Why you should be looking at market stage to ensure sales development strategy success

Posted March 21, 2018

Guest post by Max Mead, Co-founder and CEO of Acceleration Labs

With Sales Development, Market Timing Is Everything.

A lot has been written about when a company should launch a Sales Development function. Whereas it used to be standard that you’d launch Inside Sales after your Vice President and Account Executive team were in place, it’s increasingly common to launch Sales Development at an earlier stage to help the founders test, refine, and scale their sales model from the ground up. 

In addition to considering a company’s stage and maturity, what about the stage and maturity of the market that your company operates in? To ensure success, you’ll want to shape your Sales Development strategy, goals and even metrics to be contextual within the market stage you operate.

Let me elaborate — here are the key market stages:

Innovator / First Mover

In this stage, there is no market for your products yet. As such, the function of sales and marketing is creating a vision for a new way of doing things, bringing disruption to a process with something that currently doesn't exist within the ecosystem or organization. This was what we did with our alma mater TubeMogul in the early days — we built intrigue and aspiration for transforming a broken media buying process, created a vision for how much better the process could be, and developed an entirely new market. If you're in this stage, you'll find early adopter clients, but expect long sales cycles to educate and build awareness with more reluctant slow movers — accounts that have champions will need your help educating other influencers in their organizations. You’ll need to build an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) without reliance on historical data, and it won’t be surprising that your earliest customers will be those with corporate cultures that encourage innovation and risk taking and take particular pride in their market leadership.

Key Characteristics of Sales Development Approach

Education, inspiration, and vision; content resources such as ROI calculators and activation frameworks to enable your champion. It’s a great use case for Account-Based Marketing, with awareness campaigns, events, customer referrals potentially accelerating success within target, first-mover accounts.

Early Adoption / Early Majority

The market has been created, but most of your addressable market hasn't adopted a solution. There's already excitement, curiosity, and intrigue about the type of product or service your company provides. This is the lowest hanging fruit for a company; in this market stage, Sales Development's role is sniffing out interest and establishing credibility that you're a winner. You’re not aspiring to change people’s minds, but finding people already in the market or eager to learn and talk. This is a great market to be in and the goal should be casting as broad a net as possible to capture and capitalize on latent interest or accounts already in-market.

Key Characteristics of Sales Development Approach

Conveying why you’re best in the category; shorter sequences that allow higher volume outreach and ability to identify champions and influencers; and credibility through relevant case studies. Outreach can be largely email and call-based, and metrics should be more focused on shorter-term measures of success than other market stages.

Late Majority / Saturation

Most participants in the addressable market have a solution and are less interested in evaluating new solutions. Needless to say, this is the most challenging market stage, and even if you have a differentiated product, you'll be dealing with entrenched solutions, so buckle up as you'll need to change hearts and minds. Sellers may have success looking for needs that are unfulfilled in attempts to establish a foothold for broader conversations within the target company; KPIs and timeframes should adjust, and the market feedback gained from Sales Development, often disregarded, should be considered an especially important component of success, e.g. “Come back in 6 months,” “I've got a solution already,” “Not interested at the moment but will let you know if needs change,” etc. Developing and mining this info for deeper meaning and nurturing the accounts who give you those insights may be critical for the company finding an entry point.

Key Characteristics of Sales Development Approach

Philosophy and goals should be building goodwill, bracing for the long-term and staying top-of-mind. Consider lengthening your cadences and extending time frames between touches to look more like drip campaigns, especially if coupled with targeted, personalized connections with key decision-makers (direct mail can be effective). Content should be thought leadership-oriented; metrics should recognize interactions and feedback as success and future entry points. Thoughtful account planning and collaboration between Sales Development, AEs and Execs can be impactful.

The strategy for this stage has similarities with the First Mover stage, but with more focus on how your company can uniquely solve a prospect's problems, rather than building a vision for a new way of doing things. Partnership programs that allow you to leverage existing components of your prospect’s tech stack may work especially well in prospecting and messaging.

Pro-tip: Technographics

Something to consider is Technographic profiling. It allows you to apply these market stage concepts at a company target level as well, as each company will be at its own stage of adoption within the overall market stages. Technographics let you see the “maturity” of a company based on the type of solutions the purchase and use. For example, you might treat a slow-adopting company like a "media minded" prospect differently than the more sophisticated "programmatic savvy"; profile, even once most of the market has evolved. There are now some pretty solid tools that allow this type of profiling for many industry verticals, including Pathmatics, Datanyze, Bombora, The Big Willow, and Apptopia for the Adtech/Martech category.

Final thoughts

While resources and use cases will be different for different verticals, the important point is that Sales Development can be a critical part of your go-to-market strategy at many different stages. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, however, and understanding and incorporating the context of your company’s environment into your strategy will be key to success.  

I'm sure there are other effective ways of thinking about company and market stages which we'd love to hear. Leave a comment!

Max is co-founder and CEO of Acceleration Labs, an advisory firm that helps B2B SaaS companies implement transformative account-based sales development systems. Prior to Acceleration Labs, Max was SVP of Enterprise Sales at TubeMogul, where he built specialized new business and client services sales teams that lead to the company’s acquisition by Adobe in 2016. Max is an AdTech and corporate development veteran and lives with his family in San Francisco.


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