How your GTM motion impacts your marketing strategy and org chart
Marketing teams should operate (really) differently at self-serve, hybrid, and sales-led B2B startups
Marketing at a B2B company with a self-serve motion compared to a sales-led motion is a different job–almost as different as B2C and B2B. Given this, your marketing strategy, tactics, and team need to be 100% aligned with your GTM motion. But all too often, founders—and even marketers—don’t understand the impacts of a self-serve, sales-led, or hybrid motion on marketing plans.
Here are some obvious signs your product and GTM teams are not aligned with your GTM motion:
You’re following the playbook of your favorite fast-growing startup, but your company has a different GTM motion, audience, price point, etc. and is at a different stage.
You have more SDRs than marketers with a predominantly self-serve motion.
You have both “request demo” and “sign up” CTAs on your website, but you don’t know which audience segments you’re trying to send to which conversion flow.
Your marketing team is spending half their time on outbound and sales enablement while a majority of your customers are closing via your self-serve signup flow.
Your marketing team is spending tons of time and money driving prospects to your website when you do not have a free version and all of your competitors do.
In this newsletter…
This newsletter breaks down everything you need to know about the impact of your GTM motion on your marketing strategy:
Clear definitions of the different GTM motions–without as much jargon
How to audit if you have the right GTM motion
How marketing org charts and roles change based on GTM motion
How your GTM motion impacts your website CTAs, channels, and content
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Go-to-market motion overview
Typically, you hear about 3 broad B2B GTM motions: Self-serve, sales-led, and hybrid. Often people use different terms and conflate the definitions of each.
I actually think about GTM motions in 5 buckets though. Since the vast majority of B2B startups at scale have hybrid motions these days, hybrid means a lot of things. But really there 3 main types of hybrid motions (in addition to pure self-serve and pure sales-led motions):
Self-serve + sales assist: Prospects can sign up for the product and upgrade to other plans on their own. But, based on product usage, sales comes in and sells to the most promising prospects.
Sales-led + self-serve option: Prospects primarily buy through sales, but there’s a secondary path for individuals or smaller businesses to self-serve into a free or low-cost plan or trial.
True hybrid: All of the above. Prospects can self-serve or talk to sales for the initial trial or purchase. Upgrades can either be initiated by the customer or by the sales team. This is very hard to pull off as an early-stage company, but many late-stage products like Figma, Asana, etc. have all of these motions.
No matter which GTM motion your startup eventually wants to have, it’s important not to try to build out multiple motions at once. Instead, start with one and baby step into adding additional motions so you don’t spread your team too thin on the GTM (and product) side.
Note/aside: Many people would call the blue section “product-led growth”. I shy away from this because I think this is a bit of a misnomer and I have too much marketer pride. Plus, self-serve and product-led growth are not exactly the same thing.
Why are these motions called product-led and sales-led, when marketing is highly involved? As I’ve asked before—why are we so afraid to call marketing, “marketing”? This bums me out.
How marketing strategy differs by GTM motion
Really, I didn’t need to write this newsletter, I just needed to share this diagram:
How to interpret this diagram:
When describing self-serve below, I’m referring to self-serve dominant motions, which includes self-serve with sales assist. When describing sales-led, I’m also including hybrid motions that are primarily sales-led with a supplementary self-serve option.
To select your initial GTM motion, look at the following attributes: the product plans/packages you will offer, your average deal size and time to close, and how your audience will adopt your product. If your GTM motion doesn’t match up with these attributes, consider making changes.
Hire marketing before sales in a self-serve model and vice versa. Your sales team should not be larger than your marketing team in a self-serve model–if this is the case, you aren’t getting the full benefits of self-serve.
Marketing KPIs in a self-serve model should be centered around driving product-qualified leads. Lead qualification and scoring should take into account not only firmographics and interactions with marketing assets, but also product data. (Try Pocus for this—I’m both an investor and fan of the product). Marketing KPIs in a sales-led model will be centered on handing off qualified leads to sales.
Different channels work best for different GTM motions. Assuming you picked the right GTM motion for your audience and business, start with inbound channels in self-serve motions and outbound in sales-led motions.
The CTAs–and the mix of CTAs–on your website will be different for different GTM motions. For self-serve motions, your sign up process should be extremely low friction and your product and onboarding process should do a lot of the selling. For sales-led motions, booking a 1:1 meeting is often a big ask, so typically you’ll need “shallower” or “easier” conversion events sprinkled throughout your website too—think events, templates, reports, etc. In either case, you are trying to get an email address or a “hand raise” quickly. (I should probably write a a whole newsletter on this)
The types of content you create and how content is distributed also differ. Once a user or company is in your product in self-serve motions, you can use the product as a content distribution channel and the product itself becomes a “sales enablement” tool. You don’t have this luxury in sales-led motions, so marketing & sales rely more on email to share content. You will also need more gated“lead magnet” content in sales-led motions.
Marketers with the same title at startups with different GTM motions will have different jobs because channels, content types, etc are different. More on this below in another diagram.
How your marketing org chart changes based on your GTM motion
When to hire sales & marketing
Your GTM motion should determine the order of hiring marketing and sales. Assuming the founder takes on some/most marketing and sales responsibilities early on, here’s how I advise founders to think about the order of GTM hiring:
In purely self-serve models, hire marketing first. Marketing hiring will outpace sales hiring for a while.
As you move from a self-serve model to a hybrid model (which almost all startups that start as self-serve do), you’ll start hiring sales.
Hire experts in product-led sales to sell to the most successful and/or high value users of the product.
You can also add in a more traditional, top-down sales hire or team to sell directly to enterprise customers later on. Don’t try to do all of this at once though.
In sales-led motions, your sales team will always be larger than your marketing team.
But don’t count marketing out–marketing can help your business scale exponentially, while sales teams tend to grow linearly with revenue (since each sales rep can only take on a certain amount of meetings and quota).
Hire the right marketers for your GTM motion
When I talk to founders about hiring early marketing leaders, I always tell them that GTM motion expertise is critical–often even more valuable than subject matter expertise.
It’s not enough to just hire someone with B2B over B2C experience, it matters what B2B GTM motion they have experience with. If a marketer has only done marketing in a top-down sales-driven company, they are going to have a really hard time making a marketing strategy for a self-serve product. In most cases, this will be harder to learn than understanding how your product works or understanding a new audience.
Joining a startup as a first marketer or marketing leader without business model and GTM motion experience is a risky move–as is hiring a marketer for these roles. If you do find yourself in this situation, make sure you understand the differences in marketing strategy and throw out your playbook!
Marketing roles have different definitions depending on the business model
The diagram above sums up the differences. I especially see product marketers shocked by the difference in their job when they switch to a startup with a different GTM motion. Sales enablement plays a much larger role in the job at a sales-led startup; working with the product team on onboarding and driving engagement plays a much bigger role with self-serve.
As a marketer, you should also consider the impact of a startup’s market size on the role. If you’ve been at a company with a huge TAM (total addressable market) and then switch to a company with a much smaller TAM, your job is going to differ. I saw this first hand going from Asana to Carta, and it was definitely a shift! At one company, you are casting a wide net. At the other, you targeting very specific accounts, working hand in hand with sales. I’ll let you decide what you think is more fun and interesting as a marketer, for me it’s definitely the former.
Before you even start marketing…make sure your GTM motion makes sense for your business
Marketing leaders often don't feel empowered to raise concerns about GTM motion, but you can’t do your job effectively if your GTM motion isn’t going to work–so better to voice your observations!
Here are some more things to take into account when thinking about GTM motion as a marketer or founder:
Product adoption: How does the phrase “bottom-up” fit in with these GTM motions?
Bottom-up and top-down are ways products are adopted, not necessarily GTM motions. But, typically self-serve is the best GTM motion when a product is best adopted by end users first.
In top-down businesses, a (typically higher-up) decision maker purchases the product on behalf of the end-users (typically through a handheld sales and onboarding process).
In addition to understanding your GTM motion, it's important to know if your buyer and end-user are the same person and who exactly you are marketing to–this impacts your messaging, channels you use, etc.
Free products: How does freemium fit in here?
We used to call most self-serve “freemium”, meaning there’s a free product with self-serve buying and upgrade paths.
Self-serve and freemium aren’t exactly the same thing because you can have a self-serve product without a free plan. You can also offer a free “product” without a self-serve motion.
Now, all the fastest growing startups regardless of their business model offer something value add for free–whether that’s a lightweight version of your actual product, a “sidecar” product (like HubSpot’s Website Grader), a template, or a high-quality gated asset.
Sales cycles: Should sales cycle and price determine my GTM motion?
Average contract value (AVC): Typically, high velocity (short sales cycles, fast time to close), low contract value products lend themselves to self-serve motions and vice versa. This is changing in some categories, and self-serve motions can still work for expensive products with certain audiences.
Time to close: The more complex a sale and a decision, the more a sales-led motion makes sense. The shorter the time to close, the more likely the purchaser doesn’t want to take the time to talk to sales and just wants an immediate solution to solve their current pain.
3 main drivers of marketing strategy
I’ve written a lot of words about aligning everything around your GTM motion. But really, there are 3 drivers of marketing strategy. These are the inputs you need when picking the channels you’ll use, selecting the content you’ll create, and figuring out who to hire.
Beyond GTM motion, here are the other 2 drivers of marketing strategy:
Audience, market, and product analysis: You might call this bucket “product marketing research” but really it’s the foundation for all of marketing. Building an effective marketing strategy starts with deep audience and market knowledge, then deep product knowledge, and not the other way around. Everything you do needs to make sense for your audience specifically.
Marketing advantages: Marketing advantages are dynamics in a company’s business, product, or market that inherently drive growth. Think of these as tailwinds or catalysts for growth. Identify your marketing advantages and lean into them to grow much faster. I wrote a whole newsletter (and we built our whole fund thesis at MKT1 Capital) around finding these advantages and accelerating them to win as a business.
This combination of inputs is never the same across companies, so following another company’s exact playbook will never work. I see so many marketers plug-and-play strategies from one business to the next. I see founders reference marketing strategies from entirely different companies and want to copy them exactly. Don’t make this mistake.
EVENT REMINDER: “Understanding the 3 key drivers of marketing strategy” on 4/13
Next week, we’re hosting a 2-hour workshop from 9-11 AM PT. We’ll dive deeper into how to use each of these 3 drivers to shape your marketing strategy. If you are leading a marketing team, it will be a pivotal conversation to help you do more with less and prioritize what matters.
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