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What I talk about when I talk about Go-To-Market Fit (hat-tip to Haruki Murakami)

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By now the phrase “Product-Market Fit” (PMF) is firmly lodged in founders’ brains as a key milestone to achieve.  Massive focus on PMF, don’t scale until you have PMF, our investors and board love hearing that we’ve achieved PMF. So, once you have that, does that mean go all guns blazing and start scaling?

NO. And ‘no’ is a full sentence. Massive scaling just because you have PMF is like signing up for an ultramarathon four months after finishing your first 5K.  Yeah, you can run. But, there’s so much more to work on and get fit so you survive.

In particular, next you need to get Go-To-Market (GTM) Fit.  What does this mean?  It means that every point of the customer journey is known, repeatable and relatively predictable and you’ve worked out all the kinks. A clog in the pipe anywhere, for example onboarding, with a scaled-up sales team just leads to a massive mess, unhappy customers and employees and a potentially catastrophic drain on resources and money.  Specifically, go-to-market fit means…

  1. You know your best customers, the ICP, the priority segments.
  2. You have a repeatable, predictable sales motion.
  3. You have onboarding sorted and (relatively) painless for you and the customer. Or at least all parties know what to expect and can/do execute to an agreed timetable.
  4. You understand how to measure value, and more importantly, your customers are able to achieve and recognise that they’re getting value
  5. You’re seeing renewals
  6. You’re seeing expansions/upsells/cross-sells
  7. Your customers are becoming (passionate) advocates

Now let’s break that down.

You know your best customers

You’ve heard repeatedly that you need to know who your Ideal Customer Profile is and to focus on that. But…there’s another customer that wants to pay us a lot of money and they’re a really good name and what they want is only a few technical modifications.  Please don’t do that. This is what will happen. Actually–keep on reading below and I’ll follow up at the end with what will happen with this customer and your team who has to support them.

Part of GTM fit is knowing your ICP and focusing on them. It’s okay before then to have experimented, and you probably brought on board other customers that weren’t right, and have churned. GTM fit means you know who to go after so your marketing teams can focus on driving awareness, demand gen and leads in this group. You know which segments to target:  enterprise, SMB, etc.  And you know the challenges they’re facing that you, better than anyone, can solve.  This also means your product teams are able to plan ahead and be focused on a roadmap to keep on adding more that will delight this group and keep adding new functionality that makes your product stickier, or more valuable, or gives a new way to cross-sell or upsell.

"The single most impactful thing you can do in any business of any size is being absolutely clear on the customer you're building for. Every process, dollar spent, and metric will benefit from this clarity. Messaging is easier, retention improves, product know which problems to solve for, CAC reduces when pointed at the right folks...the list goes on. Spend inordinate amounts of time understanding your customer, building this understanding among your team and results (across the business) will follow." –Harrison Rose, Founder, CEO

Without this:  You’re going to have customers who keep asking for more and more bespoke functionality that pulls your resources away from building the product you should be focused on. Your marketing teams are going to have scattershot targeting which means lots of wasted money and content that doesn’t build your brand or drive home your message with those who should hear it. Your Customer Success teams are going to constantly be playing catch up trying to keep a customer happy.

You have a repeatable, predictable sales motion 

This is the cornerstone of (GTM) Fit. This means your sales process is no longer an art but more of a science. You know your ICP is and how to target them.  You've identified the key steps and personas that you need to speak with that lead to closing deals and can consistently replicate this process with a high degree of accuracy. Your marketing has established success in targeting and driving awareness/leads/inbound demand generation. You are crystal clear on the challenges that you solve, and know how to lead a strong discovery session to tease out the nuances and ensure that the customer also sees this challenge as a priority. This also means you know where to walk away from deals where it’s not a great fit.

Sales teams are equipped with messaging, beginnings at least of a playbook and a clear understanding of the buyers’ journey. (I can go on a whole rant about the craziness of companies focusing so much on a sales process that they completely leave the actual customer out of the description.)

Please also note that I have used ‘sales motion’ in the singular. Trying to launch Product-Led Growth, and a Sales-Led Growth at the same time for an early stage company is spreading precious resources too thin, creates confusion and is too complex. See numerous articles by Harrison Rose on this topic, for example this on choosing between PLG and SLG.

This predictability not only helps in forecasting revenue but also in scaling your sales efforts, ensuring that new hires can quickly come up to speed and contribute to the sales pipeline effectively.

Without this: Chaos. Sales reps are expensive. Experienced sales reps also want to come in, and thrive best when there is a clear value proposition, there is at least a bit of repeatability and they are able to understand how to qualify a deal. Throwing lots of bodies at a problem, without really understanding what that problem is or how to navigate it doesn’t mean you’ll get more sales. It means you get a lot of people attempting to sell, not necessarily targeting the right customers that help drive the business forward and potentially lots of different expectations to be met.

Between PMF and GtMF is the messy middle between your passionate problem solving reps and your product selling reps. So how do you navigate this change in rep profile whilst still finding GtMF? Your early reps will have been around a while, and really immersed themselves in the problem you’re trying to solve, so actually feeling more like a consultant at times as they help the product teams find that elusive PMF. This means they are often selling a product that is never quite what the prospect needs, but they work hard to bridge the gaps, work out PoC’s and make the price and result worth the customer's pain. For the customer they get exactly what they want from someone who has everything invested in making the engagement a success - this is a double edged sword. Firstly you often deviate from your ICP, build custom and bespoke features and end up with a powerful customer who wants and needs that high level of engagement. But, if you get this right, you establish a model for the more solution/product focused reps to follow - using the PMF established and the sales process emerging. If you get this wrong, you’ve burned a lot of time, not established PMF and the customer will churn. Be careful - big names come with a big opportunity cost! Now is the time when a later stage company rep will be attracted to your proposition - you have all the ingredients they need to ramp and scale a sales process - and make money! And the early sales pioneers can often move into a more ‘farming’ type role and help the established customer base upsell to the new innovative products as they emerge. Plus keep them happy with a high NPS of course.      – Andy Leaver, Operating Partner and GTM Expert, Notion Capital

Painless Onboarding

Be honest—for those in the early stages now, how many of you have closed deals with customers where the bulk of them haven’t even started onboarding or it’s taking way longer than you expected?  Now imagine a scaled up sales team adding more to the backlog.  Scary, right?

Effective onboarding is critical for both you and your customers. A seamless onboarding process ensures that customers are able to start using your product or service with minimal friction and they get to the point of value faster (plus depending on your revenue model, this gets you to recognisable revenue faster as well). 

This involves having a well-documented process, comprehensive training materials, and support to guide new users through the initial setup and adoption phases. When onboarding is painless, customers quickly realise the value of your offering, reducing churn and setting the stage for long-term satisfaction. An agreed timetable and clear communication of what to expect during onboarding ensures trust and alignment between all parties.

Success in a recurring revenue model is all built by making customers successful. We win an ideal customer, get them to value fast, deliver recurring and growing impact and turn them into advocates. Too many companies get this out of whack, prioritising customer acquisition over successful onboarding and activation. Selling is 10% of the job; 90% is making customers successful, keeping them for life and winning even more ideal customers.
– Stephen Millard, Operating Partner and Chief Platform Officer Notion Capital

Without this: Depending on your revenue model/contractual clauses, you may have ‘clients’ who get stuck for months and months that you can never actually recognise any revenue. Not to mention that the excitement of signing with you rapidly fizzles out when the customer realises that they aren’t going to get value for a long time, or they need to expend way more resource than planned. And your internal backlog grows as your teams are constantly firefighting.  Signing big new customers becomes a moment of terror for the teams who have to then onboard them because there are already a bunch ahead in the queue.  Get your onboarding sorted before you scale big.

Measuring and Recognising Value

I can’t count the times I speak with companies who closed a customer that was perfectly in the ICP, and already had an expansion forecast. Yet the customer churned. The company thought by their dashboards showing lots of logins, and their measures of success that it was going well—but the customer didn’t see it the same way.

Understanding how to measure and demonstrate value is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and driving renewals. You need to establish clear metrics in the sales process that indicate success and ensure that your customers can easily track and are aware of these metrics. And, because we’re dealing with humans not robots (yet), some of these metrics may change during the year or other use cases might arise that add even  more value.  You need to stay on top of those to ensure alignment.

This might involve integrating analytics and reporting features directly into your product or providing regular check-ins and reviews. It's crucial that these value indicators are not only apparent to you but are also recognised and appreciated by your customers.  And the faster you can get to the point of value recognition, the more validation that your customer made the right choice.

Without this:  You risk a scaled up sales team adding even more customers to the backlog where your CS/AM teams are struggling under the weight of having to prove value to unhappy customers, or customers not in the ICP who will never be happy without a mammoth effort and resources from you. This leads to burnout and severe problems keeping your own teams happy and motivated.

Seeing Renewals

Renewals are a strong indicator of GTM Fit, signalling that customers are satisfied with the value they receive and are willing to continue their investment. It shows that you’ve (most likely) correctly identified the right ICP. This also reflects that your product or service has become an integral part of the customers’ operations.

Consistent renewals indicate a successful ongoing relationship and suggest that the initial promise of value has been achieved. Obviously there will be some churn, but to maintain high renewal rates, it's important to have regular communication, provide continuous support, and address any issues proactively and honestly. This helps to ensure that customers remain committed to your solution over the long term.

Without this: Well, first of all having unexpected or unwanted churn creates a revenue hole that you need to fill. Not to mention that churning customers are a sign that your solution isn’t a good value for them.  Proving out that your product is not only worth investing in once, but renewing? That’s a marker that you have the right ICP, you are delivering the value they expected and were sold during the sales cycle and your brand is starting to mean something.

Expansions, Upsells, and Cross-Sells

While renewals are table stakes, the real sign of GTM Fit is the ability to drive expansions, upsells, and cross-sells. This means your customers are not only sticking around but also increasing their investment in your company’s solutions. They might be purchasing additional features, upgrading their plan, or buying complementary products and services. 

A big part of this is reviewing your product packaging and pricing. Are the packages giving you the right margin? Are they right-sized? Counterintuitively, sometimes giving too much in a package can lead to dissatisfaction. I’ve seen customers want to downsell at renewal time because ‘they didn’t use up’ their full allotment, when an eager sales rep actually just threw in a bunch of extra time/services/credits to close the deal.

This stage indicates that your offering is scalable and adaptable to growing needs, and it provides additional revenue streams. Net Revenue Retention (NRR) is a really important metric that you need to track and your board will care deeply about. Success here requires a deep understanding of customer needs and the ability to tailor your sales, marketing and pricing efforts to showcase additional value.

Without this: THIS is where the magic happens! It’s so much easier to upsell a happy customer than bring in new ones, (and almost impossible to do so for an unhappy customer unless in extreme circumstances).  If you aren’t able to ever expand your customers to higher contract values, or new solutions it’s a sign that perhaps your packaging and pricing aren’t right. Or that maybe you aren’t providing as much value as you think, especially if selling into Enterprise or multinational organisations where your champion could introduce you to other parts of the business but isn’t doing so.  To hit your growth targets you’ll have to instead brute force it with a constant of new logos which means when you’re at scale it’s that much harder/impossible to hit.  Winning By Design has a number of great articles about scale, and how much revenue should come from existing clients.

Customers Become Advocates

The final and most powerful indicator of GTM Fit is when your customers become advocates. Advocacy means that your customers are so satisfied with your product or service that they willingly promote it to others. This can take the form of testimonials, case studies, referrals, and positive reviews. Advocates are invaluable as they provide social proof and credibility, often influencing potential buyers more effectively than traditional marketing efforts. Cultivating advocacy involves delivering exceptional value consistently and building strong relationships with your customers. When your customers become your champions, it signifies a deep, enduring alignment between their needs and your solution.

Without this: In the early stages it’s okay to not have customer references yet. But when you’re scaling your GTM motion? It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get away with never being able to give references, or rely on the same one or two customers.  You should be relentless in ensuring your initial customers are happy and see value, because nothing is as powerful to help you sell than happy customers talking and giving that proof.  The opposite is brutal: if you haven’t invested well, I promise that you might not be part of the conversation but your customers are talking with their peers and there is always back channelling going on. You don’t want to be part of that conversation where your brand is being warned about.

In summary

Product market fit is just table stakes for one part of being ready to scale. Too many companies chase really high new business targets before they’re ready to actually onboard, support and delight these customers. Then wonder why they’re constantly backed up, chasing tech debt, filling a revenue churn hole and employees are operating in a series of crisis to crisis moments. 

Now you know what to look for. Please, go through your entire customer journey—from the minute they say yes to the minute they renew and understand the steps, timeline, hurdles  and aha moments they go through. Optimise for the entire end-to-end journey and then you’re ready to scale your team and efforts effectively.

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