Go-to-Market Experimentation: a Game of Hot or Cold

High Alpha's Go-to-Market Manager, Cameron McAllister, shares his thoughts on go-to-market experimentation.

Article by
Cameron McAllister

A solid go-to-market strategy will enable you to easily and repeatedly attract customers who are willing to try your product and stay and pay for that product moving forward. An even better go-to-market strategy will incentivize those customers to invite their friends to your product, acting as a catalyst for growth.

But, there's no template for the perfect GTM strategy – in fact, it's nearly impossible to develop the "right" strategy the first time around. I can't think of any successful SaaS business that hasn't had to evolve in how they go to market as they've continued learning about their customers and how they use their product. (If you have any examples, let me know!)

That's because go-to-market is all about experimentation. It's about testing hypotheses, failing, learning, and improving along a path to achieving – and maintaining – product-market fit. For early-stage founders, this often begins with developing a set of initial assumptions in order to go out and test.

Developing Assumptions

Your first set of assumptions will often reflect your initial point of view on the market. While you might have an idea of what your initial product or solution will do, it's crucial at this stage to focus more on your audience's behaviors and less on your product idea. This is to avoid confirmation bias and to get hyper-focused on your customer.

Your initial assumptions can probably be used to answer the following questions:

  1. Who's your target market? Perhaps you have a handful of potential audiences that you've considered. Each of them might have different needs and use cases for your product. Document each of these audiences, even if you're unsure which one will benefit the most from what you're building. 
  2. Why should your product appeal to them? For each of the candidate audiences you identified, can you hypothesize why your product would appeal to them? What are the unique pain points for each? If this is especially tricky for any of the audiences you've outlined, you're already making progress in defining your ICP.
  3. What value can you provide to them immediately and in the long term? As you dive into your audience's pain points, ask yourself how you can attempt to solve them. Is it possible for you to provide value even before you have a product built? If so, you have a great start on developing a sellable pre-product solution for beta customers.
  4. Where are these people located, and how do they behave? Based on your audience assumptions, you can formulate a plan for how and where to reach them. There are likely many micro-experiments to be conducted across various channels and tactics. 
  5. What's your message? How are you going to catch their attention? What messages can you test in your outreach to make you stand out in the eyes of your audience? 
  6. How do you scope & price your offering? You might not test this one right away, especially if you're not sure what it is you're offering, but it can be helpful to think through a few options to put in front of your audience to see how they respond.

Testing Your Assumptions 

Once you've detailed your initial assumptions about your audience and their preferences, it's time to see just how wrong you are. As mentioned above, your assumptions are absolutely incorrect. The only way to determine how close you are is through experimental research. 

Experimental research, by definition, includes:

  • A hypothesis (your assumptions).
  • A variable that can be manipulated by the researcher (perhaps your audience segments).
  • Variables that can be measured, calculated, and compared (their responses or actions).

These experiments can take form in many shapes and sizes, depending on what you're testing, and some common formats can provide quick & excellent learnings right out of the gate.

  1. Face-to-face interviews — some of your most valuable early feedback will come from good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations. Take a look at the assumptions you've formulated and develop interview questions to help you validate or disprove your thinking. Then tap your network for introductions. 
  2. Cold Outreach — direct outreach can be dual-purpose. Not only are you able to reach & experiment with unfamiliar audiences, but you can also gauge interest in conducting more face-to-face interviews. We've often found that people are more than willing to offer their time and feedback, especially if they don't feel like they're being "sold to" right out of the gate. 
  3. Websites & Landing Pages — your early website provides an excellent testing ground for measurable signals, as you have a captive audience taking unguided actions in response to only the content on your page. You can test feature sets, messages, pricing, and special offers to see how your audience responds differently to each. 
  4. Marketing campaigns — ad platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook are excellent for amplifying messaging, positioning, and audience experiments. It's incredible how quickly you can learn at scale with simultaneous A/B tests across multiple audience segments. Just be careful not to test too many variables at once. It can be easy to go in circles and lose sight of the signals you're after. 
  5. Surveys — if you're feeling pretty confident in your target audience, you may want to survey them for a more in-depth analysis. Be sure to have a defined objective, and remember to be clear, direct, and specific with your questions.

A Game of "Hot or Cold" 

Through all of your experimentation, and especially early on, it's important to remember that the primary purpose of running these tests is to capture clear signals that will guide your ultimate go-to-market strategy. You're not necessarily looking to grow when you're just beginning to validate your assumptions – instead, you're simply learning how to grow in ways that best suit your customer. 

I like to think about this process as a game of "hot or cold." With every experiment you conduct, you should feel a little warmer or colder as you validate some assumptions and disprove others. And eventually, as you adjust and iterate, you'll find yourself in a burning hot position with a better understanding of your customer and, as a result, your product. 

Successful experiments are not always going to gain you a new customer or increase ARR. Still, they will adjust your internal temperature, up and down, and over time should leave you in a warmer position than you started. 

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