The Hidden Costs of Ignoring a Go-To-Market Plan
Trust Me: The Pre-Planning Pays Off
One of the most overlooked and misunderstood aspects of launching a SaaS product and taking it to market is that there’s a lot more to it than just getting an app approved in the app store. Many startups I work with have no plan to go to market in a way that is structured or proven as a framework—and they almost always underestimate the time it takes to create a proactive approach. According to Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Shikhar Ghosh, “about 75% of startups fail”. This may not be alarming to anyone, but in SaaS startups in particular, the barrier to entry is fairly easy. However, the greatest challenge is awareness of what it takes to stand out and build upon success repeatedly.
Going to market doesn’t just involve pre-planning strategy—it also needs to have a before, during and after strategy that includes product, marketing, communications, advertising, development and support. The overall strategy can be as big as your budget allows or much less. When a pre-planning strategy is neglected in SaaS startups, it could potentially lead to failure to meet internal business KPIs or goals, or much worse. Not having a proactive approach before going to market can also make it difficult to identify what may have gone wrong months later.
If going to market is new to you, you should know that it means much more than pushing ads out, going to events, creating viral videos and getting into the app store. Those are all just levers to get the message out or start a conversation. Going to market really starts with aligning your brand and product alignment especially for a SaaS where it’s almost always going to be exclusively digital.
Before going to market, it’s crucial to put in research to nail down your product features, soft launch and MVP and prioritize with a great checklist like this one. Ultimately, your product is the experience and solution—and the brand is the look, feel and way you want to communicate. Going to market isn’t just a one-time shot, it continually evolves and impacts everything from user journey to customer support.
It’s true: Taking your product to the next level is all about pre-planning. Here are three key steps that you should follow before your product hits the market:
Get Organized: Create a launch or go-to-market checklist. This will help you take any guess-work out, and it will make you less reactive. It also will help provide a framework for the launch that you can continually reference.
Understand Timing: Timing is key when going to market, so it’s important to determine a time to launch that works best for your product and company. Align your checklist up with marketers to get timing and costs down pat and figure out what you’re willing to do—or not do.
Don’t Stop: After the launch, keep the momentum going. Take into account resources and time after the launch in order to continue to follow roadmap items, customer support, post marketing message pushes, A/B testing and more.
The Importance of Metrics
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Metrics are critical for all aspects of your startup if you are serious about growing and having baselines. However, they can also produce false positives if an inexperienced person attempts to leverage the data into actionable insight. The total cost of metrics are:
How do we collect the right data?
What to do with these insights?
Who will manage and create action items?
Unless you have someone who understands how to convert the metrics and make them actionable, you will almost always make poor decisions (i.e. hiring the wrong marketers; purchasing the wrong tools that don’t look at the correct metrics for your startup). Vanity metrics can bring you to the party, but they can ultimately leave you high-and-dry if they are not understood or do not align with your strategy.
Get A Marketer
If you are not a marketer, acknowledge that fact and move forward. If you are saying things like:
“I want a viral video to drive downloads”; “We need Facebook ads” or “I read a blog that said I need a drip email campaign”—it’s time to hit the pause button. It’s not that these things aren’t effective, but you need to first have an underlying goal before jumping into a marketing topic that’s trendy.
My advice? Have an expert take you through a brand exercise and learn how to best leverage the outcome you are seeking. Be clear and be real on those expectations. Remember that your audience needs a good reason to use you through your solution. In addition, while DIY’ing advertising is admirable, it is also a sure-fire way to waste time and money that you could have put toward professional help.
If you can, bring on a skilled marketer who can help elevate the brand. This person doesn’t necessarily need to have a full-time role, but they should have a seat at the table and be part of the process of going to market—not just thrown-in last minute. Usually the founder or visionary has the clearest idea of the brand, and they can help paint the picture for the marketer. It’s then the marketers job to make that vision or goal actionable.
It’s All About Alignment
Three pillars for any team to build success from include people, product and process. And at some point, these three pillars need to be aligned. It’s important to remember that the founder or executive of the company is not the brand. They may have the vision, but it’s the marketers job to communicate the vision to all parties so it can be converted into something actionable. You will know if the three pillars are not aligned if:
Everyone is chasing the founder or executive down for answers because the brand lives in their head
Contractors or team members are confused on what the marketing goal is, and no one source of truth exists for the brand
Tools Don’t Solve Problems—People Do
In my experience, I have seen some amazing strides in digital marketing that enable some really powerful features to drive traffic and help users onboard. Of course, these all come at a cost and by most measure, these start free or are fairly reasonably priced, especially if you are still running lean. The problem with tools is that you may never leverage their full capabilities. If you want to take growth seriously (which you should!), invest in a platform that can grow with you or that you can disengage from if it doesn’t end up meeting your needs, or if the business changes.
Remember this rule of thumb: Users or customers have absolutely no reason to use your product or continue to use it—no matter how well it is designed. It’s a difficult process to ensure your product and brand are aligned, and to also make sure they both resonate with customers. Brand loyalty, affinity and trust takes a very long time to foster and even with giant brands with massive budgets, it always needs to be continually managed.
I was taught in sales years ago that “time kills deals” and unless you have worked in sales, this phrase may not make sense. Essentially, even if you have an amazing product, there’s still a chance that no one knows about it. Marketing is not a reaction, it’s part of the process, and while it’s not the end-all-be-all, every startup needs to think and act on a marketing strategy the best they can. Not only will developing your marketing plan help you overcome unnecessary obstacles, it will save you time and energy down the line. If you can’t afford a full time marketer, that’s okay too, but I recommend trying to get someone involved to help sooner, rather than later.