In today’s startup world, everyone races to go to market as quickly as possible to beat the competition and maximize profits. Unfortunately, many startups choose to go to market before they are ready, and the pitfalls can be damaging to the product and company name. It is imperative to not only have your product stable and ready for your customers but also to streamline your marketing, customer support and services to ensure they are fully functional and ready to handle demand. To avoid go-to-market pitfalls, here are pieces of advice for your startup to consider.
Don’t underestimate the true costs of acquisition
Whether building a direct sales model or leveraging channel partners, startups tend to underestimate the true costs of acquisition by not factoring in expenses such as marketing, lead generation, pre- and post-sales training and customer support. To avoid this mistake, evaluate your competitors. If any are public companies, look at their costs for comparison purposes and add a minimum of 50 percent to your plans. Your competitors had time to streamline their processes and lower their key performance indicators (KPIs); you haven’t.
When selling through channel partners, you need their full buy-in
If you plan to sell your products and services through channel partners, it is critical that you get support from your partners’ sales reps. The sales incentives must be properly aligned across the partnerships and through the sales reps’ commission plans. Early sales success is critical to garnering support from your channel partners’ sales teams. Keep in mind that the sales reps care more about their commissions than your product or service. If it can make them money and your product is easier to sell than the other products or services in their portfolios, then the relationships will be successful.
Understand how to prepare for globalization
Young companies often view entering international markets as a way to drive incremental sales. However, many try to enter these new markets without sales teams on the ground, infrastructures in place, marketing support or knowledge of local rival established competitors. As a result, the international efforts are undercapitalized and doomed to fail. Each international market is truly unique in its purchasing behavior, marketing channels and, in many cases, pricing. The time to enter international markets is after research is complete, a strategy is put in place and, most importantly, the company determines it has the resources to execute an international strategy successfully.
Determine the driver of your marketing initiatives
I’m often asked when it becomes important to have a chief marketing officer rather than the startup CEO driving the go-to-market initiatives. The answer depends on whether or not the CEO has a strong background in marketing and go-to-market strategic planning. If she does, as long as the demands of the business do not take her away from acting as the CMO, there is no reason the CEO cannot continue to handle the marketing role. However, if there isn’t enough time to act as the CMO, or the marketing opportunity and the company grows to the point where a full-time CMO is required, the investment in a CMO is justified.
Consider bootstrapping challenges
If a startup CEO or founder is bootstrapping the company, the challenges of a go-to-market strategy only increase. A bootstrapped company is not able to build its own direct sales force; it must rely on channel partners. These startups have limited sales capacity to prove their models before seeking their Series A funding round.
Understand the startup game-changer
The go-to-market challenges I discussed above are important. However, in the world of startups, there is only one true game-changer: your product. The product itself must meet the market’s needs and be a demonstrably better one than the alternatives. Or if it’s a parity product, it must provide greater value or be available at a lower price. If this isn’t the case for your product, keep working on it.
Lessons learned from my experience
Startups always ask me, “If you could do it again, what would you do differently?” At my current company, ClickFuel, we underestimated the cost and time of acquisition. We should have implemented our white-label partner go-to-market strategy first, rather than using our own direct B2B sales force. As a result, we might have raised more capital in the Series A round.
Although we wish we could do it over again, we learned a few lessons along the way. By listening, interacting and reacting to our customer’s wants and needs, we pivoted our business model. And that pivot proved successful. Through our more than two dozen media partners, ClickFuel has activated more than 225,000 dashboards for small and medium-sized businesses to access, track and monitor online marketing campaigns and results. Listening to customers should be one of your main priorities for your startup. If you take your customers’ feedback seriously, they will help you drive your company in a successful direction.
Steve Pogorzelski is the CEO of ClickFuel, the provider of Fuel Station, a marketing analytics and performance management solution for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). He is also the former president of Monster.com.