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Finding Go-to-Market Fit

Bob Tinker & Tae Hea Nahm

With Sam Westmore

Updated July 18, 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 consistently unlock growth. While the playbook drove repeatable actions, it failed to address the fundamental issue of what customers want and why. In other words, the typical playbook lacked customer empathy.

Introducing the Champion’s Hero Customer Journey to Define Customer Empathy

To understand and articulate customer desires and motivations, we developed a specific 9 step customer journey focused on the champion. The champion represents the primary driver and owner of the relationship with the company, even though the company- customer interactions involve multiple personas, such as executives, economic buyer, users and influencers. We called the champion’s journey the “Hero Customer Journey,” because it culminates with the champion becoming a hero through promotion or industry recognition.

Adding the Hero Customer Journey with the Playbook means You are Adding Customer Empathy with GTM Execution

To make the Hero Customer Journey actionable, we combine it with the playbook to create a Customer Journey Playbook (CJ Playbook). 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. It’s some of the most fun a startup leader will ever have! 

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 with the Hero Customer Journey in 3 steps:

  1. Understand the Hero Customer Journey of your Champion (Read the wave)
  2. Build your Customer Journey Playbook (The right 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

The above chart illustrates a specific 9 step customer journey of your champion, which we call the Hero Customer Journey.

The champion’s journey starts with them experiencing an Urgent Pain, which is the reason why your potential champion needs your product immediately. It answers the question: why buy now and not 6 months from now? Addressing an Urgent Pain is critical to generating leads, as it motivates the champion to want to meet immediately and starts the champion on their journey with the company. Without an Urgent Pain, the potential champion rarely starts the journey.

“The Wows” come next and answer the question: why pick you? Wows advance the champion to the next step in the customer journey. There are two types of Wows: the Date Wow and the Marry Wow. The Date Wows assist in getting a date —i.e. converting the prospect into a champion at the top of the funnel. The Marry Wows assist in getting married —i.e. helping your champion get approval from the boss or committee at the bottom of the funnel. Wows are picked by the customer and not the product team and they are frequently distinct from what the product team is most proud of.

Then, there’s First Value. It is not the completion of onboarding, which is an internal process. Rather, First Value occurs when your champion and their company obtain enough value from the product, such that the champion’s peers or boss validates the champion’s decision to choose the startup. Reducing the time to First Value has profound strategic implications for the company’s GTM.

Finally, what is the end of the champion’s customer journey? It is not signing a multi-year huge enterprise contract. Rather, the journey ends with your champion becoming a Hero by getting promoted or becoming an industry celebrity by driving metrics that matter to their board or CEO. 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 transforms them into enthusiastic advocates of the company. Aspiring champions who hear these hero stories are inspired to embark on their own journey toward hero status.

With these 9 steps, the Hero Customer Journey elucidates the desires and motivations of the champion, effectively defining Customer Empathy. The Hero Customer Journey also establishes a shared framework and vocabulary within the company to discuss customer empathy and GTM.

However, for the Hero Customer Journey to be more than just a useful framework, it must be measurable and actionable. Measurement is easy: for example, Urgent Pain is simply the number of days between awareness, or when the potential champion becomes aware of the company,  and the first meeting.

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

To make the Hero Customer Journey actionable, we incorporate it with the playbook, creating a Customer Journey Playbook (or CJ Playbook for short). 

The Customer Journey Playbook combines the internal GTM playbook (what teams do) with the external Hero Customer Journey (what customers want). It integrates GTM execution with customer empathy. The CJ Playbook documents simple, repeatable plays that guide the champion from Urgent Pain to Hero, prioritizing the customer’s success rather than just focusing on revenue targets.

Traditional GTM playbooks document a company’s internal marketing, sales, and customer support processes, providing a framework for teams to drive repeatable actions. While good playbooks have simple, repeatable plays that even new employees can execute well, they are fundamentally flawed by overlooking the customer journey. For example, a playbook may work well until the customer’s Urgent Pain changes.

We build the Customer Journey Playbook through a 4-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 (what works), 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. Keeping it simple makes it repeatable.

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

  • Cultivates a customer-centric culture by aligning the entire company around making champions heroes.
  • Provides guidance for fixing GTM problems

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 1st 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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