What is a go-to-market strategy, exactly?
In today’s episode, we’ll define the term in details and dive into the real, actionable steps to design an effective go-to-market strategy.
My guest today is Asia Matos, an early-stage startup marketing expert, and the founder and CEO of Demand Maven. We’re going to dive into what exactly is a go-to-market strategy, when you need one, and how to create one from scratch.
listen to this episode
- What exactly is a go-to-market strategy?
- The difference between go-to-market strategy” and “marketing strategy”
- Signs that a company needs a go-to-market strategy
- The frameworks to start creating a go-to-market strategy
- Why is it important to have a “model-market fit” and “channel-market fit”
- A real-life example of model and channel market fit
- Why follow up questions is vital in customer interviews
- Using Objective & Key Results (OKRs) to translate customer interview into actionable steps
- Why targeting customers’ mindset is much more important than just aiming at demographics
- Biggest mistake companies made when creating a go-to-market strategy
- What marketers should learn in the next 5,10, 20 years
- Flip My Funnel
- Brian Balfour
- Growth Loops: The End of Traditional Funnels?
- Sean Ellis
- Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters
- Objective Key Results (OKRs)
- This is Marketing
- Buyer Persona: Your Guide to Create 100% Accurate & Detailed Ones
- Buyer Persona Institute
- Forget The Funnel
- Asia’s Twitter
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! And welcome, to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the no-fluff actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
Louis: In today’s episode, you learn how to get your first 100 customers, or $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue, or even $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue, depending on how much your customers are paying you, with a clear go-to-market strategy. My guest today is an early-stage SaaS marketing expert. She’s the founder of DemandMaven. She helps founders of early-stage startups, either get their first 100 customers or help them get to the next stage. She’s been previously at two startups, Hull and Flip My Funnel. She’s also mentor at TinySeed and GrowthMentor. I’m super happy to have you, Asia Matos, on board. Welcome.
Asia: Thank you so much. I’m so excited.
Louis: We’ve never talked go-to-market strategy in this podcast ever before, at least not in those terms. Let me start with the question everyone has right now. What the fuck is a go-to-market strategy?
Asia: A good question. Okay. Go-to-market strategy, it is basically the full deep-dive plan into how it is that you plan to take your product, we’re assuming SaaS in this case. How do plan on launching your SaaS to the world? All of these things are 100% dependent on what it is that you ultimately want to accomplish. I think that that is probably why go-to-market sounds really terrifying for a lot of founders.
Louis: Yeah. I feel this is the type of expression used in the marketing world, everywhere, and people don’t necessarily understand it. It’s good that you’re an expert in it. I have this feeling always, when we talk about those type of technical things such as go-to-market, or inbound marketing, or content marketing, or whatever else I can find, growth hacking and that kind of terms. That it seems like we like to invent new terms for things that are quite simple. Do you feel it’s a must-have expression and concept, or do you feel it could be explained simpler, in a simpler manner?
Asia: I do think it’s a must-have. I do think it is where everyone should start. Because I agree, you see so much more content about inbound and content marketing and demand generation and lead generation. It’s really hard to consolidate and figure out how all those pieces fit together. Go-to-market encapsulates literally everything. It is the complete, total package of how you plan to operate this business and make it revenue generating, and of course, just offer the product to the world.
Asia: There is many different ways that we can craft go-to-market. It’s flexible. It’s not meant to really, necessarily be limiting. I think it’s where we should always start. It always makes me sad when more people don’t talk about it. I would say it’s step number one, before you ever even think about conversion optimization or running ads or what have you. It’s always the first step.
Louis: It’s sounds a bit, to me, like it’s a marketing plan or a marketing strategy. What’s the difference between the two then?
Asia: The biggest difference is that go-to-market also takes a look at the model. It takes a look at the market as a whole. It could include sales and outbound prospecting. It could include many different pieces that are part of marketing. Ultimately, go-to-market, again, if you think about it in the simplest way, it’s really how do you plan to tell the world about what it is that you offer. There’s many different ways that we can do that. What is the absolute best marketing strategy? What is the absolute best sales strategy? If you have customer success, what does that look like? Go-to-market oversees all of these pieces.
Louis: It’s a bit bigger than marketing on its own. It’s about the full spectrum of things you need to do to go to market, to reach this market. In general, it’s your first 100 customers or those $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue, right?
Asia: Yes, exactly. It definitely does trickle down into every single one of those functions. You can also think about them as departments or practices, if you will, so like marketing versus sales versus product. It’s definitely the umbrella that holds them all.
Louis: Okay. I think it’s pretty clear now, what we’re trying to achieve here. Thanks for those definitions. What are the signs that a company needs such plans, such go-to-market strategy? What are the signs that they really are in deep need of putting things together, the way you’re describing?
Asia: There’s a long list. The first and foremost is you’ve copied someone else’s tactics. For example, I saw that [hot jar 00:05:07] did X, Y and Z on their website, so I’m going to copy it. Then they do and then it doesn’t work. They’re like, “Oh my God, why didn’t it work?” They try something else and they copy something else.
Asia: What ends up happening is you end up copying a bunch of tactics, a bunch of decisions that other businesses have made, based off of their go-to-market strategy and based off of their marketing strategy. Without the proper context, you end up… Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. I would say, if you’re stuck in the wheel of copying other people’s tactics, that’s probably a sign that you need a larger go-to-market strategy.
Louis: Yeah, that’s… From experience, those people tend to really focus on their competitors so much that they forget about their most important people, which are their customers or their market or their potential customers. Other signs that their go-to-market… they’re in desperate need of a good go-to-market strategy?
Asia: Probably the other really big one is you got some KPIs that aren’t performing in the way that you would like. For example, you might be really struggling with turn. That’s a huge sign that go-to-market might need some tweaking, some… just overall discovery and honing. The other really big piece is you’re not converting enough people into paying customers. Then finally, you’re just not able to add enough on top of the funnel. Not enough people are signing up or requesting demos or whatever your model is.
Asia: Sometimes, that is a very… typically, is a huge indicator that we need to take a step back, not only into marketing but then also overall go-to-market. What are we ultimately offering, to who? How are we doing that? What channels do we expect to either be the number one driver of those things? Or what business development activities do we need to be looking at. Those are all part of the ultimate go-to-market strategy.
Louis: It sounds like the foundations haven’t been put together, haven’t been built properly. They have started it and they’ve reached out to the market. They’ve copied competitors, but it’s impossible to make money because of it. The funnel is leaking. You get people on top, but they don’t convert to the next stage. Therefore, those ones don’t convert necessarily to the next stage. It’s just not profitable. You can’t really… It doesn’t seem to flow. There’s this overarching feeling, emotionally-speaking, that just doesn’t seem to click. Just something is not working somehow.
Asia: Yes, exactly.
Louis: All right. I think we’ve talked enough about the definition, the problems that you might encounter if you don’t have that. Now, let’s get into the how-to methodology. Let’s try, during this interview, to have a… to come up with a go-to-market strategy together. You might want to use some past clients as example or fictitious example if you want to. Let’s try to have a method that folks, listening to this right now, can use in the business, after this episode. Yeah?
Asia: Absolutely, sounds great.
Louis: What would be step one? What do you do first?
Asia: Okay. Well, before we get to step one, I just want to make two assumptions. The first is that you actually do have a product. You’re a little bit beyond the ideation stage. The second is that you do have a general sense of the pain that it is that you’re trying to solve, and how your product matches that pain. Again, this assumes that you’ve already got it. You’ve already got the product or you’re at least in the process of building it now. You’ve moved past ideation stage. This framework that we’re about to… the steps that we’re about to discuss, this can help you, assuming that you’ve completed those very first steps.
Asia: I would say that the very first step, in the actual building a go-to-market, is starting with a framework that I love to use. It is not mine. It is by Brian Belford. He talks a lot about, “It’s not just product-market fit anymore. Now, it’s product, market, model, channel.” We’ve got these four quadrants. If you can imagine, a lot of us do start with product-market fit first. Especially for early stage and we’re getting that first 100 or 10K MRR. After that, we do also have to consider model and channel.
Louis: Okay. Let me take a step back a bit. First, as you said, first, we need to assume you have a product. We need to assume that you have the problems, you understand the pain points in the market. You might want to do that using customer research. We’ve talked about that multiple times in the podcast. If you don’t know about this, search and google Everyone Hates Marketers customer research. You’ll find plenty of episodes. I just wanted to say that. Now, second point that you’re making with your step one… Let’s define, just briefly, what product-market fit stands for.
Asia: Yes. Product-market fit is the… It is the marriage, if you will, of the product that it is that you’re offering and the market, the people that are ultimately going to use this, pay for it, because we’re assuming that you’re a for-profit. Product-market fit is the perfect blend of, you have found a market who has a pain, your product solves that pain. This is probably one of the most challenging parts about starting… having any startup, really, especially in SaaS. We find that once you start to understand product-market fit, even if you don’t 100% have it, there’s other layers that really speak to those two things.
Asia: Model, meaning, what is the… how do people purchase and buy this product? This could be free trial. This could be freemium. This could be more of a demo. Not so much self-service, but people have to talk to a salesperson in order to get access to the product.
Asia: Then, of course, there’s channel. How do we plan on reaching this market? How do we put the right message? How do we promote this product? What are those channels. Now, channel is a very interesting word. Because it could literally mean digital marketing channel, so for example, most people immediately think of ads or social media, because it’s the most visible, I would say. Channel could also mean partnerships. It could also mean having… or conferences, trade shows. Channel is actually a very big word. I think that a lot of… When we see channel, we immediately limit it. That is how I would define PMF or product-market fit.
Louis: PMF, as we call it in the marketing world. Thanks so much, really, really clear explanation. Product-market fit, you can measure it somewhat with the number of people who that they will absolutely miss your product if they couldn’t use it again. I think that comes from the guy behind growth hacking methodology. We’re going to forget his name. Do you remember him?
Asia: Sean Ellis.
Louis: Sean Ellis. Exactly. Then you have the model-market fit and the channel-market fit. Right?
Asia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: For model, let me make sure I understand properly. I remember this chart I’ve seen a few times, which is the amount per month someone is willing to pay and the model that follows. It seems like the model is highly linked to the pricing structure you have in place. The more low-touch you are, which is like the more you basically have a free model, so the more you can use the product for free.
Louis: Then upgrade, the less expense it’s going to be, because you’re going to have access to resource material, but not necessarily to salespeople or customer success people. Then the more the price goes up, the more likely it is to be high touch; meaning salespeople, customer success, heavy lifting in terms of integration, bespoke work and that kind of stuff. Am I understanding that properly?
Asia: Yes, exactly.
Louis: Okay. Then channel, as you said, usually people think social media or email marketing, but it’s much bigger than that. It could be business development. It could be we’re going at events or sponsoring events. That’s important. Why is it important? Why is it important for us to have a model-market fit? Why can’t you just pick any model for any type of market, and just pick the one you prefer?
Asia: Well, because, if you’re not offering the right kind of model, for example, not the right price or maybe not the right kind of way that people purchase the product… Maybe you’re selling credits, maybe you’re offering a free trial, and from there you pay per seat or what have you. If you’re not offering the right thing, it’s very likely that your model or, excuse me, your market doesn’t actually ever convert into paying customers, which is the ultimate goal.
Asia: If you botch the model, so to speak, you could end up with an amazing market and an amazing product. The product-market fits there, but people aren’t buying it, which is obviously the ultimate goal. That is why it’s really… It is best to be as customer driven when it comes to the model. I find it iterates quite a bit, over the lifespan of a business, which is very common. It definitely should be driven by the market, if at all possible.
Louis: Okay. Channel-market fit then, why is it important to have a good fit between those two things?
Asia: It might sound really obvious, but if you know that you have a market but you haven’t figured out how to actually tap that market, that’s what the channel does. It’s a bridge. It’s a bridge between you, your product and of course, the market. If you don’t have the right fit there… Typically, we see, when businesses don’t have the right fit here, they’re spending a bunch of money on ads. It’s not working. I’m putting that in finger quotes because, obviously, you can’t see me, but it’s not converting into paying customers. It’s not actually generating any revenue or generating any high-quality leads or what have you.
Asia: Sometimes, we also see, you end up building so much momentum into a specific channel, but it doesn’t actually give you the ultimate result, which are the paying customers or the happy customers. Sometimes, it also gives you lots of garbage leads too. I hate to call anyone garbage, but it might result in a very big swell in signups or whatever customers who end up turning later.
Asia: This is why market-channel fit is so critical, because it impacts your entire funnel from top, all the way down to turn. If this isn’t figured out early enough, it could be that you have this amazing, great product, amazing and there are people out there who could use it, but you haven’t really figured out how to reach those people.
Louis: Okay. We have this framework in place, that Brian Belford came up with, that is quite helpful, for sure. We know. Now, we have an understanding what it means, each of those components. Do we fill this framework out now or what do we do next?
Asia: The next, okay, so once you familiarize yourself a little bit with this framework, the next step is… We’re going to unpack pretty much all of this. We need to answer some very basic questions. The first is who you want to target. The second, you know why you want to target them. Third, you have a rough idea of where you want to target them, AKA, what channels to use. Fourth, you understand how you want to do this. What is the right model? What is the funnel that we need to put in place? Then the last question… It’s really more of a to-do, but you’re able to translate all of these answers to these questions, into real, actionable items.
Louis: Okay, so quite a lot of questions. Who are you going to target? Why are you targeting them, when and how? How do we answer those questions?
Asia: Yes. Okay. Right after this, I am very much a believer in… To make this as simple and as hunch-free as possible, I like to joke that I am very much allergic to hunches, even though as marketers, we have them all the time. I am very much customer-driven. I want to first start with the customers. If you are starting with zero customers, you want to start with prospects, people who could potentially purchase the product or whatever it is that you’re offering. Ideally, you’d start with customers if you already have them. You can start with as little as 15 paying customers.We’re going to start with customer research first, because we need to really understand who it is that we want to target.
Asia: The steps in terms of how do we actually go throughout this customer research process, because to me step number three is always customers, where I’m a huge fan of actually getting on the phone with your customers and/or prospects. It could be prospects as well. Ideally, you’re using customers again. We’re going to ask them some very specific questions about how we would acquire them. This might sound so obvious, but you would be surprised at how few people ask their own customers questions about how to acquire them, which is I think is… Obviously, that’s why we’re having this conversation today.
Louis: Yes, absolutely. I’m glad you’re mentioning customer research, which I think is an important one. Would you also tap into an audience which would be customers of your competitors? Let’s say if you don’t have customers as yet, but you know you are in similar category, would it make sense to interview people who actually bought a similar solution?
Asia: Yes, absolutely. The other part to this is, if you don’t have paying customers yet, but you… Again, going back to our assumptions, we have a general idea of the pain that our product solves. We also have a general idea of who has that pain and who we could potentially float that product in front of. Yes, I would say, reach out to people who are using competitors. If you don’t have specific competitors, because sometimes that’s possible, so you’re creating your own category, if you don’t have specific competitors, look at competitive behaviors. What are people doing instead of using your product? I would also… If you’re more in that space, I would talk to those people as well.
Asia: I would consider them prospects. I would also consider them in the potential customer bucket. What we’re going to do is based off of who they are, and assuming you’re B2B, what kind of businesses they’re in or what kind of verticals or industries? If you’re B2C, what is their ultimate persona? Who are these people? From there, we’re going to not only talk to these people, but also figure out how we can generally group what we’re hearing from an acquisition perspective.
Louis: Before we get into that, just want to come back to actually the model, the channel and the market. Can you just give me one brief example of… for an existing company and just illustrating each of those concepts, like the product-market fit? Maybe not product-market fit, because we described the shit of it and I keep using it. Channel-market fit and the model-market fit, let’s say, I don’t know, any companies that come to mind, even the big one, just to illustrate it a bit.
Asia: Yeah. Okay. There is actually a company that does come to mind. They aren’t a big company though, yet, but the absolutely will be. It is a company called Motivo. What Motivo does is… There are therapists in the world. When therapists graduate from college, they need to be able to get some kind of licensure from a supervisor. A supervisor is basically just another therapist who has been there, done that and has all kinds of experience.
Asia: Today, it is incredibly hard for therapists to find supervisors. Typically, they have to either go online and do a bunch of searching, and sometimes they’ll find someone who’s close to them. Most of the times, they won’t. They might have to drive hours to go and meet the supervisor in person. Well, that’s really tough for brands making new therapist. They have to… In order for them to practice on their own, they have to get the supervisor…
Asia: …does, is offer an online platform for therapist to find supervisors. Also, to have their supervisor meetings together, completely virtually, online, through video hosting and just using modern technology. Now, in terms of how it is that we discovered how to find the therapists, we 100% hopped on the phone with them and just talked to them. It sounds so simple. Part of it is because it is. The other part of it though, is asking the right questions. The way that we reverse engineered our go-to-market strategy, which is the way that I…
Asia: … we can just know and we can absolutely reverse engineer it. The way that we did that was hopping on the phone, talking to them. We asked questions around how they were currently finding their supervisors, because there is not really a competitor to what Motivo does. There is, however, a very huge competitive behavior. That’s simply searching for it, finding supervisors on their own, through a number of different directories. No one is offering a product, but is exactly how their finding their own supervisors and connecting with them.
Asia: The only way that we found that out was by actually talking to them and asking those questions. “If you weren’t using Motivo today, how would you go about finding a clinical supervisor?” The number one answer for 90% of the people that we talked to was the same. That was a pattern that we recognized, among all of those therapists that we talked to.
Louis: That’s how you discovered the channel as well, no?
Asia: Not just one channel, but actually several. Organic search was probably the number one thing. That was where we decided to not only invest in organic search but also invest in paid search as well. Because paid, in that case, would be valuable for us. As we, over time, were spinning up organic search or SEO, we would actually be able to, in many ways, kill two birds with one stone. Be able to spin up enough demand immediately and then, of course, over time, reduce the costs that it would take to acquire those leads. It ended up being extremely successful. I’m very proud to say that they were able to triple their MRR in a very short amount of time, which was a ton of fun.
Louis: Very cool. Nice one. Going back to the questions then, what are the questions you must ask those customers?
Asia: There is definitely a few that are my absolutely favorites, that I try to ask pretty much every single time. The first and foremost is, “If you weren’t using X or…” that could be your product or a competitor, “what would you be doing instead?” The next question I would ask is pretty much always some form of, “When you want to learn more about either your role or your industry,” assuming you’re B2B, it could also be a skillset or something related to your product, but, “If you want to go and learn more about X, where would you go? How and who? Is there anyone in particular who influences that for you?” You’re going to get a number…
Asia: Some people will say channels. Others will tell you all about blogs that they read or all kinds of different content ideas, of course. This also gives me a sense of who influences the ultimate customer and what influences the ultimate customer. This could be literally people, like well-known names in that particular industry or vertical. It could also be like mommy bloggers or whoever it is that you’re going after. That question is pretty critical for unpacking some of those acquisition channels that you might not be thinking of.
Asia: Then the other… There’s a third question that I always, always try to ask but it’s, “What would have prevented you from signing up today?” Now this, of course, assumes that you obviously have a website or some kind of product or something. That question is also very interesting, because it gives you a sense of, psychologically speaking, what would have prevented someone from signing up. You’ll hear all kinds of responses to that as well, everything from, “The website was buggy,” to, “I’m scared because I don’t really know how much it’s going to cost,” or some other risk that you might not have known otherwise.
Asia: Then of course, you can leverage all that information for pretty much anything marketing-related and go-to-market-related. It’s something also that founders especially need to be aware of. They need to know, psychologically speaking, what are you dealing with customer-wise, so critical.
Louis: Nice. First question, “If you couldn’t use this product, what would you do instead? Where do you go to learn about the main topic?” Or if you’re talking to marketer, “Where do you go to learn about marketing?” Then finally, “What, if anything, is… would have stopped you from buying from us or signing up?” or something like that. Yeah?
Louis: One thing I would say on those questions, from experience, what seems to happen to be, it is like asking questions about the future. Sometimes you get some… a big of a bullshit answer. People like to make themselves seem quite smart and say, “I would learn and goor I would go at conferences.” If you ask them in the past, and say, “In the last three months, where did you actually go to learn? Maybe show me your…” Not as far as, “Show me your browser history, but just really think back, where did you learn?” Have tried the two approaches? Do you find there is a lot of bullshit answer from future-worded questions, or do you feel it’s quite accurate?
Asia: Yes. That’s an excellent point. My personal experience, I haven’t had a whole lot of, I guess, bullshit answers. I have gotten very vague answers. I think that that’s something to, if you can, try to listen for. If you find yourself asking a question like, “What does that mean?” One of the best follow-ups is, “Tell me more about that.” I will say, in terms of adding a time layer, yes. If you can, add the caveat of, “In the last three months, how did you actually do this? What were some very real examples?” Because I agree with you, I think a lot of people do like to think like, “Oh yeah, I totally use this resource all the time.” I think some kind of timestamp, if you will, definitely helps.
Asia: Sometimes I also like to, even before asking that question, go through the process, “Talk to me about how you did do this.” In that way, it’s much more fact-based and truth-based and very real, and not what-if scenarios. I completely agree, avoiding those is ideally best. Then if anything does sound vague, I never hesitate to follow up with like a, “Tell me more about that,” or, “Help me understand.” I find I get some pretty good answers, in much more specific detail, that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Louis: Yeah. That’s what is really important here, is even though you have those three questions as a milestone question you want to ask, it’s not an interview per se. There needs to be a conversation. It’s okay to ask, “Tell me more. Why’s that?” Dive into a specific topic they want to talk about. You want to have a normal conversation. You don’t want to feel like, question number one, and then they finish and then question number two and question number three. It sounds boring. People feel like they were interviewed and not being super truthful. Remove the script a bit. Just try to keep it a bit more chill, I would say, for lack of a better word. You said how many customers you need to interview to have good insights?
Asia: I always say at least seven. If you have hundreds of customers, then it does get a little bit more complex, where at that point, we’re looking at specific segments of people, if at all possible. Maybe you are looking at a specific industry or vertical. It could also be a very specific type of plan. Maybe you have a few different pricing models, going back to model. Maybe you have a few different models on the product and you want to look at a very specific plan that you’re offering. You could also segment that way.
Asia: It does ultimately depend on what it is we’re trying to solve. I would say, if you get at least seven interviews, no matter what the segment, that is usually enough to start seeing patterns. That’s really the most important thing. You want to see patterns and you also want to see outliers. Now, there is no limit to customer research. In fact, I recommend that especially marketers and if founders can, also founders, but especially marketers, they should be doing this almost constantly. Because as your business grows, your product-market fit does change. That is where continuing the practice of customer research, it just helps you, in terms of like phrases, like just not fall behind.
Asia: If you want to continue to make an impact, that customer research… Because your customers will change over time, as you grow, so it’s important to just make sure that you always keep a finger on it. If you can’t, if you’re very early and even if you have just a few paying customers, that’s usually enough to at least get started. As you get more people into the funnel and as you get more paying customers, you get much more clarity and insight on that who. Ultimately, to start, again, we’re really just looking for the patterns to begin.
Louis: Okay. We’ve interviewed those seven plus customers. We’ve asked them those questions. We’re fairly clear about the depth at which they went through. We know that there is enough meat around the bone to work with. How do we use the next step to identify patterns? Is that the next step?
Asia: In a way, yes. Typically, from here… Again, I’m referencing back to those basic questions that we need to answer. Assuming that we’ve done enough customer interviews and customer research and that development, we should be able to answer a few of those questions, in terms of who, in terms of where and also why? Why should… Why do these people care? Why should they care? What is the pain that they actually have? What does our product ultimately do to solve that?
Asia: The next few steps or questions to answer are really around the how and being able to translate them into real, actionable steps. The next step, if you will, after customer research, is what I call success gaps. Now, every great strategy, it always has a very… one, keen understanding of the actual problem, but two, it understands what is the success gap, what is the chasm to cross in order for you to achieve success. Now, success is just 100% dependent on what you define success as, which feels like a non-answer.
Asia: If the goal for you is to… well, I want to be a multi-billion-dollar business. Okay, cool. What is the gap that you need to cross in order to get there? Maybe the goal is I just want my first 100 customers. Okay, cool. What is the gap for you to cross to get there? Maybe success… Success can be defined however it is you want. Ultimately, we need to be able to reverse engineer the go-to-market strategy by first defining how do we… what is the gap that we’re trying to cross?
Asia: Let’s identify those blockers. What’s blocking us from that success? This could be everything from, oh man, our onboarding sucks. Or, wow, based off of my customer research, our messaging really isn’t matching up to what our customers expect. This could also be maybe some product gap. Maybe you’ve got some feature gap that you need to start thinking about. Again, going back to that ultimate product market model/channel-fit, you might find that, oh man, we’re just not even in the right channel. That’s a gap for us.
Asia: Ultimately, taking a step back and saying, “What is the gap preventing us from success?” What are our success gaps? If you’re able to keenly identify what’s blocking you, you will be able to define… Not only will you have a much more solid strategy, but you’ll also have a very clear understanding of the problem. Strategy ultimately solves problems. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
Louis: As you’re mentioning this, I’ve been nodding like an idiot for the last two minutes, because of it. There is a very good book about it, you probably have read it, called Good Strategy Bad Strategy?
Louis: Yes. Okay. That’s where it’s coming from as well. This book really clearly defined what a strategy is and it isn’t. A strategy is really not this type of visionary bullshit with no action attached. Exactly as you said, a strategy is a path, I think a straight path. First, it’s a diagnosis of the current situation. It’s like exactly as you said. What are the problems preventing us from reaching our objective? You called them success gaps. You’ve identified the success gaps. Then you have some sort of a sign post, a guiding policy that tells you we’re going to solve those problems doing this. What is implied is that, you also mentioned, what you’re not going to do. This is as important as what you’re going to do. Then finally, an action plan to solve those gaps.
Louis: I really must love this way of talking about what a strategy is. Because I see so many people using the word strategy that means completely different stuff. When you do it this way, it’s really about solving this problem one by one. It’s not just about visionary tale that is not actionable. Thanks for mentioning that. I’m glad you’re saying this. How do you… One of the step, it seems just before, is to actually have a goal. How do you advise people to pick a goal and to define what success look like?
Asia: Yeah. This is, oh man, it’s a big one, because it does kind of indicate, if you’re a founder for example, it does indicate, well, what are your goals as a founder? What are the business goals, where there’s some milestone that you’re trying to reach? When we think about that from very large business terms, the answers there could very much be all over the map. It could be, “I want to bootstrap this. I don’t want to take on funding. I’m totally comfortable growing slow but profitably.” That might be one of my number one goals, but I need to figure out how to get there. It could also be, “I want to make a big splash in a really specific market.” That is what my goal is.
Asia: In terms of how we define those goals, it’s tough to say, because I find that so many of us are already motivated by something. I think it ultimately comes down to what does the business want to accomplish. From there, because, of course, as a business, a business is made of many parts, so what does each part need to be accomplishing in order to get there? I’m actually a very huge fan of, especially as you’re identifying those success gaps, leveraging OKRs if you can. When we get-
Louis: Can you define OKRs for us?
Asia: Yes. Objective, there is some objective that you are trying to accomplish. There is a key result that matches that objective, that shows that you’ve met that objective. OKRs were popularized by Google and other teams just across the world. I’m actually a very big fan of leveraging them even here, because it forces you to get very clear about what those goals are and what is the clearest indicator, what is the key result that tells us that we’ve met that goal or met that objective? In terms of defining the goal itself, I do think that that does depend ultimately on the business. I just think it’s the thing that… the place that you want to be. That place is probably going to change a lot over time, but it’s always the first step.
Louis: A good thing to have in mind is always the SMART objectives, so to make sure that you have a good SMART objective, which is specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-based. I think that’s all the five of a SMART objective. If you have them, you know you have a good objective in front of you. It’s so important to have it, because the strategy is directly linked to that.
Louis: Again, as you said, where are all the gaps preventing us to reach those objectives? If the objective is good, then the gaps preventing you from reaching it, will be also quite specific. That will enable you to have a good strategy, which is about a clear action plan or what to do and also what not to do. What’s next? Now, we have… think we’ve defined the gaps. At least we’ve defined what success gaps are. Maybe there is other stuff here.
Asia: Yes. There absolutely is. After that, now we need to translate what those success gaps are, we need to translate those into action items, to fix them. If there is a gap in one particular area of the business, there are steps that we need to take to fix it. What are those action items? Again, this does depend on those goals. This is actually where I do like to use the OKRs. Let’s say we know that onboarding is a mess or we know that activation is a mess. It’s not converting as well as it probably should be. This part of the funnel is broken. Here are the things that we can do, that we think are going to help us fill that gap.
Asia: From here, we’re getting… This is where we get into the tactics. OKRs help a ton with this. If you have an overall sense of the goal that you’re trying to accomplish or the thing that you’re trying to execute, the key result can be the direct measurement of that. It could also just be, make sure that you check this box and that you actually accomplish this or execute this. This is where OKRs can… There’s so much research about it, but this is where it can be very flexible for you.
Asia: We do need to actually translate those into action items. The way that I like to do this is actually to go back to that framework. There’s product-market, there’s model and there’s channel. There probably are going to be action items under every single one of those quadrants. There might be work that you need to do from a product perspective. Maybe you’ve identified some feature gap. Maybe you’ve also identified some general things that are going to be really, really important to your customers; could be works, could be all kinds of different things based off of your specific customer research.
Asia: Then there’s markets. Maybe we define more specifically what our segments are going to be, or what our vertical is going to be. This could also go a little bit into positioning. What do our prospects and customers want to see from us? Then also, what are their number one pains? Then there’s model. You might find that your pricing model sucks and you got to fix it. You’ve got all these great people who want to buy the product but the way that it’s priced… or what have you.
Asia: Then, of course, channel. You might have action items that are very specific to, man, we really need to make a big splash in these specific conferences. Or maybe it’s, organic is going to be our strategy. That’s the going to be the thing that takes us five years into the future. We need to start investing in that now. Those are the kind of action items that you’re going to start placing into every single one of those quadrants.
Louis: It’s almost like on one side you have your market in circle, on the other, you have your… what you do, your company, what you offer. The intersection is what works, like the fit bit in those two things. Then you have a bunch of other stuff that are the gaps, the things that are not really connecting it in the market and the elements you mentioned. You’re positioning your channel, your model, the product itself. What you’re doing here is you’re identifying the gaps, preventing you from reaching those objectives on the back of the customer research. Because now, you know who they are, why they should care, how your product helps, what triggers them to buy, what other competitive alternatives are looking at.
Louis: It sounds quite overwhelming, because you could literally look at… I have a whiteboard next to me. You could take a whiteboard and write hundreds and hundreds of stuff. How do you then pick and put that in a plan that actually is probably your go-to-market strategy? How do you prioritize? How do you make sure that you are focusing on the right things?
Asia: Yes. First is, because we are as customer-driven as possible, one of the things that I see that’s very, very common, especially in early-stage SaaS, is spreading yourself too thin. The number one reason why that happens is because we’re focusing on too many different customer segments at once. What I find helps pare down this list and creates an order of operations is focusing on the segment that you either very clearly have the best product market fit or you think you will. This is where it does get into a little bit of art versus science.
Asia: I find that you can make this much simpler by focusing on just one segment at a time, as opposed to trying to go after all the different segments. If you have a very big goal, then I would say, let’s break this down into the milestones. What’s the very first milestone that is that you need to hit. Everyone wants to be the multi-billion-dollar SaaS business, but sometimes the first milestone that they need to hit is just getting the first 5K in MRR or getting the first 10K in MRR. Part of this does have to depend on what that next milestone is for you.
Asia: If it’s too big of a milestone right now, then let’s figure out the next one. Then after that, nine times out of ten, you might just be focusing on way too many segments and verticals at once. I would always say, let’s go back to that customer research. Because if you have too many verticals that you’re trying to go after and you don’t have the resources or the team, that’s going to make it very, very challenging for you to execute.
Asia: The last thing is, what you’re going to find is, as you start filling out this list of action items and things that you can execute on, you’re undoubtedly going to see some things that are at odds with each other. There’s naturally going to be a little bit of conflict when you start thinking about that list of things you need to do. The way that I prioritize it is 100% based off of what that order of operations is. For example, it doesn’t really make sense to build up the top of the funnel, when the bottom of the funnel isn’t converting as well as it should be. It’s just means it’s going to get more expensive to acquire more people.
Asia: There is a little bit of some of these things have to come first, just because of the way that the business works and just because of the way that the market finds your product or engages with it in general. There is going to be a little bit of that order. Some of it, though, can be executed at any time. It’s really just a matter of do you have the resources now or not. From there, you’re able to very clearly prioritize. I would say, definitely focusing on one segment at a time, that’s going to make that much easier. Then I think the other thing too is let’s really get very clear on what the ultimate goal is and if these action items really, truly help us get there.
Louis: I have a hunch that you will agree with me on this, but I’m not 100% sure. The reason why, it’s written on your website, but wanted to check with you. When we talk about customer segments, my personal view is that we should not only talk about demographics, which are like which industry they, what are their role. There’s one thing that people tend to forget a lot, especially in marketing, is the psychographic element.
Louis: What are the belief? What do they believe that most people don’t? What are the things that they have in common? Not necessarily from their demographic standpoint, but what do they have in common from what they believe? Usually that leads to some much, much better messaging, much better… It clicks better when you talk about if from a psychographic standpoint instead of demographic. What are your views on this?
Asia: I 100% agree. I actually call it targeting the mindset. Some products are very clearly targeting a specific kind of either person or business and that’s inherent or specific to the product itself. For example, Motivo was the example I gave earlier. It’s pretty obvious who the customers are going to be. They’re not going to not be therapists. They’re going to have to be therapists and specifically in the United States, and even more specifically, in very specific states in the US. That’s a very clear segment. We can actually get even deeper into that, into the weeds of what that looks like.
Asia: Sometimes, you’re targeting a mindset. That scares a lot of people because it does mean that you have to actually understand the psychology of those people. When you target a mindset, they could look, on paper, like really anyone. They could be from many different kinds of businesses, but based off of their values, their values are typically what unites them. The buying decisions and the way that they go about finding certain people or finding certain products or solutions to their pain, that could also unite them. That is another way to, yes, 100%, define a segment.
Asia: I think that this is where a lot of people do get very scared, because they feel like, well, there’s all kinds of different segments I could go after. I always like to bring it back to, let’s make sure that we’re focused on who do we know are going to be the best-paying-fit…. or best-fit, paying customers? Or who do we think are likely to be the absolute best-paying customer? Those are… That, again, that customer-driven approach, if we have data on this, great, that we can use to validate this, awesome.
Asia: If we don’t have data on this, then that’s where that customer research, that development and that discovery does help so much. Ultimately if… assuming that you’re looking at building up profitability into the business, we have to focus on the customers that are probably already paying or are going… are likely to be the best-fit paying. That’s helps us all, also, stay focused.
Louis: Yeah. There’s a good book on psychographics. Not only in psychographics, but Seth Godin, in his latest book, This Is Marketing, talks about it quite a lot. He says to start with psychographics instead of demographics. I very much agree with that. Before we go further, is there… In the questions we asked, it doesn’t seem to be a specific question around the mindset. How do you find it out?
Asia: Yeah. Oftentimes, whenever we’ve… especially whenever I’m working with a particular SaaS or product, I will… If we don’t feel like we have a very clear understanding of those demographics or even of vertical or industry, which is likely common, it’s not uncommon at least, what I’ll also ask, I’ll ask a lot of questions around behavior and also around value. Some of the questions could look like… I have a few that are just listed here.
Asia: What are they hoping, that the product can help them accomplish? What are they hoping that using this tool or this SaaS or whatever, what are they hoping it helps them with? Did it meet that expectation? If it did, tell me more. If it didn’t, tell me why. There is also questions that are related to alternate value. Would you rather have X over X and why? Sometimes… Excuse me. Yeah, exactly. Sometimes there’s a… This is especially interesting if you’re taking a look at future gaps or what have you.
Asia: Maybe you’re missing something in the product and you’re trying to understand from a best-fit, paying customer, what would they rather have and why? You can also leverage this in acquisition. You could say something like, “Would you rather go to a conference or would you rather do this other thing instead?” That could help you prioritize a little bit, understanding why. “I like the people more. I like being around people more,” or what have you. Those are… Sometimes I do get into behavior and value. I especially do if we find that the segments aren’t very clearly vertical or industry, and are much more about the mindset.
Asia: Then we get into, again, what are the behaviors? What drives them to take those behaviors. There’s a great framework called Jobs to be Done, JTBD. I highly recommend taking a look at that framework. Because it will arm you with questions to ask, to help you understand the psychographics, but then also, you can leverage them for acquisition. If acquisition is a really big pain for you, you can leverage them in a very similar way, to understand how to find those people and what unites them.
Louis: Yeah. I had a conversation with Adele Rivela a few… I think last year. She’s the CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute. She gave this example of this accounting software she worked with. Realizing that the best… the trigger that led people to buy this software is the small businesses were scared of potentially going to jail, if they didn’t file their taxes properly. This is the type of stuff, this is the type of psychographics that are so… way more powerful than demographics, say small business with less than 50 employees, based in the Midwest. How the fuck do you write anything compelling to those people?
Louis: However, if you know that they are afraid of going to jail because they might not file their tax properly, guess what, there’s so many more interesting stuff you can do in your marketing campaigns, in your everything, in your positioning and go-to-market strategy. I just wanted to say that, to just encourage people to think beyond the demographics and, as you said, to look at Jobs to be Done, or use case or outcome base, whatever call it, so that you can understand why they’re doing something, just beyond who they are. Now we have answered those questions. We have those gaps. We have some sort of a prioritized action plan. Is there anything left?
Asia: The last step, you just got to fucking do it.
Louis: Got to fucking do it. Nice.
Asia: Execution is the last step. It’s the thing that I think does scare a lot of people, because they’re afraid of making the wrong move. I actually find that as long as you are starting with customer research in some kind of way, you… it’s very unlikely that you’re going to execute on anything that isn’t going to teach you something. That could be that… You might learn that what you’re doing is not as effective. You also might find that, oh wow, this is actually working. Nine times out of ten, something is going to shift for you. You’re going to learn something.
Asia: Marketing is an iterative process. Go-to-market is iterative. It’s not something that you just execute on and you just… you let it go. You do have to come back to it. You have to actually do it and then learn from it later. You will probably get more information over time. You’ll refine your strategy. It’s a living… Go-to-market is living. It’s not just like a thing that’s frozen in time, or at least it shouldn’t be. You do at least have to take the last step of just actually executing on it and creating that feedback loop of learning from it later, which you absolutely will.
Louis: Nice. I appreciate you going through this step by step, in detail. I think it’s been super valuable for listeners. Before I ask you a few last questions I usually ask my guest, if you had to select the biggest mistake that companies make when… once they build this go-to-market strategy, what would it be?
Asia: I think it is, hands down, not being focused enough on the who and spreading themselves too thin, across many different who’s, many different types of customer or mindset or vertical. Depending on your business, you might be focused on a few of those different things. Especially in the early days, I give this metaphor all the time, but in the early days, it’s like rolling a bowling ball down an alley and trying to hit all the pins. Ideally, you want to strike pretty much every single time. The reality is that when you’re early stage, you don’t have a whole lot of resources or time. You’re bowling ball is like this big. It’s like the size of a golf ball. Trying to roll that down the alley and trying to hit any pins, too many pins at once…
Asia: Just focus on one pin at a time. As you get more resources, as you grow, as the business grows, it is possible to go after many different markets and also enter new markets. You always have time to expand and grow. I think that the number one mistake is just focusing on way too many different segments at once and therefore spreading yourself too thin. When you spread yourself too thin, you don’t make any momentum in anything, which I think is far worse. You lose time. I think that that’s the biggest thing. That’s my number one piece of feedback, is just be aggressively, violently focuses on who it is that you’re going after.
Louis: To me, marketing is really not about choosing who to go after and what to do, it’s really about choosing who not to go after and what not to do really, because there’s mountain of possibilities. You look at your competitors, you interview customers, you get advice from others, you get feedback. You get so many input, that if you just actually try to output as many input as you get, it’s just going to be incredibly messy and you’re going to fail. You’re going to have to take some, as you said, aggressively focus. It’s going to be painful, but that’s what is required to build a good business and actually reach those 100 first customers or $10,000 in MRR or even $100,000 in monthly recurring revenue. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Asia: I actually think it’s, I kid you not, even before you mentioned Seth Godin, I actually do think it’s a psychology game. I think a lot of people have this concept that marketing is just a push game. I actually find it’s really a psychology game. It’s an understanding and an empathy game. I think that as a long as you stay true to what that psychology is around solving some kind of, either pain or what’s in it for them, as long as you’re able to very specifically identify and answer that question, marketing will always be a function that attracts the right people to what it is that you’re offering.
Asia: The thing that I always go back to is people don’t buy products for no reason. It’s the marketers job to understand what that reason is for your specific product. If you don’t understand that, it’s going to be so hard for you to craft anything marketing-wise and have it be effective. I think that that’s going to be the thing that stays true even 10/20 years from now. As long as we’re very crystal clear and curious enough to understand that psychology of why someone does something, why someone takes a specific action, that’s going to be the thing, I think, that keeps marketers in their careers, honestly.
Louis: Yeah, completely agree. Maybe on the back of that, what are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners?
Asia: Oh, top three resources, I got to… Well, first is definitely Forget The Funnel. Claire Suellentrop and Gia, they are, probably just hands down, my favorite marketers. There’s many others too. Their resource, Forget The Funnel, is… I would just say, every marketer needs to, whether they’re in SaaS or not, every marketer needs to take a look at what they’re producing. They’re producing some amazing stuff.
Asia: Other… The second resource I would say is probably, oh gosh, this is going to sound terrible, but Twitter. There are so many marketers, on Twitter, who are constantly teaching other people. Tons of people to learn from and just a great network overall. That’s actually where I’ve met most of my online friends; which sounds, oh God, so millennial and internet.
Asia: I think that the last resource, I wouldn’t underestimate the old school books. Good Strategy Bad Strategy, that’s definitely a book I recommend. I actually do think that there’s so much knowledge in books that so many of us have ignored. Or maybe we just haven’t been exposed to or seen. I’m very much a reader and also a listener. Audible, come at me, if you want to do a promo or something. I think, actually, books are great. Good Strategy Bad Strategy, a wonderful resource. There’s so much more to be learned from some of those authors. Those are my three very… Well, two, definitely super lame, but Forget The Funnel, definitely take a look at those guys. They’re amazing.
Louis: Yeah. I agree with you. I wouldn’t say that those resources are lame. I think it’s the most basic and simple that people tend to forget, so thank you for mentioning them. Thanks for your time. Thanks, also, for taking the time to go through this step by step. Where can people learn more from you, connect with you?
Asia: Well, definitely, Twitter, @asiamatos. Please come and talk to me. I am very vocal, almost all the time. Also, demandmaven.io is my website. Happy to answer any questions. I’m an open book. If you decide to… There’s an offering for a marketing strategy call. You can actually get it for free. Just use the promo code, hot jar, and you’ll be able to get a totally free marketing strategy call, pick my brain, talk to me. Totally open book, like I said. I hold nothing back.
Asia: Yeah. Those are the places to find me.
Louis: Yeah, promo code, nice promo code. Cool. Thanks for that. I can see you haven’t forgotten your marketing skills. Thanks again for this hour of insights, really appreciate it. Thanks Asia.
Asia: Thank you so much.