On Thursday 24th January 2019 Erevena hosted a breakfast event to explore key themes that should be considered when building an effective, B2B go-to-market organisation

Erevena has a strong heritage in partnering with software companies that are scaling rapidly and in a recent breakfast event we focused the conversation around building effective go-to-market organisations in B2B SaaS environments. Our three guest speakers were Dean Forbes (CEO at CoreHR and previously CEO at KDS (which exited to American Express in 2016)) Rabin Yaghoubi (most recently CCO at Babylon Health and ex DoubleClick/Google) and Patrick Malaperiman (VP Sales EMEA at Netbrain and ex Twilio and ServiceNow) who shared their insights.

The conversation highlighted 3 major phases on the road to success:

  1. Building brand and credibility: the early phases of growth focused on closing recognisably logos as early as possible (the common opinion in the room was that, when it comes to growth-stage businesses, you cannot underestimate the power of perception!). This often involves trying different things to help you identify your biggest opportunities, experimenting as a young company with B2B, B2C and partner strategies to pull in big-name customers that help raise awareness and credibility.
  2. Focusing on the end game: the second phase comes when you understand more about the desired ‘end game’. This is when you have more clarity on what you sell and it’s true value for your customers. If you have been selling to SMEs to build validation but you know the real value and opportunity is at the enterprise end of the market, it is at this point that you need to start making tactical decisions that help to build a plan which gets you there. This involves hiring people who have seen the journey before and understand that business model. It involves marketing your business with the right messaging. It also involves saying ‘no’ to customers and prospects when what they are asking for doesn’t sit within your core offering.  
  3. Supercharge growth: Once you are clear on phase two, it is time to ramp up. This often involves moving into new markets and exploring additional channels that help you to reach your perfect customer-base on a wider scale.

How do you utilize the channel effectively? 
When it comes to channel strategy, partnerships can be a very effective way to accelerate growth, especially in regions where your product isn’t localised and you can’t yet justify a physical salesforce on the ground. But it is imperative that you choose the right partners. It’s likely you won’t be short of offers (Dean has received up to 50 requests in a single day from potential partners at CoreHR) but they should be qualified rigorously if you want to see meaningful results. It all starts by understanding your customer at a deep and intimate level. This should provide the foundation for any aspect of go-to-market planning and building a channel strategy is no different. Some of the key questions to ask include:

  1. In which regions can you identify potential customers, but you don’t yet have enough traction to build a business case for hiring local sales execs?
  2. Does the partner in question actually engage with the target customer base, in that region?
  3. What percentage of that partner’s revenues could your product feasibly become (is there enough mutual value to be gained)?

How do you utilize the channel effectively? 

When it comes to channel strategy, partnerships can be a very effective way to accelerate growth, especially in regions where your product isn’t localised and you can’t yet justify a physical salesforce on the ground. But it is imperative that you choose the right partners. It’s likely you won’t be short of offers (Dean has received up to 50 requests in a single day from potential partners at CoreHR) but they should be qualified rigorously if you want to see meaningful results. It all starts by understanding your customer at a deep and intimate level. This should provide the foundation for any aspect of go-to-market planning and building a channel strategy is no different. Some of the key questions to ask include:

  1. In which regions can you identify potential customers, but you don’t yet have enough traction to build a business case for hiring local sales execs?
  2. Does the partner in question actually engage with the target customer base, in that region?
  3. What percentage of that partner’s revenues could your product feasibly become (is there enough mutual value to be gained)?

The mistake that many businesses make is expecting (or requiring!) to see a partner spend 50% of their time and resource pushing their company’s offering when they never actually had the right product fit in the first place. The learning is to qualify hard and choose 2-3 partners in key regions that you can trust and where there is enough mutual motivation to realistically expect results.  

What role does marketing play in scaling a B2B business?

Often, in early-stage companies, marketing is approached more reactively that strategically. But ad-hoc events and a compelling website only get you so far. Initially, you can find yourselves selling the product rather than the benefits of using it, but as you learn more about what your customers actually want, creating and communicating a clear value proposition and lines of differentiation are essential. Clarity of message and key benefits is also essential to enable your sales team.  You have to balance what customers want today with where you would like them (and your business) to be in 5-10 years’ time. This means your marketing messaging needs to be constantly reviewed and sometimes re-set. Also highlighted was the importance of not only marketing to your corporate customers but also to their employees (the end-users). Customer success plays a vital role in this. Driving the correct adoption internally is the only way to stay (and grow your presence) in a large account. The old adage really is true; it’s far more cost-effective to keep a customer than to acquire one.

When to pivot?  

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Whilst the above might represent an ideal plan, many early-stage Saas businesses can end up in ‘phase 1’ for too long or, worse still, move into ‘phase 2’ but head in the wrong direction. A number of companies have needed to pivot away from their initial route to revenue to enable the business to fulfil its potential and continue to scale. It is not uncommon for young software companies to build bespoke solutions to make customers happy and build reputation, but it isn’t a model that scales. The objective should be to create the mechanisms for scaling a repeatable business with a consistent value prop that is easy for G2M teams to sell to customers.  It is imperative that growth businesses are prepared to pivot when required, even if it involves admitting you got it wrong first time around.

In summary, every business has nuances and in the early stages of a growth journey, you often have to do whatever it takes to get flagship logos on your roster. But the trick to building a sustainable and scalable go-to-market strategy is to identify (as soon as possible) what your perfect customer looks like. What is it that you actually provide that your perfect target customers have a real need for and will not only buy, but also keep long-term? Once you understand this, you can target your messaging accordingly. You can build a marketing plan that reflects this realisation. You will be able to direct your customer success team towards driving adoption in that direction. And, you will be well-positioned to use this data to rigorously qualify your channel partners to maximise relationships that drive value.