When 4 of the fastest growing start-ups’ founders come together to discuss the various challenges and struggles they faced during the onset of their journeys, you know it’s going to be an information-packed cavalcade with a ton of value and knowledge to be gained.
We got an overwhelming response on LinkedIn for the Founders Roundtable we held on 18 December and continue to receive requests for the footage of the same. If you can’t find the time to watch the Founders Roundtable recording and still want to obtain the know-how on operating remote sales and marketing teams successfully, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
In this article we try to condense our learnings from the Founders Roundtable into 7 important takeaways that would help you build out your remote go to market strategy template from seed to scale as iterated by founders Deepak Anchala (Slintel), Khadim Batti (Whatfix), Laxman Papineni (Outplay) and Raviteja Dodda (MoEngage).
7 Key Takeaways from the Founders Roundtable on Building the Perfect Go To Market Strategy
1. When should founders start selling their product?
When starting out from zero, it’s imperative that founders partake in the selling process before the product is even fully conceptualised. By pitching demos before even a single line of code is written, founders get to understand and gauge the market head-on rather than basing their product off hypotheses or assumptions. Doing so can help you avert the scenario where you’ve spent a ton of time and resources building a product that doesn’t match expectations the market holds for it. Instead, pitching your product to prospects from the get-go allows you to integrate all your learnings and the customers’ needs and pain points into your fully conceptualised product.
Taking this preemptive path is something that all four founders seem to accredit for the successful launch of their product. Khadim Batti reiterates that even if it’s a new feature you want to add to your existing product, it would be wise only to do so after confirming that it adds value to your offering with at least 4 or 5 of your customers. MoEngage, however, took this a step further by hard coding a website that resembled the dashboard of their pre-conceptualised product, providing customers a glimpse into what the product would actually be like to use. The main point is to begin selling at the ideation stage before focusing on building out a full-fledged product so you can gauge whether there’s a demand for it in the market.
2. What are the channels to tap into to get your first few customers
Again, there was a consensus here among all four founders here who relied on outbound to reel in their first few customers. The strategies they used, however, were each specific to the nature of their product.
Before building Outplay, Laxman interacted with over 200 decision makers on LinkedIn, gave out demos and built a network of interested clients out of which 10 were willing to buy the product once it was ready 8 months later.
MoEngage similarly focused on outbound, reaching out to businesses that fit their ICP. In their case, businesses that had 10,000-50,000 app installs and were facing issues with user retention. Focusing on reeling in big name brands enables businesses to rapidly onboard more clients, thanks to the big name reference. Using this strategy, MoEngage was able to build a strong foundation for future sales.
For Whatfix, the outbound process was quite similar with Khadim and his team sending over 500 in-depth personalized mails every month to potential buyers discovered using LinkedIn. Khadim personally went through a ton of prospective clients’ websites and support documents before sending out mails that contained personalized examples and use cases. In the first month this earned them 2 customers, a number that eventually began to multiply.
At Slintel, the story was no different. Deepak says the outbound was more focused towards building a new template everyday for a month and testing them across the 5-6 ICPs that were applicable to Slintel’s product before settling on the ones that performed the best. This helped in understanding what template worked for which ICP, in turn generating an understanding of how each ICP has to be approached.
To sum it up, founders need to go out there and get their hands dirty doing their fair share of outbound whether it’s through their network, emails, LinkedIn profiles or other channels. At the end of the day, you’ve got to ensure that you’re reaching out to your ICP audience and accordingly tweaking your approach from the gathered learnings. Also relying on a sales leader to do your outbound for you is simply not going to cut it because nobody understands the product you’ve created the way you do.
3. When do you make your first sales hire?
As a founder, when you make the first 8-10 sales yourself, you’re validating what works and what doesn’t and in turn defining the playbook for your go to market and sales. By doing so you understand what pitch resonates with your potential buyers and what price points work along with the objections and feedback you receive. Khadim says that once you’ve done this you’re well equipped to hire the right kind of sales leader well suited for your business. After you’ve hired your first sales rep you’ve then got to sit with them for the first 5 sales before you can hand over the sales operations to them. At Whatfix the first hire was a sales rep as Khadim says that it was one of their not so strong points that required to be worked upon.
Raviteja further adds that while 8-10 is a good number you can even choose to bring in a sales rep after your first 5 sales. MoEngage initially hired 3 sales reps — one seasoned and two unseasoned. The seasoned sales rep hire didn’t seem to work out for MoEngage unlike the other two. Ravi says that hiring generalists as their first few sales reps that were not really coders or engineers but could understand the product well, was something that worked for him. He initially hired friends and people from his network in whom he had the confidence to do a good job in sales. By hiring generalists as your first sales reps, you get a diverse set of sales people who can be deployed across multiple roles, from sales to business development to understanding the different use cases your product can solve. Doing this can in turn help you define and establish your playbook.
By keeping your playbook undefined for the first 5 customers and hiring generalists for your sales processes, you get additional bandwidth to focus on other pieces of building your product as well.
Deepak says hiring a sales hustler is definitely the way to go while also agreeing with Khadim on sitting alongside them for their first 5-10 deals and helping them out with their demos. This is because you can’t just give your first sales reps a playbook and tell them to go sell according to it.
4. Should your first sales hire be an SDR or AE?
Laxman’s first sales hire was an SDR who again was more of a generalist, taking on multiple roles starting from testing the product out before moving on to a proper SDR role. Laxman’s approach was different, where he continued to be a part of the sales process until his calendar was full, following which he made the first sales hire, a SDR. This was because Laxman says that the first 8-10 sales made are just not good enough data points to build a repeatable process. After hiring his first SDR, Laxman assumed the position of the AE and it was only after hiring their first three SDRs that Outplay onboarded their first AE. Laxman says that Outplay is still at an early stage and he continues to take on demos if other AEs don’t have the bandwidth for it.
Khadim adds that when he started Whatfix he wasn’t aware of what SDRs and AEs were. His initial hire was a sales rep that was capable of doing everything from outbound to creating the pipe and giving out demos, pilots, closing and consulting among other processes. It was only later that he understood from the gaps that arose between these processes that specialists were required to fulfill each role.
You can read more about building your sales development team from scratch here.
5. The first marketing hire – Content / SEM / SEO?
Raviteja says that while he got it wrong for the first two or three years, your first marketing hires should be generalists with a focus on product marketing. This is because you want to position your product well and make customers understand what makes your product different from the others.
Laxman says that in the early days you can’t step on both sales and marketing together. You either double down on one of the two. At Laxman’s first startup, he started out with building content and SEO, however at Outplay it was the opposite with sales taking precedence. In fact Laxman is just starting to build out Outplay’s marketing function with no marketing hires as of yet. He says that it’s a design choice that as a founder you have to take depending on how you want to go about getting your first sales. It’s important to pick one to start with rather than picking up both together and not being great at either.
Deepak’s route was initially content until he realized that it was a long-term game. If you’re in an industry that is searched about a lot, there’s already enough demand for your product that you need to tap into. Khadim adds that it also depends on the category your product caters to, if you serve small and mid size businesses, SEM would be a great option to start off with. If it’s a new category, you’ll still find people searching for related keywords which you can quickly tap into for high intent leads. If your focus is on outbound and content, you’re dealing with middle of the funnel leads, prolonging your sales cycles. So if SEM works for your product then it should take precedence. Backing this up with the right product marketing will be the icing on the cake.
6. What are the next five marketing and sales hires that follow?
Khadim says that with your first 8-10 customers you’re identifying your basic product-market fit — what’s working and what isn’t. After this point you’re identifying the one channel that works well for you. Once you’ve done this you need to focus your efforts in scaling up this channel so you have a predictable revenue coming in and you can now scale up the same accordingly. If your SDR/AE model is working out for you, Khadim says focus on scaling up by hiring a couple more SDRs and a couple more AEs so you now have a predictable engine going on. You could also hire a manager for the same roles so they now have the responsibility of optimizing this funnel along with hiring the right SDRs and AEs to add to the engine.
After you’ve scaled up your primary channel you can then move onto experimenting with another channel such as SEM and make necessary hires accordingly. Whatfix initially started out with outbound sales hires before realising that SEM was a great avenue for them, soon hiring SEM and content personnel that made up their first 4-5 hires.
On the other hand, at MoEngage, an outbound ABM sales strategy took precedence as they had a very clear set of accounts they were looking to get onboard. MoEngage initially hired AEs to do the hunting and closing before shifting their hiring efforts towards SDRs allowing the AEs to then solely focus on closing. Raviteja says that if you’ve established your product marketing fit then it’s a good idea to hire a generalist marketing leader who can help build out your marketing functions to suit the same.
7. Determining pricing
Pricing matters a lot as it can heavily influence your go to market strategy. Khadim says that it’s something that can change over time because it depends on where you are as a company and how you visualise your market. Whatfix started out pretty small at $100 a month and over a period of 2-3 years graduated to an ACV that averaged 40-50k. Khadim adds that as Whatfix continues to visualize the market, their pricing will only continue to move upwards. This is also because along the journey you continue to evolve, identifying larger deals, larger enterprises and decision makers higher up the chain that are willing to write bigger cheques. Again, this heavily depends on your market segment so it’s better to price your product keeping that in mind.
Alternatively Raviteja says that it may not be necessary to choose a particular pricing but test out multiple go to market motions. This could vary for different segments, from SMB to enterprise markets you could simultaneously test out different pricing especially when your product is in its expansion phase.
To sum it up, price discovery is a constant game as price points change over time, generally moving upwards. It’s better for you to take it slow and discover the right price for your product until you reach a limit that works well for you.
Watch the entire recording of the Founders Roundtable
If you found these takeaways to be useful for your journey to building a successful go to market strategy for your business, you might want to check out the entire recording of the Founders Roundtable. Have fun watching it!