Most Startup Marketers Make This Fatal Mistake

As a startup, part of an efficient go to market strategy is making informed assumptions. We simply don’t have access to all the data that larger, more established companies have access to. As a result, we are required to make decisions that are lesser informed, and we are forced to rely on instincts and gut feel.

While necessary at times, this can be a fatal trap. Marketers and broader go-to-market teammates too easily fall back into the ease of “I think” and “I feel” and “there’s no way I could know that and so I won’t bother digging deeper”. Rather than an asset, your assumptions become a crutch for faster, lazier decision-making. A healthy and necessary amount of assumption grows into perpetual bad habit, which grows into broad and sweeping claims about your market and your buyer.

I recently chatted with a marketer at an event who said his company was investing a large portion of their marketing budget into a customer referral program. I asked her what the impetus was for making such a large bet at this stage in the company’s lifecycle. The program would cost roughly 85% of the total Q4 marketing budget. She said team learned their industry was highly relationship-based and their was no way they could build scalable demand generation programs without a referral..

As I dug deeper, it became apparent that several early, albeit demoralizing, failed campaigns had shifted the mindset of the team. They felt the opportunity to open cold opportunities was futile. Meanwhile, they were having success closing founder-led deals and had recently opened up some large opportunities based on several investor referrals.

I respectfully mentioned that founder-led sales and investor referrals often account for the lion share of early revenue traction for businesses like his (that is more common than uncommon in all enterprise SaaS GTM models). He was immediately defensive and brushed me off as though I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Maybe I don’t.

And maybe the the referral program was a brilliant idea. In fact, I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t work!

What struck me, however, was how convicted he was that his industry was so directed by relationships that a non-referral-based marketing program would be surely be unsuccessful. This is a sweeping and massively impactful statement and yet his team was so convinced that they weren’t willing to consider a different view.

In general, this is a phenomenon known as Inside View, in which you believe that your specific and unique situation is, well… specific and unique. When in actuality, an unbiased third party observer would see much more subtle differences between you and others. Inside View is both prevalent and dangerous across almost all business and personal situations, but is especially detrimental to startup teams in go-to-market and product design roles. It is also gasoline to a dangerous assumptive decision-making fire.

To those of us (like me) standing on the outside and looking in, it feels obvious. But keep in mind that those of us in startups exist in a world where calculated assumptions are not only useful, but absolutely critical. Not mention we are encouraged, if not mandated to simply be different. By our leadership team, by our investors, by our prospects and customers. You can see how easily these thoughts can bubble, and later explode, into decisions where they just don’t belong.

My challenge to startup marketers (and I am most certainly including myself) is to challenge your thinking. Not to the point where you paralyze your decision-making function, but if you hear yourself making repeated and unconditional statements like “my industry is more relationship based than yours” or “our customer won’t respond to advertising” or “our space is too crowded to focus on SEO”, stop. Take a breath. Talk to someone who has been there before. Consult with someone outside of your industry. At least, for a brief moment, question your assumption.

About Egan Montgomery

Egan Montgomery Cartoon Image Egan Montgomery is a SaaS marketer and writer based in Indianapolis. I work at High Alpha, a Venture Studio that conceives, launches, and scales next generation enterprise cloud companies.

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