Asia shares the seven horrors that await your go to market strategy as it cranks into action.
Why do those carefully thought through plans fall apart? Why does marketing get more complex, costly and show increasingly less return? In this talk, Asia will help you recognize the symptoms to look out for that doom your strategy to fail and share an approach that will result in you doing more with less.
Hello, everyone, my name is Asia Orangio. I’m the CEO and founder of Demand Maven. We work with SaaS companies all over the world. Pretty much every single shape and size. We help them make infinitely better strategic decisions.
We’re going to talk all about the horrors of go-to-market strategy/growth strategy, either one pretty interchangeable here, but we’re going to talk all about the horrors that we see and how to overcome them.
So the way that this talk is gonna go is I’m going to give you what the horror is, I’m gonna give you an example of what it looks and feels and sounds like. And then at the end, I’m going to cover how to ultimately overcome them. And it’s really just a three step process. Pretty, pretty simple. And finally, I’m going to leave you with some questions to ask yourselves about your go to market strategy, or about your growth strategy to help you uncover these horrors and then make sure that you avoid them entirely.
Because this is horror themed, this is lovingly themed after HP Lovecraft. So we’re going to have a really a lot of really fun graphics. And I think the last thing I’m going to leave you guys with before we just jump right in is anything that you hear today that makes you uncomfortable, if it gives you the chills, the thrills or scares, that probably means you need to pay attention to it. So you weren’t expecting therapy today. But we’re going to do a little bit of SaaS go to market therapy, SaaS group therapy.
Okay, so the very first horror on the list.
The binary indicates pretty much exactly what you would expect. It is binary thinking, which is actually a real psychological cognitive distortion that pops up all the time in our everyday lives. But what it looks and feels and sounds like at least in go to market, or growth context is it becomes all or nothing thinking. It is zero, or it is one and there is nothing else. It is black, or it is white, and there is nothing else.
The binary pops up when we are defining go to market strategy and we’re choosing our channels when we are identifying what programmes to run, even in some cases, what features to implement, or what features to expand or choose. The binary can sound a lot like this. “This absolutely has to work, or else”. There are many different scenarios where we’ve heard this exact phrase. And actually, all of these quotes are real quotes that we’ve heard in the strategic setting context; it could be yourself, it could also be of course with your team. But this absolutely has to work or else. This “or else” scenario is what makes it ultimately black or white or binary thinking.
Another really popular one is there’s only one perfect channel and we need to find it. This concept of there only being one way to win is another example of that binary thinking is that all or nothing thinking. And it’s extremely dangerous, because the truth about growth and go to market is that there’s actually many ways to win.
There’s not just one way. Our ultimate goal as strategists, as executives, CEOs is to really identify the top three really best options and then choose the one that best fits our context, our resources, what we’re currently working with at any given time.
We need to find the one thing that will make us grow. This is what we also lovingly call Silver Bullet thinking, again, really common in the early days, but especially when it comes to go to market and growth. When we’re deciding what programmes to run, or we’re deciding what channels to choose, we’ve got to find the one thing. You might have heard this actually in your meetings. Well, we’re really just trying to find the absolute best or the one thing that’s going to help. And again, this is that binary thinking. What it does is it actually forces our purview to be so focused on just a few different options that we actually forget about the other options that could actually be better for us. And while go to market is particularly overwhelming in the early days, there’s many different things to choose from. If you adopt this mindset, it’s really likely that again, you put the blinders on and you you basically end up doing a Russian Roulette for what you’re trying to ultimately invest in and choose. Binary thinking can be incredibly dangerous in this particular way.
Okay, the indebted. So most of us I think might be familiar with the concept of technical debt be indebted is a particular horror that shows up when we actually have analytics debt. The indebted basically says we’re unable to measure track or really analyse the performance of any particular thing. There’s likely some analytics debt that you currently have in the organisation. And when you are experiencing the horrors of the indebted usually it looks like running a campaign or deciding on a particular customer segment or market but then not actually being able to measure the performance of that after the fact. And you end up encountering this horror.
So it looks and sounds a lot like this. Well, we can’t really measure the performance of our funnel, this is the indebted popping up and showing its ugly face and you know seeping into how we’re currently thinking about the strategy, especially if we’ve run previous campaigns through our funnel, and now we need to make new strategic decisions, but we’ve got the indenter horror popping up. And now we can’t actually do this well, to the best of our ability.
We’re still manually calculating free trial, to paid conversion rate. So this is this is another popular one. There are some organisations no shade, of course, to those who are experiencing this for real, but there are some that are five years, 10 years even, into the journey, and they’re still manually calculating things. And assuming that you’re doing this well, you might not be experiencing this particular horror. But if you’re not necessarily doing this well, you could be making decisions based off of old or outdated information.
We’re not sure what’s broken from a funnel perspective, this one, this one, to me is the kicker, because it basically says you wouldn’t know what was broken at all. And if that’s the case, and you could very well be much like these dinosaurs here, and there could actually be something hurtling towards you, and you just have no idea. And I think that the indebted is one of those horrors that can sneak up on you. But when it is obvious, it is very painfully obvious. And it’s something that we would love to avoid. But that’s what the indebted typically looks like in an organisation. And especially when you are calculating or planning go to market strategy or growth strategy in any kind of way.
Okay, the vague is a pretty sneaky one. And it’s it’s, it’s a horror that is arguably one of the harder ones to identify. But when you do see it, when it is apparent, it is usually pretty crystal clear when it happens. The vague is when you’re not actually really clear on the customer segment that you’re targeting, or the type of strategy that you’re actually implementing the programme that you’re running, it’s not really clear or specific enough. And what ends up happening is you end up with something that’s too vague to actually make any real impact with or decision with. Extremely common when running campaigns when even deciding what customer segments or parts of the market to focus your efforts on. The vague can pop up especially in these areas. The vague can also show up in positioning and messaging. So I think most of us by this point are probably familiar with April Dunford and her work. Her work on positioning if your positioning is too vague. Yes, obviously awesome. Excellent read, highly recommend it. But the vague can pop up in your position and messaging, if it’s too vague, and why should customers ultimately choose you?
This is a real again, all of these are real quotes. “We’re targeting small businesses in the United States”. This is a wonderful example of a particular target market or segment that is so huge, so big, that unless you have an absolute giant amount of budget, it might actually be really hard to go after this giant total addressable market. It’s like a multi if not million, billion dollar market. Not specific enough too vague. Exactly what kind of small business and yes, sure in the United States. But okay, great, like, Well, what about them?
The below picture is actually an example. It’s actually supposed to be a rendering of an elephant. So way back in, you know, mediaeval times for cameras existed, they would describe to artists, what animals looked like as people travelled. And this was supposed to be an elephant. But if you can imagine if we had given that artist a little bit more detail, a little bit more specifics, we probably have a rendering closer to an actual elephant. But that’s exactly what it kind of feels like whenever we have really vague market segments, or we have really vague target audiences. And we’re not really specific enough, we ended up with this not elephant elephant.
“Our strategy is to focus on inbound” We hear this a lot. And what’s interesting is that when you ask for more detail about okay, well, what does that mean? What does inbound mean? What kind of inbound? There’s lots of different kinds of inbound marketing? Does that mean content marketing? What kind of content marketing? For who? For where? Where does that live? Again, this brings us to a go to market strategy, not necessarily being specific enough, we’ve clearly chosen inbound, but we haven’t really specified exactly what or how that feels or looks like. And sometimes that’s for the sake of brevity. But other times it’s because we just haven’t actually thought about it. We haven’t dug deeper. We’re not really sure why customers use our product over others. This is another great example of not really being super clear or specific about why like what the positioning or the messaging should be, especially for the customers that are ultimately really happy with the product. And it’s a common one, but this is again, it It gives me this taxidermy fox energy of okay, like we’re close, but we’re not quite there yet. And we really need to figure out, what is that specific thing? And how can we make this a lot less vague? Again, the vague can pop up in many different areas, but especially in these areas.
Okay, this one is a tough one. I think personally, too, because the vain pops up all the time, especially in team scenarios. And anytime we are together with others, and we’re thinking about, Okay, well, what are the next things we want to try or do, whether that’s tactical or strategic? And also, when we’re thinking about our strategic challenges? What are the things that we should ultimately be considering? This is why the vain likes to pop up. And it’s a tough one because it’s truly a mirror. But what the vain says is, we’re basically making decisions based off of our personal preference and opinion. And we’re actually using that to dictate how a strategy should look and feel and be like, this also applies to tactics. The vein is a great example of using our own personal wishes and desires as a means to define what a customer segment actually wants. It’s going to sound a lot like this. And if this makes you squirm a little bit, then when I feel you, but also, it’s so common, and just yeah, very pervasive.
You’ll hear things like, “Well, I don’t really like this particular channel, when I’m thinking about go to market, and I’m thinking about defining our list of things that we’re going to invest in, in our programmes that we’re going to run to me LinkedIn sucks, it’s a desert, it’s a nightmare, we shouldn’t run it, we shouldn’t invest in it, because I don’t like it”. And this is a perfect example of the vain popping up. And it basically says, we’re going to take our personal preference, and we’re going to apply it to a customer journey that might not actually be real. Your customers might love LinkedIn, for example. But we need to actually validate that, which is actually correlated to another horror that we’re gonna talk about.
Another great example, well, I never use Google, I never go to Google and type in keywords into the search bar. Which if you guys are laughing at that, you should be because that’s probably one of the most common go to market behaviours ever. But there’s plenty of people who don’t. And therefore applying that to a customer journey that might actually be totally disconnected, you might not be the customer. And I would guess that you probably aren’t. However, we do this kind of thing all the time. You hear this a lot, especially when talking about features and what the feature experience should look and feel and be like, of course, there’s intuition and there’s hunches. And there’s, there’s certainly use cases for using our intuition of arriving at a really strong decision. But sometimes we’re literally just kind of plucking, plucking things out of the air that we like or don’t like, and we’re applying it to something that might not actually be real. So we just have to remember to remove ourselves the vain as a horror. It’s really tough sometimes because it is a mirror. And it basically says, if we were to remove the mirror, what would be left. And that’s a really hard thing to do. Like I said, you guys weren’t ready for therapy today. But we’re doing it.
The unknown, okay, so the unknown is a particular horror that shows up when you know that there’s things that you don’t know. And you simply have to either decide to tackle it head on, and figure out how to know, or you deal with it as a risk. But the unknown can be a particularly interesting thing. Because if you know that you don’t know something, and you know that there’s not really a way to know, then it gets labelled as a risk. And it becomes something that can incite fear into the team into the initiative into whatever it is. And sometimes the unknown can actually prevent you outright from doing really anything at all. But the unknown shows up, especially when defining a growth strategy. Or even more specifically, when you don’t know if a particular programme is actually going to work. Or if you don’t necessarily know how best to execute something, there are some things that we can ultimately know. And we’re gonna talk about that. And there are also things that we won’t be able to know, but we’ll have to simply live with it anyway, and figure out how to now. One of the most common phrases I’ve been using is well, I don’t know what I don’t know. And sometimes that can mean doing nothing. So I’ve got so I do nothing in parentheses to indicate that sometimes we let the unknown prevent us from doing anything at all. And this is again, another example of the unknown, creeping up and blocking our team strategically or ourselves strategically from being able to take the next step, which is then to execute or to, before committing 100% to a strategy, maybe experimenting with it.
“I don’t know how to do Google ads.” Okay, so in Google ads is just one example. It could be YouTube ads, it could be Reddit. It could be I don’t know how to do social media, I don’t know how to do cold outbound email prospecting. It could be literally anything, but not knowing how to do something. Well, this is actually an example of the unknown showing up. But instead of doing the research to learn about how best to do it, we we kind of just let it ruin our day. And in the case of this kid here, I mean, granted, he’s a kid, but the instructions were on the, on the packet, he could have remembered to put water in it, you know what I’m saying? But this is an example of, okay, well, here’s an example of something that we don’t know. But there’s plenty of playbooks out there, there’s tonnes of research on this, we probably could learn if we really wanted to spend the time. And before maybe we commit to it, maybe we actually do the research first.
An example of the unknown being addressed head on, “I don’t know what information to react to and what to ignore”. This is a really, really common one, especially in the early days, and also, especially for founders and CEOs who don’t necessarily have a network of people to lean on. But not knowing what information to react to. Well, that’s the unknown showing up. But on the contrary, there’s probably a way to know, there’s probably other people who have been through the experience that you can lean on. So who are the other colleagues, other CEOs or other advisors or consultants you can lean on that can let you know what information to react to? Sometimes, actually, our teams know what information they need to react to, but we don’t know as CEOs and as founders.
So this could actually be a team scenario as well. Maybe, with this particular unknown that we’re experiencing, maybe actually our team has the answer, and we just need to ask.
Moving on to the next horror, we’ve got the unvetted. This is actually a horror that my team deals with directly. So this is what we help a lot of teams with. The unvetted is making decisions and assumptions that haven’t actually been vetted, or based off of any real information or data. Or it’s based off of really old information or data. The unvetted pops up whenever we’re making decisions about channels strategy, or marketing. And sometimes even product onboarding, experience activation, acquisition, retention, you name it, the unvetted shows up.
Usually it looks like, “Well, we haven’t done research in a long time, or we haven’t actually talked to a customer in a really long time, at least in a structured compelling way that enables us to make better decisions. And that leads to a gap. And that gap is we’re making decisions based off of either old information or no information at all, which can be very dangerous, as you can imagine. So we haven’t done customer research in years”.
This is one that we’ve heard quite often and it’s a dangerous one, because it could of course mean that you’re making decisions about the business without up to date information. Even if it’s the same, even if you have a hunch that your customer base is relatively the same, and they have the same needs, there’s also still a huge chance that if it’s not the exact same that there’s new or different opportunities. This is where the unvetted can pop up, because we’re still making growth decisions based off of potentially old or outdated information.
We built the product, but now we’re trying to find a market for it. This is especially common in the extremely early days. But even more so with go to market where the cart has come befor the horse. We’ve made assumptions about what the product should be, but we haven’t actually validated the market for it. This is a great example of where the unvetted can show up and cause a lot of pain. Sometimes some companies get out of this, this wheel very easily or with a little bit of extra effort, they’re able to overcome this, but sometimes the trajectory becomes a lot longer and slower, because they haven’t validated or vetted some assumptions.
Then finally, we get to our bonus one. All right. So bonus. Most of the horrors that we’ve talked about are on the strategic side, everything that we’ve discussed, it happens as we are strategically thinking, planning, researching and making decisions, taking in information and applying it to our current situation.
This last horror, however, is on the execution side. So after we go through our strategic process, there might actually be a few experiments that we run to validate some of our assumptions and to overcome the unvetted. By the time that we get to the undone, we actually get into okay, we actually have a lot of issues executing and this is where the undone I would say arguably can take a strategy instantly if we can actually execute it. But this is what it typically looks like. The undone refers specifically to not being able to execute due to various reasons or inputs.
So this could actually be we struggle with consistency in our execution. And we’re not consistent. We don’t do it enough. We haven’t figured out how to prioritise it. It also looks like not necessarily having a process. It’s very possible that internally the team or organisation struggles with internal operations and actually having a way to get things to ship more or to ship faster.
We can’t seem to get anything done or make progress towards our goals. This could indicate potentially a misalignment between what the executives or leaders in our team are ultimately incentivized to accomplish versus what the overarching company organization’s strategic goals are very common to have a disconnect between strategically what the organisation wants to do and what leadership has currently been incentivized for. This could however, also just simply speak to the team has stretched really thin across a lot of different strategic initiatives. And it’s not really clear what needs to actually get done or for the business to move forward. Again, the undone it can be really sneaky, and it usually points to a lack of operations a process, and then also potentially a lack of strategic alignment and therefore a lack of execution.
What To Do?
So, all of these horrors! I’m experiencing some of them. Maybe also, now that I know about them, I can look for them elsewhere. What are the ultimate steps to overcome them?
The first step is definitely just take a step back and breathe, because you’re not the only one who’s experiencing these. And you certainly won’t be the last, although I will work very hard to teach everyone about these and hopefully minimise reduce them. There’s really three things you need to step back and take a look at.
The first is need to do a check for clarity. So do a clarity check. Are we clear on the goal, the audience the objectives for whatever our strategy is? This could be growth, this could be go to market, whatever it is, are we clear?
The second thing we have to ask ourselves, or our team is, well, what has to be true in order for us to win? What are the requirements that has to happen in order for us to achieve whatever that goal or objective is? And when you guys can answer those questions, then you likely are going to see what moving parts there are. And this is where you have the opportunity to clarify them. And to get even more specific to overcome the vague, and make sure that you are doing your absolute best to overcome anything that is unclear and specific.
Third, we need to focus. So we need to ultimately realign on the strategic initiatives, and we need to realign on what the big bets are. Everything else is noise, especially if you have a small team. The ultimate goal here is to make sure that based off of what you’ve achieved in the very first step was getting really clear on everything. Now we get to say in the focus step, okay, let’s rely on them.
And we get to decide, here’s what we’re going to do. And here’s what we’re going to put on this on the backburner for a while and we’re ultimately not going to be doing these things. That’s the power of focus. Focus is actually freedom here in this step.
Finally, we’re going to do a cohesion check. Is everything cohesive? Is it comprehensive to all of these pieces fit together as best as they possibly can? And have our assumptions been checked? Are we standing on a foundation that we can trust? Or do we not trust this foundation? And if we don’t, why? Because understanding and unpacking that why will ultimately help unpack what strategic gaps or blind spots you might have.
Where horrors occur.
I’ve mentioned a bunch of different places where these horrors can occur. But I think the biggest thing to note here is that they can really creep up at any part of the strategic process. Everything from marketing, to sales, to product to customer success, everything from acquisition to activation to retention, go to market to growth, you name it, it it shows up and I have some specific examples here. These are the places that I’ll be looking for them.
Finally, this is what actually I thought we were getting – two questions to ask. All right, my, this is what I would leave you guys with. So these are the questions that I would be asking yourselves as you go through the process of just checking your assumptions, and also just double checking your current strategy for any of these horrors.
So can our strategy be more precise? In any particular area? Do we have a really clear understanding of our customers and their ultimate jobs to be done? Can the inputs and the outcomes of our activities be measured? Is our approach all or nothing? Or are they actually a series of iterative experiments? Very, very crucial mindset shift here. What single most important hypothesis do we want to test? What’s the one thing we really want to learn from this or to validate? What unknown factor is most important. And this is a tough one because the unknown again, it’s sometimes it’s really hard to know what you don’t know. But if you know that you don’t know it, then you get to decide, do we overcome this? Or do we simply label this as a risk? But the cool thing about again, the unknown is you get to decide also what experiment can help us understand this. If it’s truly something that is very risky.
And then finally, can we actually build an execution machine once the strategy is defined? (This speak specifically to the undone). Can we actually execute against this? And what can we do to make sure that we can effectively execute against this?
That’s everything. Those are all my horrors.
Those are not all of your horrors, Asia, I know you’ve got more.
There’s definitely one or two!
There are! There are lots more. And the problem with horrors is they are multiple and all seem to interact together. You’ve got a session to sit down at the end of these, these two talks to dig into some of those a little bit more. And I think those slides are available. So we’ll put them in Slack if we if we haven’t, but that was a great and very scary talk. I think I won the prize for most horrors. So unless anyone has other thoughts or more horrors that they recognise in themselves, let me know because currently, I’m going to get my own prize. So I’ll make it really good. Brilliant. Thank you, Asia. Really appreciate it. We’ll see you very soon.
Asia first came to BoS as a scholar before founding DemandMaven and was sure paying attention in the sessions. DemandMaven helps SaaS companies and startups reach and exceed their growth milestones – from the first 100 customers to the first 1,000. She helps founders makes sense of marketing and focus on things that count.
Learn how great SaaS & software companies are run
We produce exceptional conferences & content that will help you build better products & companies.
Join our friendly list for event updates, ideas & inspiration.