Product, Customer and Story-led Growth
The GTM Newsletter
This is the first edition written from out new GTMfund HQ.
We’re growing up.
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I was always a huge proponent of remote-work (I’ve been working remotely for over 6 years and enjoyed the many benefits).
But as our team grew, my thinking switched from “what’s best for me?” to “what’s best for the team?"
How can we collectively all do our best work, learn and grow the fastest?
And so far, it’s been the best move that we’ve made in awhile.
…besides half of us getting sick on the second week (I blame post-covid weak immune systems).
What solidified the decision for me was a Tweet I saw that said?
“Would you want your competition to be in-office or remote?”
My answer was that I would want them to be remote.
It’s just too hard to compete with highly motivated people, all working together in close proximity towards the same goal.
Whichever side of the debate you stand on, it’s a good thought experiment to run.
Anyway, let’s get into it.
Customer, Product and Story-led Growth
This week I’m going to highlight three different stories from founders and revenue leaders that aren’t using the traditional sales-led motion that we often discuss in this newsletter.
A heads up: some of these stories are a little longer than normal but certainly worth the time. I feel like context matters and there’s enough one-liners & platitudes all over LinkedIn/Twitter BUT if you just want to get to the meat, you can always just jump to the “How to take action/learnings” sections.
Let’s start with: Product-Led Growth.
This one comes from Alex Wettreich, Head of Sales at Writer.
“Writer is the generative AI platform built for enterprises - but we've always made it easy for prospects to self-serve, and our enterprise leads typically begin with a trial start.
We get thousands of trial starts per week, and so we rely heavily on enrichment to filter that firehose down to more manageable levels so we know where to focus our sales calories.
One of the filtering criteria we apply is seniority within our ICP, so when the CMO of a fast-growing midmarket SaaS company started a trial, we were on it.
Firmographic fit - check.
Target department - check.
Target persona - check.
"I got this one", I told the team (that's what the English call being a "glory hunter").
Took a look at his product usage so far - not super encouraging.
I reached out and, per true best practice, I:
a) personalized my outreach (I'd previously worked in a similar space and commiserated with him about the challenges of marketing to it),
b) inferred some potential initiatives and shared how Writer addresses them and
c) offered to help him test the product. OK, he was a CMO, but was also a user....he could have asked for a demo, or had someone on his team try it - but he wanted to do it for himself. Gotta respect that.
The response was disappointing.
"Wish you the best of luck, but I don't see this getting adoption here. I will pass it to my head of content but that team is slammed, so she'll let you know if there's interest".
We glommed onto "that team is slammed" - to highlight how Writer would address that very problem, and then shared a personalized 2 min Loom showing Writer generating an on-brand blog post on one of their key topics.
The next morning we had an email from his head of content. She was up for taking a look but a) had no budget and b) had tried similar tools and was not impressed with the quality.
We turned her boss's trial into a guided trial, after confirming her Why Do Anything, the business impact addressing it would drive, her decision criteria, and where she could reallocate budget from if the product met her quality bar.
It met her quality bar.
A week later, budget was in fact getting reallocated, and a couple weeks after that, they were a large enterprise customer.”
📈 How to take action/learnings:
If you're a PLG shop (or use free trials), prioritize outreach to ICP starts from above the power line. I'm convinced if we'd waited to reach out to the CMO, his interest would have been in the rear view mirror and he wouldn't have engaged at all. In 2023, indications of interest from people with the power to reallocate budget are worth even more.
Earn a response. The thoughtful hypothesis of value in the initial email and the discussion of business impact for them were specific enough that this CMO felt we were owed feedback on them...and that opened the door.
Show, don't tell. They'd tried tools like ours before and weren't impressed. But a 2 min personalized Loom was low-investment enough to get them to click, and backed up the claims.
PLG doesn't need to mean hands-off: generative AI is a new space, and sometimes customers get overwhelmed by all the open-ended possibilities. Where you've confirmed meaningful business impact and executive sponsorship, leaning in to help them see immediate value from the product is a good use of a human's time.
Next up: Customer Led Growth
Sam Senior, CEO/Founder of Testbox shares a story on customer-led buying.
Huh? What does that even mean?
I’m glad you asked, Sam will break it down below:
“Our relationship with Zendesk actually started before I started TestBox.
One of the major reasons that we started TestBox was that someone I was living with was buying a Help Desk platform and their VP of Ops had forced them into basically buying Salesforce Service Cloud.
Fast forward 18 months later, they still haven't implemented it fully. It was never the right choice. They got all their money back from Salesforce, and from all the implementation partners, and they ended up shifting to Zendesk, but this whole time all they were saying to me was, I wish I'd been able to test and compare these products side by side.
It would never have worked with Salesforce, I would have bought Zendesk straight out the gate. That’s why I started Testbox.
How could I create a fantastic productized evaluation experience that allowed you to actually get your hands on the products and figure out in a confident way which one was right for you?
So we started there and I first started talking to Zendesk in 2020, to be a channel partner for them. And bring them on as an early vendor to the TestBox marketplace.
We released our first version of the TestBox marketplace in June 2021 with Zendesk integrated. We closed our first partner deal for Zendesk just a couple of weeks later, which was fantastic. We quickly became their biggest SMB partner in the Americas within 12 months of us starting with them.
And so this whole time we've been thinking ourselves as a channel partner for them, and then there was a bit of pull from the team around how we may actually be able to help them in their sales process?
Our Head of Partnerships had been meeting with their partnerships person and suggested the idea of chatting with their SMB teams to see if we could help them be more successful selling Zendesk which kicked off the early stages of a commercial discussion.
Their Director of SMB immediately got it "Wow, this seems like a super interesting product. I get it, I can see all the value that you'd be able to give to my customers. Let's run enablement session in a couple of weeks."
We made it happen and we were initially going to start with 20 reps in a few week.
The next day I got a call, "You know what, I have a massive deal that's in the works. Right now. It's five times larger than my team normally works. And the IT team has told us that they want to spend three months doing a proof of concept here to figure out if Zendesk is the right platform for them. And I told them we have this product TestBox that could help you. It has hundreds of datapoints and It's going to give you all the pre configuration setup for Zendesk so you can feel what it's like to use a product for three to six months already."
I said Sure, let's try it. Let's help you out.
And then we added the two IT decision makers, who then end up spending 13 hours inside TestBox, where they're able to really experience their platform in full detail and get all the value they wanted out of it.
Nine days later, they said yep, we want to go ahead with Zendesk.
They saved literally months of time in their deal cycle, they saved 13 plus hours of that sales reps time having to spend that educating and discussing with those buyers and they were able to close a much larger deal because they're able to give this customer this fantastic buying experience where they could hand over a TestBox of Zendesk with all the data points, with all of the workflows already pre configured.
And that's why we call it the customer led buying experience, because it's all about giving the customer what they want to enable them to be successful.
So we took that and we enabled that individual team of 20-30 reps. Since then we've spread out to four teams throughout the Zendesk SMB sales group.
Now we're talking about a larger, broader scale implementation across the organization that we're working on at the moment.
So it all basically started from the inspiration for TestBox, to us becoming a partner, becoming their largest SMB partner, and now helping them close more deals efficiently in the sales team.
There's more to come but it's been super exciting building the relationship with them.”
📈 How to take action/learnings:
It’s often easier to set up channel partnerships with large enterprise companies than it is to acquire them as a customer but, when done right, it can be a valuable entry point to convert them into paying customers.
“I said Sure, let's try it. Let's help you out.” - I love this line, a give-first mentality is always the right move and is a trust accelerant.
Let your customers buy the way they want to buy.
Trials can get a bad rap for slowing down deal cycles but with new tech categories emerging, like Testbox, that allow the customer to interact with your platform the way they want to, with their data and their workflows - trials have the opposite effect.
We’ve got some awesome subscribers to this newsletter and I recently received a note from one of them with some super helpful tips on story-telling.
They were really good so I said “Tell me more?” and we jumped on a call.
His super power is: Story-led Growth
I guarantee that he’ll hook you with this one:
“Recently, at my son’s 3rd grade parent teacher conference, my wife and I were introduced to the concept of “bricks and dots”, a strategy our son and his buddies are using to summarize the main ideas for their upcoming book reports on George Washington and other historical icons.
Most of us know these bricks and dots more commonly as paragraphs and bullets but, for sadly obvious reasons, “dots” has become a much preferred term for 9-year old school children.
Regardless, this simple strategy with a new kid-friendly name is certainly an important skill to learn because, when it comes to communication, not only have these handy little “dots” been around since about the 19th century, they’re of course still very much a ubiquitous part of today’s typography in both business and in life.
As GTM leaders, we use (and sometimes abuse) these “dots'' all the time. From emails and social posts to internal team updates and even high-stakes sales presentations, we use them to summarize our big themes, emphasize key ideas and help our audience quickly understand all the hero stats that make us awesome.
But, at a time with endless access to information and artificial intelligence tools making it crazy easy to curate and summarize the information we need faster and more accurately than humans ever could, these little summary superstars have quickly and increasingly lost their luster.
Why? Because for ourselves and our audience (prospects, customers, stakeholders, employees, etc) we no longer need help finding more dots (aka, more information).
Nope. What people want today is an easier way to connect the dots they already have so they can make sense of the bottomless pit of confusing information and take action faster.
It would be reasonable to look to AI as the answer but, as impressive and buzzworthy as tools like ChatGPT and others have become, we know these tools are only as good as the prompts they’re fed and the information they're able to pull from.
And, as has been true since the beginning of time, information alone (no matter how good it is) isn’t enough to compel an audience to action. While our buying brains may justify our decisions with logic and reason, real decision making power comes from good ole fashion human emotion. Even for the toughest of critics, where the heart leads, the head will follow.
This is especially true when having conversations IRL (for my Mom, that’s “In Real Life”) with other human beings whose primitive noggins work just like ours. Spoiler alert, this means we still can’t simply rely on an artificial crutch to do all our work for us. I know, I know, ugh!
So, for GTM teams to stay ahead of the competition, it won’t be about who can use AI tools best. It will be about who can leverage AI to make the best use of the time they have to create the type of meaningful human-powered connections that turn information into impact.
Sales guru, John Barrows, described this reality perfectly in a recent conversation with Scott Barker (hey that’s me) on the The GTM Podcast. John shared an ethos he adopted from outspoken marketer, Gary Vaynerchuk, of “being the last mile”.
Essentially, in a world being transformed by AI and bots, instead of trying to fight the bots that are going to be better than you at a basic writing level and, for that matter, most anything that is routine or consistent (cadences, sequences, etc), “be the last mile”. Right before that AI generated email goes out, humanize it. Right before you make a call informed by AI curated research data, humanize it too.
I love this practical “last mile” idea from John and Gary. However, when it comes to “performance communication” that I define as “instilling in others the confidence to act”, I think we as GTM leaders need to be more than just the “last mile”. I believe we must create deep human connection in both the FIRST and the LAST mile. Let me explain ironically with a few “dots”.
● In the first mile, when our audience’s guard is up the most, it is absolutely critical to be as uber human as possible. This stage involves all of the initial touch points we have with our audience to establish trust, empathy and a deep understanding of what they want, why it matters and what they’re up against in order to figure out how we can help. This comes from intentional listening, deep curiosity and authentic human connection.
● The middle part of the journey is usually where any data gathering and any analysis needed to generate potential solutions is done. While we’re still very much involved here, this is where AI can step in and help speed things up.
● Finally, the last mile is when we have an opportunity to climb out of the data doldrums, connect the dots and bring the proposed solution to life in a way that simplifies what our audience needs to take their next step. In other words, it’s when we make it human!
During this time of continued uncertainty, the real power in all of this humanization talk is to give buyers of all types what they really need now more than ever…CONFIDENCE.
The confidence to know that their next move, their next decision to say “yes” is worth the risk. The kind of confidence that comes from trust, a deep sense of being heard and the proof that what they need is what you have to offer and, more importantly, that your solution has helped others just like them get through the same or similar situation.
Ok, sounds good but how do we as GTM leaders make this happen, right?
We need to look no further than the greatest human connection and performance communication tool ever invented. A tool we’ve all known since well before we were in the 3rd grade and one we’ve intuitively used ever since. One we use as comfortably at the bar as we do over Thanksgiving dinner yet one, ironically, we sometimes struggle to integrate naturally into our daily business communications. And, lastly, a tool that I wish I knew a lot more about prior to getting into the GTM game over two decades ago.
That tool is the proven and transformative power of strategic storytelling. When used correctly, stories well told can become the human-powered “X-factor” in all of your daily communications.
Why are stories so important in business? Stories help us simplify complex and confusing information and connect the dots in ways bots never could. Stories foster community and a sense of belonging. Stories give us a framework to listen with intention, communicate with purpose and instill the confidence it takes to turn information and ideas into action and impact.
Like anything worth learning, achieving business storytelling mastery takes time but that shouldn’t get in the way of you giving it a shot today.
To help kickstart your strategic business storytelling learning journey, here are 5 questions you can start asking right away to create trust, empathy and understanding in the “First Mile” of discovery with prospects, customers and team members alike. These questions are based upon the “ABT (And, But & Therefore) Agile Narrative Framework”, where all powerful storytelling begins:
1. Who’s my #1 audience?
2. What do they want?
3. Why does that matter?
4. What’s preventing them from having what they want?
5. a) What’s in it for them if their problem gets solved and b) how are you uniquely qualified to deliver the solution they need?
To put these questions into context, here’s a simplified Mad Libs style example of how it might sound if a sales exec were to use the answers to these questions and the ABT framework to clearly articulate their understanding of their audience’s current situation during a Discovery call:
Rep: “Sally, as the (answer #1) of ACME Co., it sounds like what you’re most focused on now is (answer #2) AND it’s important to you because of (answer #3). BUT, (answer #4) is making this difficult because of (insert reasons why). THEREFORE, to (summarize answers 2 & 3), you need a solution that will (answer #5a) so you can achieve X and avoid Y.
Rep: Does that sound about right?
Sally: Yes, spot on!
Rep: Ok, got it. Based on what you shared, I’m confident we can help get you over this hump quickly using our Wizbang 3000 solution (aka. answer #5b).
See how this simple framework puts your audience front and center in the conversation and comfortably invites you into their story as the natural solution to their problems? This is how human-powered conversations should go.
BONUS TIP: Now that you’ve set the stage with Sally and established trust and understanding, it’s time to share a short anecdotal story that will prove your business case for you and get Sally leaning in to learn more. Here’s how that might sound picking up from the conversation above:
Rep: In fact, we recently worked with George, the CEO of AWESOME Co., who was faced with a very similar situation.
○ Now, share a SHORT ANECDOTAL STORY that connects the dots between the familiar challenge George was facing to the solution you provided so that Sally can begin experiencing a better tomorrow before she even needs to say ‘yes’.
Rep: Should we continue exploring what this type of solution could mean for ACME? Sally: Absolutely, let’s do it!
Conducting high-impact discovery sessions like these that allow you to connect easier and inspire action faster is just scratching the surface of creating your human-powered X-factor.
Once you begin to discover how these flexible and scalable frameworks can layer seamlessly across all of your GTM strategies to scale your influence and impact further, the skies the limit.
So, whether you’re writing a book report on George Washington, rolling out a new initiative or giving a presentation to your next marquee customer, while the brick, dots and bots are important, the confidence gained from authentic human connection and stories well told is what will ultimately create the winners of the critical FIRST and the LAST mile.
📈 How to take action/learnings:
Make sure your entire GTM team can recite a multitude of customer stories for various use-cases by memory (but in their authentic voice). It should be second nature to them, have them present in front of their peers for feedback and keep the stories/anecdotes fresh.
Use the “ABT (And, But & Therefore) Agile Narrative Framework”
Who’s my #1 audience? What do they want? Why does that matter? What’s preventing them from having what they want? What’s in it for them if their problem gets solved and b) how are you uniquely qualified to deliver the solution they need?
👀 More for your eyeballs:
“Every year, I produce a big presentation exploring macro and strategic trends in the tech industry. This year, ‘The New Gatekeepers’. A classic written by Fred Wilson (if you ignore everything else in this newsletter and just read this, that’ll still be a win) 🔥
👂More for your eardrums:
🚀 Start-ups to watch:
Personally I HATE repetitive, mundane tasks. They are the bane of my existence so I try to automate or outsource them as much as I can. Magical will save you 5hrs a week - check out their recent announcement (and thank me later):
🔥Hottest GTM job of the week:
See more top GTM jobs here.
I warned you that was a meaty one but I hope you left with some solid GTM learnings/inspiration.
You definitely deserve a gold star for making it all the way to the end on this one.
Here you go: ⭐️
If you’ve been finding this newsletter valuable, please share it with your friends/colleagues.
Have a great weekend.
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