delays in growing revenue. Make this a priority even if your product is already on the market. 

Read more on pricing; check out this resource on go-to-market, with a specific read on the pricing section. The worst pricing strategy you can adopt is competitor-based pricing, which uses an average of your competitor's pricing and adopting that as your own. Research your audience and ask for their perceived value on your pricing, or you may find you are leaving money on the table.

Hypothesising scenarios for experiments and future growth

The best companies do not focus solely on sales; they are constantly probing their customer base and their marketing audience to test new messaging, the potential to adopt new features and so on. And rather than blanket message your whole audience, you chose segments of your data and run tests; ads, messaging, and product features.

You can establish patterns and different persona segments for added value by doing this. As overwhelming as this may seem to achieve great results, you simply need two things; purpose and repetition.

Sales enablement is NOT a maturation of your sales program

Sales enablement is not the maturation of your sales program, which is why SaaS growth stalls. By taking a haphazard or gung-ho all in on sales approach, you will struggle to set your revenue goals on fire. Check out this article on how to build a Saas sales playbook.

Building a successful sales enablement process involves using a decent CRM like HubSpot, curating brand assets, battlecards to counter prospects gravitating towards your competition, and more.

In addition to your sales playbook, complement this approach with a structured demo. Ensure all of your team members, sales or marketing, can demo your products and use a demo checklist.

Onboarding starts with strangers

It’s true. To nail onboarding, you have to look at how you bring a stranger through your digital channels into your sales pipeline, pop them out at the end as a paying customer and encourage them to evangelise on your behalf. Do this, and it's a surefire way to catapult your SaaS to further success.

Things I would consider are:

  • What type of language do we use?
  • Tone of voice
  • Specific words
  • Images and videos etc
  • How do we standardise our sales process to be measured for bottlenecks and dropouts?
  • How do we align marketing, sales and customer success to learn from each other and use that in our outbound communications?
  • How can we align marketing, sales, success and product to commercial success?
  • Ensure we standardise onboarding once a sale completes - 30,60,90 day gameplan.
  • How do we ask our customers for referrals?

These are a few of my thoughts and scenarios that I have solved for SaaS teams over time, and I certainly advocate taking these to a whiteboard and mapping them out.

All of the suggestions I have mentioned are part of my playbook when working with SaaS leaders, and customer acquisition is a favourite area of focus. And once you complete these ideas, put in place a quarterly review to keep an eye on market shifts, and new players in your space and ensure that you best capitalise on the process, process, process.

I hope you enjoyed this article, my first for passionfruit and keep an eye out for more content on topics related to SaaS growth, product marketing and customer engagement.

Paul is a freelance Growth Marketer. He works with SaaS and Tech companies on customer acquisition and product-led growth. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Access a large talent pool of carefully vetted growth marketers and find your perfect specialist in 48 hours.

Less time, less stress, less risk of choosing the wrong person when working with Passionfruit.

Sign up for free
Written by
Professor Passionfruit Illustration

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