Winning go-to-market strategies: Insights from a revenue chief

Winning go-to-market strategies: Insights from a revenue chief

Author: Kiley Roache
Read time:  7 minutes
Published date:  16 January 2024
David Hughson of Remofirst, a panelist at Carta's upcoming Innovators Summit, outlines the best approaches for startups looking to strengthen their GTM motions.
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Figuring out winning go-to-market motions is crucial for every startup, especially early-stage ones that are fighting to establish themselves in competitive markets. 

It takes innovative approaches—which is exactly what David Hughson specializes in.

David is chief revenue officer at Remofirst, an employer-of-record service provider that helps companies make hires in 170+ countries. Since he joined Remofirst 18 months ago, the company has grown revenue almost 10x. Prior to Remofirst, David’s go-to-market experience ranged from high-growth startups to large public company TriNet, where he managed a team of more than 200 people.  

David recently joined Carta’s Innovators Summit for a panel on “Innovative Approaches to Go-To-Market.” He also sat down with Carta for a deep dive on the subject. Among the topics discussed:

  • Identifying customer profiles and personas

  • The importance of sitting in sales calls

  • Hiring people with “multi-threaded” marketing experience

  • Why the right CRM platform and data are crucial building blocks

  • How to clear the early-stage bar of awareness and credibility

  • How to help customers solve problems

David Hughson

Carta: How do you approach go-to-market as the first sales or marketing hire coming into an early-stage company? 

David Hughson: From day one, the most important thing we tackled was identifying and owning our ideal customer profile. And as simple as that sounds, I think that can be one of the things that early-stage companies get wrong: trying to be all things to all people. 

Instead we prioritized focus. We focused on small- and medium-sized businesses, we focused on HR buyers, we concentrated on a few geographies we knew we could win in and grew from there. 

Because the business had already generated some revenue, we had some sense of our customer based on those early founder-led sales experiences. Nailing down that customer profile even more narrowly meant that as we approached our messaging, the sales decks that we built, the proposal template we created, the tech demo, and the initial sales call structure, we knew exactly who we’re aiming at. We also knew which opportunities to walk away from. 

I was the sole salesperson for the first few months I was at Remofirst. There's nothing that can replace the value of those early sales calls. This allowed me to understand where we needed to adjust our messaging or where we had product gaps or where we needed to make pricing adjustments.

All of that early feedback would have a massive impact in improving our win rate and conversions and it made conversations with our product and engineering teams or our customer success teams much more impactful because I was able to channel the voice of the customer, not just share my opinions.

For anyone in a go-to market role in an early-stage company, if you’re not spending the majority of your time talking to customers, you’re doing it wrong. For founders who have hired sales talent in your company, if the person you hired isn’t spending most of their time talking to prospects/customers, you hired the wrong person!

Remofirst has grown a lot in the last 18 months. How did you think about setting up a GTM strategy that would scale with you?

We’ve seen a ton of growth despite a challenging macro environment. 

In hindsight one of the most important things we did in the first few months at Remofirst was hire our director of marketing (Angelica Krauss). Angelica had an eclectic background where she had been in a marketing agency role supporting other startups, so she had seen everything from demand gen to email marketing to direct mail to events. She had also seen SaaS and DTC and other industries. That broad base of experience that she brought, rather than a narrow set of skills, was a huge help for us early on. She knows enough to be dangerous in a number of areas and she always knows we can lean on external subject matter experts when and where we need.

I don’t know if this will make sense for everyone but you should look for somebody that has more than a single-threaded marketing experience, because at an early-stage company you’re all wearing many hats. We weren’t afraid to test a broad range of marketing channels but we were equally fast to drop those that weren’t performing and we started to double down in areas where we saw strong ROI. 

Don’t overlook investing time and effort in some of the boring stuff. We got started right away investing in automation and workflows and rules in our CRM (customer relationship management) platform to get us to a more professional place where we could track activity, revenue and pipeline effectively and efficiently.

While this isn’t the sexy stuff, without it, there was no way for us to measure what was working as we grew. It’s easy to overlook this when you’re a small team but it pays dividends as the team scales and you’re no longer involved in every deal. This also included call recording and insights with a tool called Salesroom so we could coach during and after calls, grab feedback from customers for our product team, and more. 

We also had to care about knowledge management more than most companies might at our stage. We help our clients hire in 160 countries around the world. Asking an account executive to have a valuable conversation with a client trying to hire in Mozambique one minute and Munich the next is incredibly challenging, so we had to invest time and effort creating FAQs and scripts to equip our team to be ready for anything! 

How is go-to-market different at a startup compared to other companies you’ve been at?

As a growing company without much name recognition, the biggest hurdle is gaining credibility and trust. In our space we had to achieve this by creating content on topics that matter to our audience. We built country guides and other tools that gave us a voice for companies hiring globally and helped ensure that before a customer ever spoke with someone on our team they would see that we were in a position to support them with their global hiring. 

We didn’t have the budget to hire in-house content creators so we all pitched in to make it happen, from our founders right on down, and we got creative to get the basic content built. Only once we had started to grow were we able to supplement that with content agency support or getting more creative with webinars and other more premium, gated content. 

We also try to be as loud as we can, knowing the disadvantages of a smaller team with fewer resources, we need everyone to amplify the voice of the company. That means everyone needs to post on LinkedIn or social media, everyone can be a content creator, everyone can talk about our value prop whether you're a QA engineer or an account executive. 

I’d also suggest making your sales process as simple and stress free as possible for your customer. Because you are a startup and you lack that household name, customers simply do not want to do a ton of work to get a quote or understand how your product works. If you can share information with a customer ahead of a call to ensure they are well informed, do it.

We aren’t afraid to share a price in advance of a call if the customer requests it. We make demo videos available so people can tour our product on their own time. We try to keep calls to 30 minutes and we follow up within a few hours of the call. Every little efficiency gain for a customer so they can get back to their day job has been a goal for us in establishing trust and good will.

The other major difference that defines startup go-to-market versus leading teams at a larger company is focus. A startups success ends out being as much about what you say "no" to vs. what you say "yes" to. Larger companies with big teams and budgets can afford to place a number of bets and hope at least a few pay off but no one will lose their job if they don’t have a strong ROI. We don’t have that luxury. We have to have a higher hit rate or we risk increasing burn and putting the company at risk. As soon as we hit on a few channels that were working for us, we went deep and we were fast to move on when something stopped working.

Earlier you touched a bit on customer feedback. And I’m curious to know how you approach iterating based on customer conversations. There’s two adages that come to mind that seem in opposition—“the customer is always right” and “people don’t know what they want until you show them.” So how do you distinguish between signal and noise when you're having those customer conversations?

This is an important question for us. We compete with a few well-funded companies that seem to roll out a new product or integration weekly. There will be customers who are caught up in that feature dumping and they can become convinced that they “need” these features in order to be successful. It can be super tempting to want to chase every request and every new feature. 

We always hear those customers out but it’s essential to go deeper with them to understand what they are trying to accomplish, and how we can make them successful. I’ve found that more often than not when you do that discovery, it tends to distill into a few key things that often have nothing to do with “nice-to-have” features.  It’s much more about ease of use, responsiveness, compliance, and cost, which are things we feel we excel in. 

In a time when so many companies are focused on cost efficiencies and staying lean, I think customers are starting to find it refreshing when they come across someone selling them what they need and not what the vendor wants to sell to justify a higher price point.

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Kiley Roache
Author: Kiley Roache
Kiley Roache is a writer on the editorial team at Carta. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and prior to joining Carta, she worked as a content writer for early-stage venture studio AlleyCorp and as a journalist covering technology for outlets including Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal.