Sales StampWhen a tech start up has found product-market fit and developed its product to a point of viability, when the funds have grown tight from all of the mis-starts and pivots, when the investors call to check on progress twice a day rather than just once, a first-time founder’s mind lapses into a trance-like state and his mouth speaks only two words –

“Must sell.”

What happens next is where the problems start. The founder, perhaps backed by a fresh round of investment, hires a sales force. Sometimes that means hiring a VP of Sales, sometimes it means hiring some channel partners with experience in that market, usually it means hiring a direct sales force. The founder then repeats, “must sell” to the newly minted sales force, pricing is set to make the gross margin that the board of directors expects to meet forecasts, and the sales force goes forth to sell.

Hopefully the reader senses a problem here. It is quite amazing that founders often do not (the sales team may, but they won’t say anything about it because they would sound like they can’t do their job). The problem is the need for product positioning, the place to sell the product, and promotion of the product to go along with the pricing – the 4Ps of ... Marketing.

The price that has been set is neither market-based nor indicative of product value. Without guidance the sales team shotguns the place to sell is shotgunned by the sales team based on their individual best instincts. Promotion is limited only to what the marketing communications team (if any) can understand and convey by interviewing the tech team. And positioning varies and becomes unfocused as Sales tries all tactics to make sales. Additionally, the precious market feedback achieved during customer discovery ceases to reach product development, or becomes confused by unfiltered individual customer demands pressed by Sales. Without planned marketing, extensive and repeatable sales will likely fail to materialize.

Technical founders, in particular, fall prey to this desire to sell without marketing. They lack an understanding of marketing and feel that it is unnecessary, or something that would be nice to have if they had more time and more money. Unfortunately, the boards of directors of many tech start ups comprise members with similar backgrounds, and lack of understanding. They don’t understand marketing. They don’t really understand sales, either, but they know that sales have to happen so they demand focus there.

So why do so few founders of tech companies understand marketing? It is because they think they understand marketing. They think that marketing is advertising, social media blurbs and search engine optimization. They may consider themselves to be saavy, with some understanding of content marketing. These functions are the face of marketing in the Internet age and they are important, but they are only a fraction of the marketing needs to successfully sell tech solutions. Start ups need to implement product marketing and strategic marketing with (before) the sales push.

Strategic marketing and product marketing integrate the overall marketing plan with the product and business strategies. These marketing functions build on and feed back into business strategy rather than simply deriving from it as do the marketing communications functions. The result is proactive marketing. The result is that Sales gets a partner who knows major and ancillary markets, market direction and individual company’s needs. A partner who can speak to the start up’s plan and why it is relevant to Sales’ prospects needs.

In short, the full marketing package at a start up increases sales effectiveness by providing complete market and customer visibility coupled with product planning and development of business strategy.

Not convinced? Look at what most start up founders are missing in their rush to sell without a comprehensive marketing plan:


Marketing Discipline

Typical Characteristics

What Many Think of as “Marketing”

Marketing Communications (Marcom)

What many think of as “Marketing.” Limited to tactical customer-facing activities. The Promotion in the 4 Ps of Marketing.

·     Interface to Public Relations

·     Branding implementation

·     Website management

·     Tradeshow management

·     Press releases and customer collateral

Content Marketing

Generally a marcom sub-discipline. Development of content relevant to customer needs and applications indirectly used to:

·     Generate sales leads

·     Build brand value

Web/SEO/Social Media Marketing

A marcom sub-discipline focused on website and social media to:

·     Generate sales leads

·     Build brand value


What Most NEED to Think of as Marketing

Product Marketing

Generally contains upstream (internal feedback) and downstream (customer facing) elements. Functionally resides between strategic marketing and marcom, taking the shorter view of strategy and a more detailed view of marcom.

·     Value pricing

·     Competitive analysis

·     Product definition, development and launch

·     Product strategy

·     Market research

·     Market requirements

·     Detailed, technical, marketing materials

·     Customer engagement/Sales support

Strategic Marketing

Strategic marketing seeks to implement business strategy in the marketing process. It works closely with product marketing on the longer view of pricing, product and place (channel).

·     Product & service road mapping

·     Value proposition development

·     Customer discovery

·     Market opportunity

·     Market penetration strategy

·     Market channel strategy

·     Partner strategy

·     Business Plan

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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