Throughout my several decades-long career in the software industry, I have encountered scores of companies that have had great ideas, but never achieved success. They checked all the boxes: they hired a talented team, built great products, established a global presence — yet they were not nearly as successful as they could be. Why not? The complex mix of strategy, messages, products, and overall execution, known as their ‘go-to-market strategy, just wasn’t right. That is one of the primary reasons that over 90% of startups ultimately fail. Unfortunately, just one flaw with a company’s go-to-market can make success seem like a distant mirage in a desert. Why is it so hard to get your go-to-market right?
There are many critical factors to a successful go-to-market, but I’d like to focus on some of the most common, yet acute, flaws I see. Most of these are based on my experience in the software world, but they apply broadly to almost any business.
Is it the right product?
I have been part of more than one company that had not yet achieved what is known as “product-market fit.” This means that the solution is not carefully aligned with the pain, needs, and desires of the customer. Often, it takes time to get these aligned, but out of sheer enthusiasm, many founders, companies, boards, and investors hit the gas pedal and blow through their capital before they have answered these critical questions. In short, everyone is “drinking the Kool Aid,” just not the customer. I recently met a CEO who had hired four sales reps before many basic — and critical — questions were answered about the customer, and well before a product-market fit was established. I’ll go on record to state that “this may not end well!”. Make sure you test for product-market fit and understand the problem you are solving well before you start to scale your business.
Are you knocking on the wrong door?
Are you targeting the right buyer? Can you easily get to them, and do they have the authority and the budget to acquire your product? Every additional approval stage you need to go through makes your sales cycle longer, and less likely to succeed. Is there urgency to buy your product in order to eliminate a painful problem, or is your product in the dreaded “nice to have” category?