Growth is the lifeblood of business, and every company regardless of their size or industry, works hard to achieve it. And rapid revenue growth of 100%+ per year can be truly game-changing: uprooting entire industries, creating new categories, and crowning new market leaders. Look no further than Amazon compared to Sears to see how quickly a rapidly growing company can dominate an industry and set its sights on other industries.
So how do you achieve the kind of meteoric growth that can create new market leaders?
As a technology CEO, CMO and executive for many high-growth companies, including several that achieved 100% revenue growth, I have seen what works and what does not work at all stages of a company’s life. I often get asked, “How did you do that?” or “What worked for you?” I wish the answer was easy.
But what I have seen in my career is that rapid growth does not come easy. It comes from comprehensively and methodically building a product and go-to-market plan that capitalizes on a unique market opportunity. When you nail it, your company will grow incredibly fast like a rocket blasting off into space. When you don’t, growth comes painfully slow and the company struggles to reach lift-off.
How do you achieve rocket-ship growth? Based on my experiences as an executive scaling numerous technology companies, I have developed a framework for high-growth go-to-market plans that consists of 9 essential components summarized below:
- Product-Market Fit: aligning product capabilities to the needs of the target market.
- Differentiated Product Strategy: building a product differentiated from the competition.
- Messaging Platform and Value Proposition: defining company differentiation and value provided to customers.
- Marketing Mix: the ideal mix of programs to efficiently acquire target prospects.
- Funnel Progression: rapidly moving prospects thru the buyer’s journey to a sale.
- Sales and Marketing Integration: aligning goals and solidifying connections between Sales and Marketing.
- Opportunity Development: turning leads into sales opportunities efficiently.
- Sales Strategy: maximizing revenue generation from opportunities via pricing, packaging and sales techniques.
- Customer Success: ensuring successful customers implementations to maximize long-term account value.
If you want to grow 100% a year, or even 50% a year, you need to nail each of these components and have them all aligned and working together like a machine. Having even one of these components out of sync with the rest can jam the go-to-market machine and bring your growth to a screeching halt.
In this series, I’ll describe the critical aspects of each of these components, how to do them right, pitfalls to avoid if possible and some examples from my former companies on what worked or didn’t work.
Since each area requires a certain amount of depth, I’ll split the framework into three parts, and go in-depth on three components of the framework in each blog.
In this blog, I’ll cover the first 3 components; Product-Market Fit, Differentiated Product Strategy, and Messaging Platform and Value Proposition. These three components represent the groundwork for your go-to-market plan. Before you spend any money on marketing programs, product launches, demand generation, events, Google Adwords, or sales incentives, you need to nail these fundamental components for the rest of your go-to-market plans to work. Skip these and you’ll likely waste a huge amount of time and money.
1) Product-Market Fit
Product-market fit is a key part of go-to-market (GTM) strategy because if you have the wrong product for the market you are targeting, your GTM will sputter no matter what you do. Most don’t consider it part of GTM, but it is critical to the success of your GTM plans for good reason. First, no matter how brilliant your sales and marketing is, you can’t scale rapidly if the target market does not need your product. You are dead in the water before you even get started. Unfortunately, this is where many GTM plans fail.
Second, the product-market fit you establish will power the rest of your GTM strategy. It defines what problem you solve, who you sell to, for which use cases and to which users. It is the foundation of your GTM strategy that will drive the targeting of your lead generation, messaging, content strategy, sales strategy and more. Given all the things it touches down the road, product-market fit may be the most important part of your GTM strategy. It is unfortunate that many people don’t consider it as part of their GTM and think “product” is separate from GTM. But they are inextricably intertwined. It is the foundation of your GTM and if you have a poor foundation, your GTM will crumble on its own weight, not capturing the target market because the product does not fit the market’s needs.
The only way to establish a strong product-market fit is to talk to a bunch of customers about their challenges and needs, and see if your product could be a potential solution. Many entrepreneurs or product leaders start with a personal experience or belief that a market opportunity exists for a new solution. This is a great start, but only a start. Validate your experiences or beliefs with dozens of other customers to confirm your view, or alter it to maximize the addressable market.
In many cases, the product has already been built, but that doesn’t mean there is a market fit. As a GTM executive, many times the initial job is to identify the best target market that can provide growth for an existing product. And potentially suggest product enhancements that can accelerate that growth. No matter where you are in the product cycle, make sure you have a good product-market fit as the foundation to your GTM plans. For more on product-market fit, see my blogs The Essential Key to Rapid Company Growth: Product Market Fit and The Top Reasons Product-Market Fit Fails.
Part of product-market fit is making sure you targeted a good market in terms of size and growth rate. If it’s a great product-market fit of a market with 3 customers, then it won’t fuel much growth. See my post on why market size is so important: How to Expand Your Addressable Marketing to Drive Rapid Growth.
2) Differentiated Product Strategy
Product-market fit is a necessary start to your GTM plans, but if everyone else has the same product and targets the same market, you will struggle to take off. If your product strategy is not differentiated, you and the competition will all be saying the same thing and your products will not stand out or command a price premium. Your win-rates will be low which increases your cost of sales. And your customers may opt to switch to a lower-priced product if all the features and benefits sound the same. At this point, with little differentiation between products, the market will become commoditized and price and distribution will be the only way to differentiate. You can win this game but only if you become the low-cost producer and/or lock up key distribution channels so you can compete and win on price and product accessibility. But if you can’t or don’t want to compete on price or distribution channels, you need to have a superior product, which begins with a differentiated product strategy.
A differentiated product strategy is also part of selling. Every B2B sale involves the 3 F’s: features, futures and fear (of doing nothing). Features is what you have today. Futures is a key element of your value proposition and is what you’ll provide to customers in the future. The world has not created a B2B customer who is 100% happy with what you currently have and does not have any future requirements for added capabilities. They may not realize it today, but they will want more tomorrow. And even if they truly don’t want more in the future, as soon as someone else offers a shiny new piece of functionality, they’ll expect you to keep pace with the market trends. If you have the right features, and a good story on futures, fear of doing nothing or not buying often seals the deal.
Part of differentiation is also building things that are tough to copy. Look how quickly Snapchat’s Stories feature was copied by Instagram. Within a matter of a few months, many people found no reason to use Snapchat anymore and one of their biggest advantages over Instagram was gone. Make sure these advantages are sustainable and not simple features that are easily copied. Some things are easier than others to copy. User experience is super hard to copy. Unique proprietary technology is hard to copy. Simple features are easy to copy. There is an advantage to being first to market with any new functionality. But if it’s easy to replicate, a larger competitor with more resources is in great position to copy or acquire whatever advantage a competitor has.
Make sure your vision for the product category is much different and ideally more ambitious than your current and potential competitors. There are no shortcuts to achieve this. You have to meet with numerous customers from numerous segments to understand their needs today and in the future. Many times customers don’t even understand their needs for tomorrow but you have to hypothesize with them to reveal the future. Also, put yourself in the shoes of your competitors and ask yourself, what would I do if I wanted to beat them. And you’ll see things from a new and powerful perspective. From that perspective, copying Stories was a no-brainer for Instagram.
3) Messaging Platform and Value Proposition
Now that you know who you are selling to and what problem you are solving today, and where you are going tomorrow, message development and value proposition becomes super simple. Clearly articulate the needs of the customers you have talked to from their perspective. So many product companies articulate this need through their own product-tainted eyes by dutifully describing how great their products are in finite detail: “look at this great hammer I built, it can pound all kinds of things, it has a nice grip, it never wears out,” etc. But the customer’s goal may not be to buy a hammer, their goal is to build a house and the hammer is a means to this end. This is a subtle but critical difference in messaging perspective. To accomplish this, you need to understand your customers’ goals and objectives, their plans to achieve these goals, and the use cases and projects where your product can play a part. Describing everything your product does tells a prospect nothing. You need to tell them how it helps them meet their needs, their goals and objectives better than anything else on the market. This is where product description overlaps with differentiation and customer need. And that is the basis of your value prop and messaging platform.
This messaging platform is critical because it ties the core need of the customer to the benefit delivered by your product. If you don’t nail this, your whole GTM plan is doomed. And this is the most messed up area of most tech companies because they see the world thru the eyes of their product, not the customer’s need. Or they get the messaging platform right but don’t use it consistently in all sales and marketing assets. Or their competitors have copied it and now everyone sounds the same. Tie your value proposition and message platform to the customer’s key needs, make sure it’s unique, and use it everywhere to accelerate growth.
Also as you develop messaging, remember to message forward towards the future since a message takes a long time (years) to really sink in. You need to message ahead of where you currently are product-wise or business-wise and then fill in the blanks with milestones and successes along the way.
Salesforce.com does a pretty good job of messaging to customer success, growing your business and moving to the cloud; all key customer priorities. Only in the details do they talk about CRM, Services, Marketing and Analytics products, which is what they actually sell. Focus your customers’ needs and speak their language in your messaging, and then describe how your products can help them achieve their goals to gain traction and accelerate growth. For more on developing messaging, see my blog: Why Messaging is Critical to Igniting Company Growth.
So there you have the fundamental groundwork of a good go-to-market plan. It’s not splashy or sexy, but it is the foundation that the rest of your GTM will build upon. Nail these three components, and your GTM plans are well-positioned to drive rocket scale growth!