A Modern Go-To-Market Primer for SaaS Startups

In working with and advising many startups over the years, a common theme is knowing when it’s time to proactively scale up growth, and how to do so in a smart and efficient way. There are many growth frameworks out there, and founders I’ve met can sometimes have a hard time putting them into practice or knowing where to start. I found myself having similar conversations with founders interested in this topic, and put together this document initially to help guide those conversations, drawing on various sources (including Aaron Ross’ Predictable Revenue, Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook, and A16Z’s post on Growth+Sales). I’m sharing this primer here in hopes it can be useful to others.

The goal of a Go-To-Market strategy (“GTM”) is to scale up revenue in a predictable, repeatable way. Unlike a traditional sales-led process, modern GTM involves holistic planning across product, pricing, segmentation, marketing, sales, operations, and success. This ensures consistency of message and experience, while specialization and modularity ensure predictability and efficiency.

There is no single right approach to GTM. This document outlines one common approach to B2B SaaS GTM, typically appropriate for middle market buyers with contracts in the five- and six-figure annual range. For smaller (SMB) and larger (enterprise) use cases, and those outside of SaaS, the approach would be tailored accordingly.

This framework is most effective when at least some product use cases have achieved Product Market Fit (PMF):

PMF = a large enough customer base using the product in a consistent way for a specific use case + high retention and satisfaction + positive unit economics + strong organic demand from potential buyers

Many companies have a mix of pre- and post-PMF use cases. For example, when the company’s original product is scaling, and new use cases or adjacent product opportunities have been identified but not yet proven out.

For pre-PMF use cases, a company should rely on founder/executive selling, and tight coordination with product/engineering teams. The goal is to find PMF. Delegating too early to sales teams can be an obstacle to finding PMF, since a highly entrepreneurial approach is needed at the early stages.

On the other hand, for post-PMF use cases, continuing too long with founder-led entrepreneurial selling can be an obstacle to scaling revenue.

The GTM framework below should be implemented for particular use cases as soon as there is confidence PMF has been achieved, ideally starting 6–9 months in advance given the lead times for hiring and ramping teams, tools, and process. Once this framework is in place for one use case, the lead time is shorter since much of the infrastructure can be reused.

Step 1: Segmentation

  • Break down all potential use cases (or verticals, or products, etc).
  • For each use case, include a one-sentence value prop that will form the basis of a compelling narrative, a one-sentence product definition, the addressable universe of potential buyers for whom this value prop is attractive, and whether PMF has been achieved.

Step 2: Prioritization

  • Prioritize use cases by revenue opportunity, likelihood to close, and maturity of existing product
  • Pursue a mix of pre- and post-PMF use cases (increase weighting toward post-PMF as company matures)
  • For pre-PMF use cases, rely on founder/executive selling until PMF is achieved. Be highly entrepreneurial in adapting early product to customer needs.
  • For post-PMF use cases, identify and implement a scalable GTM plan. Stay focused on establishing GTM for a small number of use cases at a time.

Step 3: Implementing a Scalable GTM plan

“In high productivity sales organizations, salespeople do not cause customer acquisition growth, they fulfill it.” — Aaron Ross, Predictable Revenue

For B2B SaaS GTM, there are typically ten major functions to cover:

  1. Product Marketing. Define “ideal customer” use cases, product definitions, buyer journeys, and value props; develop compelling narratives; provide product collateral — proposals, demos, web site / landing pages, white papers, etc; and manage new product launches.
  2. Sales Development. Source new, qualified sales opportunities through outbound prospecting into cold or inactive companies who aren’t already engaged, and pass them onto quota-carrying account executives.
  3. Demand Generation. Drive top-of-funnel awareness and engagement resulting in inbound leads — from webinars, social media, gated content, newsletters, events, referrals, SEO, advertising, partnerships, etc.
  4. Market Response. Qualify “inbound” leads and pass them onto quota-carrying account executives.
  5. Lifecycle Marketing. Design and manage automated communications (primarily email) to nurture leads who aren’t yet in market, facilitate the onboarding process, identify and reach out to lower-value customers who are likely to churn, etc.
  6. Account Executives. Shepherd opportunities from qualification through closing, including needs assessment, live demo, addressing concerns, executive presentations, quarterbacking internal resources and responses, due diligence, and price/contract negotiation.
  7. Implementation / Integration. Bring the customer from signed contract to launch through a structured implementation process. Scope and approach vary widely depending on complexity and whether the product is self-service vs vendor-configured.
  8. Customer Success. Ensure achievement of customer goals, with goals for satisfaction, utilization, referrals, upsells, and renewals. Identify and prioritize where greatest revenue opportunities exist within existing customer base.
  9. Sales Engineering. Support the Sales and Success teams with technical expertise.
  10. Revenue Operations. Forecasting & analytics, sales training, administration of CRM and sales/marketing automation tools, and holistic management of end-to-end processes.

For early stage companies putting this framework in place for the first time, individuals can cover multiple functions initially, as long as each function is being addressed in some way. As the company scales, specialization becomes important and each of the ten functions typically requires a dedicated team. Anticipate areas that may be sacrificed during this transition and put together a plan for addressing them.

Here is an example roadmap for early stage companies ready to phase in a GTM process:

Early stage:

  • Marketer covering Product Marketing, Demand Generation, and Lifecycle Marketing, with content sourced internally (execs, product managers, etc)
  • Junior sales rep covering Sales Development and Market Response
  • Founder and/or commercial executive (President, COO, CRO, etc) covering closing responsibilities and Customer Success
  • Revenue Operations lead with help from outside consulting as needed
  • Existing technical team can cover sales engineering needs
  • Implementation Lead covering customer launch process

Mid stage:

  • Split marketing into dedicated individuals for Product Marketing, Demand Generation, and Lifecycle Marketing, with a new dedicated content lead
  • Split junior sales rep role into dedicated individuals for Sales Development and Market Response
  • Add 2–5 Account Executives based on anticipated productivity ratios of opportunity creation
  • Add a dedicated Sales Engineer, ideally recruited internally
  • Add Implementation Managers as needed
  • Add a dedicated Customer Success lead

Late stage:

  • Each function grows from individuals to teams as capacity allows
  • When products grow complex, consider consolidating into atomic “GTM pods” with each of the ten functions dedicated to major product segments (i.e. consumer vs enterprise, domestic versus international, etc.)
  • It is not uncommon for teams supporting GTM to be among the largest in mature SaaS companies

With a modular approach like the one above, it is possible to predict and optimize productivity at each funnel stage. This gives leaders the ability to plan resources and investments tied to a desired revenue goal, while also giving leaders atomic “knobs to turn” or “levers to pull” when bottlenecks develop at any point in the funnel. As organizations and products grow more complex, consistency and ability to predict become crucial competencies that set high performing companies apart.

For example:

  • Say a company wants to add $10MM in ARR next year.
  • It knows average contracts are $100K/yr, so 100 new customers are needed.
  • It also knows it takes 10 qualified opportunities to turn into one closed sale, and it needs 10 leads to convert to one qualified opportunity.
  • Therefore, the company needs 10,000 leads to drive 100 new customers.
  • Furthermore, the company has an average cycle time of 3 months from lead generation to closed deal, so the bulk of the 10,000 leads need to be generated between January and September to get them closed by year-end.
  • Finally, based on historical data, the company believes it will generate 40% of its leads through outbound efforts of its SDR team, 30% of its leads through its Demand Generation activities, and 30% of its leads organically.
  • This allows the company to plan its investments in headcount and marketing throughout the year, and to set granular monthly goals by channel for each funnel stage, to monitor whether the company is on track for its end-of-year target.

Putting in place a framework like the one above, at the right time, is a critical step for any scaling SaaS company. Do it too soon, and products may never achieve Product Market Fit. Do it too late, and revenue may not scale to full potential. High performing companies recognize when things need to change, are not afraid to move away from tactics that were successful at earlier stages, and proactively put in place a modular GTM process at the right time.

Thank you to Charley Ma, Ted Brown, Chris Aronis, Nate Joseph, Benny Rubin, and Jamie Verdi for reading and providing feedback on this draft.

EIR @ Bessemer Venture Partners. 2x fintech entrepreneur (Andera, Ellevest). 4x Dad. www.linkedin.com/in/charliekroll/

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