B2B Startup Success: Run Go-To-Market Sprints, Not Marathons

By Jay Hallberg 

It’s widely understood that not getting to market quickly enough is a recipe for disaster.

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Still, startup teams often spend a considerable amount of time fleshing out intricate campaigns only to discover that the audiences they’re targeting do not want or need what they’re trying to sell.

When startups race with a single marketing tactic for weeks on end, time is monopolized and often wasted. A far better approach for early-stage companies is to run go-to-market sprints, not marathons.

The benefit of running sprints

Ash Maurya wrote in Running Lean, “Startups that succeed are those that manage to iterate enough times before running out of resources.”

Jay Hallberg, general manager at Shasta Ventures
Jay Hallberg, general manager of Shasta Ventures

Iterations require experiments, small tests that improve upon previous attempts. This is why running go-to-market sprints rather than racing a marathon makes sense in the startup world, especially when testing product-market demand. While this approach has been adopted extensively in product development—with Agile and Lean methodologies becoming de rigueur over the last 10 years—the application of these principles on the go-to-market side has lagged.

After they’ve had a period of founder-led sales, in which people they know are the primary customers, most freshly funded companies embark on “marketing marathons” where they expand their marketing and sales teams. This takes a long time as the team builds out its demand-generation system and the complex plans that go along with it.

Conversely, during sprints, which last three to six weeks at most, one marketing tactic is tested in one segment, such as a specific piece of content to heads of compliance in well-defined target accounts in a team-based approach. If it is deemed successful, the tactic is repeated. The tactic itself can also be tweaked. For example, different messages can be used in future iterations to find what is most effective.

The idea is the startup that has achieved product-market fit but has not yet built a repeatable go-to-market motion keeps running sprints until it finds something that works, then repeats that working pattern. Similar to the way engineering teams run short sprints to alter course quickly, sprints help startups scale and grow sooner rather than losing precious time investing in lengthy marathon-like campaigns.

Best practices for running sprints

Sprints require a combination of marketing skills, simple management processes, and an agile mindset. Among the skills needed: The ability to identify your ideal customers, the problem you solve, and the value it provides versus your competition; create effective messaging and engaging content; execute outbound demand generation to get the word out; and sales experience to convert interest to a new customer. If you don’t have all of these skills on your team, you can find consultants and coaches who can contribute.

The best process for running sprints is a team-based approach that quickly identifies the attributes of an ideal customer and creates a manageable target account list of companies that share these attributes. Then, develop an understanding of the buying committee and process in these accounts.

Next, create one to two pieces of content such as a webinar or video that would resonate with this audience. Identify a channel for reaching these people whether by email, phone, direct mail, or social media—and then get started! Monitor the results and make sure you keep a record of what you’ve done so existing and new team members can gain context quickly and learn from previous market tests.

Lastly, embracing Agile and Lean go-to-market methodologies to deliver your first “minimum viable marketing test” is a great way to move faster toward results than getting bogged down in the marketing marathon.

At Shasta Ventures, we’ve witnessed that early-stage companies who embrace this approach quickly eliminate unfavorable market segments, messages and tactics, and move quickly on to the right mix and the bigger sales pipelines that go with it—in more concentrated repeatable markets—faster, while spending less.

Jay Hallberg is a general manager at Shasta Ventures, where he leads the Shasta Elevate program. Elevate advises the firms’ portfolio companies on how to achieve rapid growth. 

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.

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