Dave Hawley has been working on early stage Go-To-Market for VC backed companies for over 20 years.
SaaS companies usually bring Dave in when they want to figure out how to grow leads, better position the business, fix low conversion, and improve sales closing rate.
I sat down with Dave to talk about best practices for SaaS Go-To-Market, his pattern recognition from 20 years experience, and what problems he solves for startups in his consulting practice.
How did you get started specializing in Go-To-Market strategy?
Dave went on to say that he started as a consultant for a company called Yankee Group (now called 451 Research) which is a research firm, a competitor to Gartner. He worked there on doing a lot of market research, and learned the fundamentals of ‘What does the buyer want?’ ‘How to talk to vendors?’ ‘Where do they agree or disagree?’ He surveyed potential buyers and analyzed the data between what companies were offering and what people wanted.
Dave did that for about 5 years, half the time spent with early stage startups. He then moved to Silicon Valley and started working directly for startups. The first startup he worked at had a CMO who became a CEO from whom he learned a lot.
Then when Dave was at Dynamic Signal he helped the company to go through a successful pivot. He rebuilt the marketing and sales development team from the ground up including people, process and technology. With those efforts he improved department results by 4x, created a repeatable process, predictable results and growth. As well as prepared the marketing team for Series C financing in 8 months.
What insights can you share when it comes to marketing and Go-To-Market for early stage startups?
Dave went on to say “My philosophy on marketing is that your startup marketing organization has to innovate and build new marketing products as much as your software product team builds.”
“The good news is that if you're dealing with a big competitor, they probably became complacent even though they have large budgets. So you can really stand out, content has been the big way to stand out in my experience.”
“That limited budget for startups is the source for innovation” Dave continued with an example: “ABM (Account Based Marketing) came out of small startups who didn't have the budget, but had an SDR. And they could throw lots of content at them and send them to events to make connections”.
How does marketing and sales alignment look like in a Sales-led startup?
Dave says “It’s about salespeople hitting their numbers, and marketing generating 30% to 50% of those leads that are converted to closed deals”.
You mentioned earlier that you helped a company go through a pivot, what are usually the signals to need a pivot?
Dave says “in an early stage startup company, in my experience, the signals usually come from a salesperson who's off the range comes back and says “you guys are selling it wrong” The answer to ‘why’? Is usually “we need to position it this way, I need these two features and I can triple your ASP (Average Selling Price)”.
Another indicator is growth says Dave “when you're growing 30% year over year, it's not a great startup. A great growth rate is 30%-50% quarter over quarter”
“A common problem companies run into is when they hit $20M-$30M in ARR revenue, and then they get stuck. The reason they get stuck is not being able to adapt their marketing and selling processes to the ‘early majority’ type of users. These companies sell in a certain way to the early users which are the early adopters, but then they don’t realize that they need to change their processes to sell to the early majority”.
The early majority users buy differently. When scaling, SaaS companies need to take that into consideration so they can adjust to it. The pivot in this case is not necessarily in the company's direction, but more of a pivot in the sales and marketing process.
A solution to that Dave says is “you need to educate your prospects on best practices in their job, be the ‘sherpa’ and then you can sell your software as the best practice solution”.
It’s answering the question for prospects: what is this process and how to incorporate it in my business? What's the first thing I should do? What's the 17th thing I should do? And what should I do when these four things happen that I haven't predicted? A b2b enterprise startup should have a Customer Success team to help the customer answer questions and realize the full value of the product.
Churn is another factor that’s very important to track and make sure is low. When it’s low it’s a good indicator of product market fit.
One thing to keep in mind is that in enterprise software there's a caveat to churn, if your cross sell and upsell is high enough then your churn can matter less. E.g. if you’re churning customers at 10% a year, but your upsells are 30% a year. Then it could be that the churn is just bad fit customers.
From your experience what’s different in Product-led Go-To-Market startups?
Dave says “the characteristics are self service, cheap, low friction. Websites are crucial for conversion”.
An important practice Dave mentioned is to separate the marketing site from the product site for better data analysis. For example: yourproduct.com and app.yourproduct.com. The reason it’s a problem is because for example you’ll see in the data that 80% of people went to the website and then click the Login button, that’s not helpful because that’s existing users and you want to know what people who didn’t convert yet do?
There is also the need in separating the product data from the marketing data because then each team function is able to be in charge and test their own things without dependencies.
Dave goes on to say “in your on-site conversion optimization there are 6 steps and they should happen in a particular order” There is a lot of data in Google Analytics for b2b enterprises, and you need to hire a conversion specialist to help with traffic conversion to leads.
Dave continues with an example:
“I had one experience optimizing conversion for a company selling a low cost developer product where like in the retail industry, conversion optimization was a source of direct revenue for the company. I ran a statistically significant survey for the client against likely buyers for this developer product and learned quite a bit about their buying process.
The research I did showed that the buyer's journey to sale was much different than the client thought. It showed that the likely buyer would want to see the documentation immediately, before committing any more time researching solutions, so I recommended we make that the first step.
We also learned that there would be more users and more decision-makers than we thought so I recommended moving the invitation to others to an earlier step.
I then combined those learnings from the survey with the lessons learned from other companies who have tried to sell more products through improved on site conversion optimization. I recommended that my client re-organize the website to follow this flow:
- Read documentation
- Get started
- Invite people
- Wizard activity/set up a project
- Set up integrations (optional)”
At what stage and situation do companies come to you?
Dave says “I get a call normally when marketing gets broken before the A round, but more often in the B and C round when marketing shows to not be repeatable. The reason is usually the people that you hire, for example you hired an executive without any demand generation experience.” In that situation companies hire Dave because they need to train the CMO, or replace a CMO for six months.
Dave mentioned an example where he walked into a company that was creating a new market, nobody heard about them yet. So they hired a demand marketer who had experience in CPC. “He said thank you for the job. Okay, I'm going to take my budget and put it into CPC. Well, it turns out, it's really hard to search for something you've never heard of, so that didn’t work out well”.
What kind of marketing approach should you have for a new market vs. a company entering a saturated market?
Dave goes on to say “In a situation where nobody knows who you are and you’re entering a new market where you’ve built something really awesome. Focus with content. Answer questions like: Does it do X? Can I use it in X situation? How does it do that? How do I know you're the best? How do I justify the ROI? Are there other people doing this? All of these questions need to be answered, and they all are typically answered on a sales call’.
“A lot of those questions are trapped in sales conversations and customer service conversations. So the marketing team should get those questions answered with content”.
“That's where your expertise as a startup gets displayed (expertise outside of the product). The number one thing you need to do if you're trying to create awareness and demand generation in your area is to focus on educating your market. You want to be the ‘daily news’ for what you’re focused on”.
Educating the market really contributes to conversions. Dave brought up an example where he had a marketer run ananalysis on content engagement, and found that when people download two expertise based ebooks, and went to a webinar where they heard a customer talk about their experience using the product, there was a 150% increase in the likelihood of buying the product in the next 3 months.
When they discovered what works, they focused all of their efforts on that funnel. “If you wanted to learn about us” Dave says “you had to download an ebook, you had to go to a customer use case webinar, and only then we had a salesperson reach out.”
In the situation where a company enters a saturated market, it’s all about the price and differentiation positioning.
For example Dave mentioned a line from a sales script that accounts for this situation ”I know you can go to the behemoth and get all of this integrated. But you know what? We have this part that you really need, and it’s the part they’ve acquired from another company three years ago just for the logos and haven't touched the product since. We have this part working great, always updated, and perfect for your needs”.
Another insight Dave mentioned for saturated markets is make sure your product helps the executive see the ROI with an “executive dashboard,”. So have an executive dashboard or report email sent on a regular basis to the economic buyer. “The boss just wants it to be easy. Where's my data? Oh it’s going good? Great! I see a chart. Oh it’s going bad? Terrible, but at least I know right away”.
This concluded my conversation with Dave. I learned a lot of tips and tricks that can only be learned from someone’s experience, so I encourage you to have those types of conversations with professionals who can help you grow your business.