Go-To Marketing Strategies for Startups

September 22, 2020 Kim Walsh, Global Vice President, Startup and Growth Partnerships at Hubspot

Go-To Marketing Strategies for Startups
Sorry, your customers don’t really care how cool your tech is.  They care about how it will make their lives better. That’s why the GTM key is as simple as keeping your customers happy.


If any of your pre-startup days were spent waiting tables or working retail, five simple words might instantly transport you back to that time: The customer is always right. 

If you got into the startup game because you were sick of restaurants or malls, though, we’ve got some bad news. The guiding principle of your go-to marketing strategies shouldn’t be too far off: Keep your customers happy. 

It seems pretty straightforward. But too many startups can’t figure out why they’re unable to sell their product. Sometimes, it’s because they believe that product is so brilliant it barely needs explaining. They can forget to take critical steps like talking to customers about what will make them happy, internally aligning departments to work together to meet those customer needs, and building metrics to track customer satisfaction.


Without those moves, explains Kim Walsh, HubSpot’s Global Vice President for Startups, even the most brilliant product won’t be able to attract buyers at the rate your company needs to grow. 


First things first: remember that customers have tons of options if you can’t keep them happy.

The startup world isn’t the wild west anymore—odds are good you’ll have tight competition no matter your product, and your buyers know it. Plus, we’re living in an age of unprecedented information access from places like online review sites, social media, and the information you put out there about your company. 

“Seventy-seven percent of potential customers have done research on your product or service and your brand before they’ve even reached out to you, before they’ve chatted with you online, before they’ve given you an email,” says Walsh. 

That means buyers have options and control. Rather than trying to wrestle it from them, startups must adapt to a new way of going to market. 

So how do you adapt? Start by building trust. 

Sure, your potential customer has done their homework. But just because they have some good info about you doesn’t mean they’re ready to trust you enough to jump into doing business. 

Go out of your way to build it by reminding yourself that before you give them answers they can trust, you have to understand their questions.

“When you think about being a marketing person, it’s really about asking how you can help. What problem is your customer trying to solve? What are they doing research on? And then how can you help? [You] have to help them as a trusted advisor,” says Walsh. 

That may mean adapting your strategies as you go, but remember that flexibility is part of the beauty of being a startup. Being able to evolve and cater to your customers’ needs will show them that when they come to you with a problem, they can trust you’ll find the solution.

But don’t think that providing a single solution will keep your customer happy in the long run. 

That’s a lesson many startups tend to forget. Many are understandably focused on growth at the beginning, placing more value on getting as many customers as possible than keeping those customers around. That may lead to impressive growth stats for your first few quarters as a company, but it won’t lead to long-term success.

“Acquiring a customer can cost anywhere between five and 25 times more than retaining one,” Walsh says, noting that rapid acquisition can lead to a counterintuitive funnel with marketing on the top, generating leads. Sales might close them and land customers, but without follow-through, they start to trickle through the bottom of that funnel.

“Customers aren’t the output,” Walsh continues. “A customer has to sit in the middle. Customers are everything.” 

Keep them “everything” by tracking their happiness. 

Customer success indicators look a little different at each startup, but figure out the metrics that work for you. Maybe you’re hoping your customers are happy enough to use your app twice daily, or perhaps you want them so enthusiastic about your product that they send promo codes to five of their friends. 

When they’re not meeting those metrics, hit them up with questions again. Send out surveys, connect with them via social media, or ask your salespeople to reach out to figure out what would make them a more satisfied customer. 

Remember that getting to market requires alignment across your teams.

A successful campaign to recruit customers is worthless if customers show up to your site, ready to buy, but turn away if their user experience is frustrating or confusing. 

That’s largely because, more than ever, today’s consumer loves—and is used to—simplicity. Applications like one-click mobile ordering have made buying processes seamless. But what happens when one part of your team makes that process clunky? 

Get your entire team on the same page about what you want your customer’s journey to look like. Instead of letting product or engineering teams be brilliant tinkerers churning out stuff they think is cool, make sure they’re developing products or updates based on direct customer feedback. When you’re hiring salespeople, look for ones who value helping customers over blindly acquiring them. Sit down with the finance team to design and prominently display a straightforward pricing strategy that doesn’t nickel and dime, have hidden fees, or become so confusing that it turns away casual prospective customers. 

Walsh suggests assigning the job of “voice of the customer” to a member of your team who already goes out of their way to help their teammates and your buyers. You can use a position like this to allow the “customer” to speak up in all-hands meetings, helping team members across departments hear and internalize the need for keeping your consumers happy.

If you’re a lean startup or a solo founder, these might be moves you’re already making as a tiny, cohesive team. But remember that getting to market isn’t just a job for one department, and that’s a critical principle to keep in mind as you grow. 

But don’t just align in meetings. Long-term success means holding each other accountable and tracking both success and failure. 

Walsh recommends keeping a service-level agreement (SLA) between departments to clearly outline the roles of each team, as well as nail down which parts of the customer journey you want to improve. 

For instance, if the marketing team has an SLA holding them to 300 generated leads per month, the sales team will have to document following through with 100% of those leads. Not only will each team know who is doing their part, you’ll have data to provide insights on why only a handful of those leads panned out, or which strategies led to closed sales. Maybe you’ll realize that a trial activation led to easy acquisitions but barely any retention, and be able to adjust your strategy to boost retention. 

After all, retention is your ultimate goal. 

“If you focus on product market fit with customer retention and customer happiness, you’re going to grow at 100% year over year, and your revenue retention is going to be 100%,” says Walsh. 

That way, as you grow and start to think about growth, you’re designing new products and services with your loyal customers in mind, rather than having to launch entirely new, expensive campaigns to attract a host of new customers. 

With those comprehensive marketing strategies in mind as you launch and grow your business, you’ll be able to attract and keep the kind of customer base who doesn’t have to argue with you about being right—they’re simply going to be happy. 

Previous Video
How to Conquer Bias and Master the Fundraising Pitch
How to Conquer Bias and Master the Fundraising Pitch

While fundraising is one of the most important parts of your startup journey, it can also be the most daunt...

Next Video
Welcome to Day One
Welcome to Day One

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single video. Begin your startup journey with AWS by watching t...