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Finding Go-to-Market Fit

Bob Tinker & Tae Hea Nahm

With Sam Westmore

Updated November 2, 2023


The Guide to Unlocking Growth:
The Champion’s Hero Customer Journey

Unlocking growth is the pivotal point for every startup. Unlocking growth marks the transition from survival to thrival.

Unlocking growth is also what makes a company hot: investors compete to invest, great people aspire to work there, and large incumbents seek partnerships. It’s the startup dream come true. Conversely, a company that fails to unlock growth struggles to garner any interest.

Initially, I believed that companies would unlock growth by achieving happy customers (attaining PMF), assembling a superstar GTM team, and increasing the sales and marketing budget. However, I soon realized that although a superstar GTM team could excel at scaling growth, they struggled to unlock it. Furthermore, I discovered that PMF alone was insufficient, as one-off deals closed through the heroic efforts of founders were not repeatable or scalable.

Companies like MobileIron successfully overcame heroic founder selling with a one-page playbook that outlined a repeatable GTM process with a “wow” factor. This approach, which we called GTM Fit (building on the concept of PMF), helped some companies unlock growth and become unicorns. For example, in our Survival to Thrival podcast, April Koh, co-founder and CEO of Spring Health, discusses how her company achieved GTM Fit and unlocked growth by mapping out the GTM playbook and finding the wow moments.

However, the playbook and wow alone were insufficient to unlock growth consistently. While good playbooks have simple, repeatable plays that even new employees can execute well, they are flawed by overlooking the fundamental issue of what customers want and why. For example, a playbook may work well until the customer’s urgent pain changes.

The answer to unlocking growth is to combine what teams do, as outlined in the playbook, with what customers want, as outlined in the customer journey.

Unlocking Growth is like Surfing

To visualize this guide, think of a surfing metaphor: the wave symbolizes customers and their journey, while the surfer represents the company. Unlocking growth is like catching the wave, the critical transition from paddling to surfing. Paddling is painful, requiring significant effort with minimal progress, much like companies burning an enormous amount of cash for minimal growth. Where the surfer’s tool is their surfboard optimized for a specific wave, the company’s tool is the Customer Journey Playbook tailored to their customers’ hero story. Once a surfer catches the wave, they effortlessly surf a long distance: it’s pure momentum. Similarly, once a company unlocks growth, good leads grow organically, big deals close without any CEO intervention and the entire company is capable of supporting the GTM plan.

Catch the wave in 3 steps:

1. Understand the Hero Customer Journey of your Champion: Read the Wave

2. Build your Customer Journey Playbook: Choose the Best Surfboard for the Wave

3. Tune your CJ Playbook to fix GTM problems: Tune the Surfboard 

Step One
Understand Your Hero Customer Journey: Read the Wave

What do customers want?: The Champion’s Hero Customer Journey

To grasp customer desires and motivations, we developed a nine-step customer journey focused on the Champion

Why the Champion? The Champion is the primary driver and owner of the relationship with the company, even though the customer interactions involve multiple personas, such as executives, economic buyer, users and influencers. This journey is called the “Hero Customer Journey,” because it culminates with the Champion becoming a Hero through promotion or industry recognition. Companies should play a supporting role in helping them become heroes.

The 9 Steps

1. Urgent Pain: The Champion’s journey starts with an Urgent Pain, prompting the Champion to meet with the company immediately. It answers the question: why buy now instead of waiting? People sometimes confuse “pain” with “Urgent Pain.” Addressing this is critical to generating fast-closing leads. If there is no urgent pain, the GTM will be very tough.

Question: What is the Urgent pain? How many customers share the same Urgent pain?

2. Date Wow: The first of two types of Wows, the Date Wow is a feature or service that captivates the champion and makes them believe in the company. Using a dating metaphor, inbound sets up a blind date, and the date wow helps secure follow-on dates and causes the champion to pick you. In other words, Date Wow drives conversion at the top of the funnel. Wows are picked by the customer and not the product team and may differ from what the product team takes pride in.

Question: What is the Date Wow? What future Date Wow is product working on?

3. Marry Wow: The second type of wow helps your Champion get approval from the boss or committee. The Marry Wow often differs from what excites the Champion (i.e. the Urgent Pain and Date Wow) and drives conversion at the bottom of the funnel. Continuing with the dating metaphor, the Marry Wow assists in getting the family’s support to the Champion’s marriage.

Question: What is the Marry Wow? What future Marry Wow is product working on?

4. First Contract: While you may celebrate the contract as a win, your Champion is anxious. They may be taking a career risk by bringing in a new vendor.

Question: Did you call the Champion right after signing the contract to reduce that anxiety?

5. First Value: This is the first of three adoption milestones. First Value occurs when your Champion celebrates their first tangible benefit from the product, prompting their peers or boss to validate the Champion’s recommendation for your startup. It is not the same as onboarding completion. Fast time to First Value is strategically critical, as it is the best Date or Marry Wow and reduces churn. Also, churn is likely if the Champion loses confidence before First value.

Question: Do you have a clear definition of First Value? Are you measuring time to First Value? How do you shorten time to First Value?

6. Standard Workflow: The second adoption milestone, Standard Workflow, occurs when the product becomes an integral part of the customer’s workflow — with enough users actively using the product in their workflow. Standard Workflow is a critical milestone for renewals, because renewal is likely once the product becomes Standard Workflow. Also, churn is likely if the Champion leaves before achieving Standard Workflow.

Question: When does your workflow become standard to the customer (i.e. what is the minimum number of active users and what is active usage)? To identify at risk customers, what customers have not achieved standard workflow? How do you shorten time to Standard Workflow?

7. Full Deployment: This final adoption milestone is accelerated by faster adoption. To drive faster adoption, companies can measure adoption over time with Net Usage Retention (NUR). NUR also drives and is an early indicator of Net Revenue Retention, a critical business metric. Once Full Deployment is achieved, the Champion celebrates their success.

Question: Are you measuring Net Usage Retention? Is your NUR above or below your target NRR? Have you identified the right usage metric? How do you drive NUR upward?

8. New Use Cases (Cross-Sells): Selling New Use Cases to the same Champion resembles upsells and can enhance the Champion’s responsibility and position. In contrast, cross-selling to a new Champion even at the same customer may require restarting the entire new Customer Journey and appear threatening to the incumbent Champion.

Question: Is the same Champion in charge of the New Use Case?

9. Hero: The end of the Champion’s Customer Journey is not signing a multi-year huge contract. Instead, it is achieved by your Champion becoming a Hero. This occurs when they get promoted or become an industry celebrity by driving metrics that matter to their board or CEO, gaining more responsibility over more Use Cases and driving Full Deployment. Notably, early adopters of marketing technology are now modern CMOs. Early adopters of mobile technology now run end-user computing. Early adopters of the cloud are now VPs of infrastructure. Assisting Champions in becoming Heroes turns them into enthusiastic advocates, inspiring others to follow the same path, thereby driving demand and creating a big wave.

Question: Do you have Hero stories? (Note: these are not the same as customer case studies)

Step Two
Build your Customer Journey Playbook: Choose the Best Surfboard for the Wave

Combining Hero Customer Journey with Playbook is Adding Customer Empathy to GTM Execution

To make the Hero Customer Journey actionable, we combine it with the playbook to create a Customer Journey Playbook (CJ Playbook). The Customer Journey Playbook combines the internal GTM playbook (defining what teams do) with the external Hero Customer Journey (representing what customers want). This fusion of customer empathy with GTM execution creates magic: the fusion repeatedly and rapidly advances your Champion through their journey to becoming Heroes. Moreover, it attracts potential Champions, and together drives demand. Mastering this process unlocks the growth flywheel that will transform your startup. 

How do you build the Customer Journey Playbook?

We build the Customer Journey Playbook through a four-step process:

  1. Outline the Hero Customer Journey of the Champion to define customer empathy.
  2. Align the Hero Customer Journey with your GTM stages in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. This aligns what the customer wants to your internal GTM process, which is tracked in your CRM.
  3. Identify the advancers/blockers for each stage of the Hero Customer Journey by grinding through the last 20 to 50 deals. This deal-by-deal grind is laborious, but it identifies the advancers, blockers, customer journey milestones, and GTM patterns. This deal grind also makes the process data-driven rather than opinion-driven. 
  4. Document the playbook in one page to keep it simple and repeatable.

Customer Journey Playbook implications

The Customer Journey Playbook does more than just unlock growth. The Customer Journey Playbook:

  • Provides a common framework and vocabulary for understanding and communicating the needs of the champion customers.
  • Is easy to measure. For example, Urgent Pain is simply the number of days between Awareness and the First Meeting.
  • Cultivates a customer-centric culture by aligning the entire company around making Champions Heroes.
  • Breaks down silos between different departments and drives cross-functional execution.

Step Three
Tune your Customer Journey Playbook: Tune the Surfboard

Even after adopting the CJ Playbook, some companies still struggle with their GTM and need to fix a GTM problem. 

Typically, the responsibility for fixing the GTM problem is assigned to the functional department in charge of the stage where the problem occurs. However, this siloed approach often fails because the root causes of the GTM problem extend beyond the control of a single department. A more effective approach involves forming a cross-functional team, since these causes frequently involve multiple departments. Unfortunately, many cross-functional efforts fail due to conflicting opinions on how to fix the GTM problem.

The Hero Customer Journey can guide a cross-functional team in identifying and agreeing on solutions for the GTM problem. Fixing the GTM problem usually entails addressing issues within the Hero Customer Journey. For example, if the GTM problem relates to poor conversion after the first sales meeting, the typical siloed approach would assign the problem to Sales, while the other departments breathe a sigh of relief and focus on their own priorities. But, sales alone can’t solve it. The Hero Customer Journey predicts that sales needs a compelling Date Wow from the product team, leads whose Urgent Pain aligns with the Date Wow from the marketing team, and fast time to First Value and Hero stories from product and customer success. Consequently, the Hero Customer Journey guides a cross functional team in fixing the GTM problem. 

Furthermore, the Hero Customer Journey breaks down silos by aligning the entire company behind the goal of turning Champions into Heroes.

Impact of Unlocking Growth

Build and execute your Customer Journey Playbook to unlock growth and become a surfing unicorn!

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