Do You Have GTM Specialness? Linear Versus Exponential GTM Scaling in B2B Software
Selling software can be a slog. Whether you are whale hunting or trying to ramp a large inside sales organization to sell at “high velocity,” the resources, effort, orchestration, playbooks, and leadership is a non-trivial Rubiks cube that will make even the strongest tech entrepreneur’s head spin.
That is, unless your GTM has “specialness.” We define “specialness” as any unique, not-easily replicable attribute which allows a company to scale exponentially, as opposed to linearly. This is typically the magic behind a $1M à $200M ARR Tech Crunch headline, or really any $1 — $10M+ in 6 months story.
A model that scales linearly is not necessarily a bad one. Often you hear comments such as “we have a sales machine,” “we have an equation that works,” “we know if we put X in, we get Y.” This is great and is the path many have taken towards successful outcomes.
No disrespect against these models. In fact, the best that most software companies can ever hope for is a profitable and predictable unit economic equation such as $0.80 of sales & marketing expense returns me $1 of new revenue. We can work with that!
“Specialness” on the other hand can come in all different shapes and forms and effectively “bends” the laws of gravity that we all know to be true in linear scaling. This is how you get CAC payback periods of 0 and 1 month, for example. Some examples of GTM “specialness” include:
~ Ideal Customer Profile ~
The attributes of a vendor’s buyer persona are critical for sales strategy and to isolate i) who the individual is that is using your product and simultaneously ii) who is the individual / group tasked with the procurement process. By dialing in the make-up of your target audience, there are four natural landing points that can become your GTM secret sauce:
PLG is a hot term but for good reason. When scaleups can lead with product and make the experience and impact so sizable that the user advocates for growth within the organization, you start to shift from using people/dollars for account expansion, to offloading the task of “account growth” to the product itself which has already been fully built and is costless in terms of S&M expenses. This is hyper scalable!
2. Enterprise Top-Down Contracts
Don’t sleep on massive enterprise contracts. These come with ALL the disclaimers and disclosures around sales cycle, cost to acquire, etc. but if a small scaleup is able to secure a few $1M, $3M, or $5M+ contracts, it can absolutely support a hockey stick projection. The rub here becomes predictability — one whale contract can only take you so far. However, if you can turn that one whale into three and find a playbook that can be run multiple times, the results can be explosive.
3. Consumption-Based Pricing
Consumption-based pricing obviously cuts both ways (if users are not consuming, revenue can fall off a cliff). That said, if product<>market fit is established and the business has lots of loyal customers, consumption-based pricing reduces tons of friction in the upsell process and can lead to highly efficient growth. This was most notoriously seen at cloud infrastructure companies like AWS and recently Snowflake. If the product is valued and consumed, consumption-based pricing really helps to streamline growth. When the product is highly valued, consumption-fueled growth can be nearly costless.
4. Consumerism — B2B2C and B2C2B
In B2B2C models where the end-consumer is being monetized, it’s possible to offer an application that consumers love SO MUCH, that they adopt/use/buy it like there is no tomorrow which is where we see your typical B2B growth curve start to inflect as you might expect in some consumer models who have viral products. A great example is BNPL solutions where the B2B sale is easy/low-stakes but since the product itself is strong (who doesn’t like deferring payments), consumption really sky rockets. In a B2C2B model, you might sell to consumers who then allow the product company an inroad to make the B2B sale. Business productivity applications such as Asana benefit from this dynamic.
~ The Sales Relationship ~
Maintaining a consistent stream of customers that come knocking on your door makes life a heck of a lot easier for the lives of reps rather than having to work through prospect lists to spin up cold emails. The obvious trade off here is having control over who is making the decision to show up at your house and keeping a steadfast discipline over your definition of ICP (both from a size and vertical standpoint). A few thoughts on the nature of sales relationships:
Giving prospects a taste of automation for the first time or a slicker and easier to navigate user experience has the immediate benefit of demonstrating product value (getting the proverbial foot in the door); however it also allows the vendor to collect customer usage data and optimize roadmap moving forward. As in any working relationship, the upfront dialogue is critical in laying out the expectations from both sides, including length, paid vs. unpaid, and the list of features/modules that will be made available during the time.
2. GTM Channel Partnerships
While extremely difficult to spin up. If you can successfully leverage someone else’s salesforce to sell your software — things can get extremely interesting (look no further than the Zapier case study for understanding the leverage this can provide). The key is finding the right partners and enabling those partners to effectively sell your product. Partner enablement is hard, but if it works, it can really scale. At PeakSpan, we saw this at Inference and Ecwid who earned 50%+ of new revenue through a combination of several channel partnerships. Both businesses saw growth inflect and were eventually acquired by Five9 and Lightspeed.
3. OEM/White-Label Partnerships
Arguably stronger than a GTM relationship is one where your product is being embedded in the core product that your partner sells. Thus, their entire sales organization is selling your product whether they know it or not. Depending on the size and fit — this type of partnership can assist a scaleup in reaching hyper velocity.
~ The Marketing Funnel ~
Marketing is where magic can really start to happen. If you can generate massive volumes of inbound deal flow, especially if the prospects are ICP and high-intent buyers, the remainder of the GTM motion gets a heck of a lot easier.
1. Organic Traffic
Good ole fashion organic growth! For sales reps, the hope is that it feels like shooting fish in a barrel (given the high-intent nature of inbound)! Inbound leads can be driven by content, social virality, industry notoriety or a plethora of other factors. If marketers can find ways to drive traffic organically to the company website at scale, this is the simplest way to drive down CAC and to start bending that linear GTM growth curve, especially for businesses that have self-sign-up and/or self-onboard.
2. User Generated Content
With an explosion of B2B software reviews and software review platforms, we have seen companies time and time again, leverage this channel for efficient customer acquisition. When a prospect enters a review-site with an intent to buy, you best believe they are clicking on the vendors with the highest ratings and best volume of reviews. If traveling up to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor and looking for some breakfast, try googling “best breakfast in Bar Harbor” — your first two results are Café This Way and 2 Cats and what is shown next to these names on Google is 4.6 stars and 4.4 stars, with 1.3k reviews and 1.1k reviews, respectively. There is a steep drop off in options thereafter and I bet you can guess which two restaurants get 80% of the breakfast foot traffic in Bar Harbor. For what it’s worth, 2 Cats is better!
3. App Marketplaces
Massive vendors such as Shopify, Salesforce, and Zoom have access to droves of potential customers all looking for product extensions. If the product integrates and is offered through an app marketplace and garners strong interest/rating, you might benefit from being the top / most reccomended option which certainly can lead to exponential growth! Similar to what we discussed under “software review site,” if you search for the “best returns and exchanges software” on Shopify, you will see that Aftership is running away with the show with nearly 2k reviews and an average rating of 4.6 stars.
4. Brand Equity
Having a brand that everyone knows and loves plays into #1 above but deserves its own segment. Having true brand equity is priceless. It’s hard to measure but if achieved, can lead to outlier growth for long periods of time. Apple, Disney, McDonalds — while they all spend on marketing, this is to continue bolstering their positioning as being associated fully with technology, entertainment and fast food, respectfully. When you take a step back, these brands simply carry so much weight and get an immediate seat at the table when consumers are making purchasing decisions (i.e. you are either getting an iPhone like everyone else, or otherwise have considered it and deliberately chose Android).
These strategies pretty much all fall under the “easier said than done” umbrella. The reality is that very few companies have “GTM specialness.” How are you planning to unlock yours?