Episode 14: Going to Market with TK Kader, SaaS Business Coach

 

This is The Marketing Hero podcast by ClearPivot, turning marketers into heroes.

Maia Wells:
Welcome to the Marketing Hero Podcast. I'm your host Maia Wells. Today we're talking all things go-to-market, with the absolutely unstoppable TK Kader. TK is an entrepreneur international best-selling author and angel investor, and he knows a whole lot about the GTM process for SaaS. If you've been curious about how to take your idea to market successfully, keep on listening, we're going to dive right in. TK Kader welcome to the show.

TK Kader:
Thanks Maia, thanks for having me.

Maia Wells:
Well, let's start off with a question that we like to ask all of our guests. What is your favorite part of your professional life and how did you figure that out?

TK Kader:
Well, I spent the last 15 years building, scaling, exiting SaaS businesses. My last company was a company called ToutApp. We made sales engagement software, we pioneered that category. We were backed by Andreessen Horowitz. We then sold it to Marketo. I joined their executive team. Then we did a two year transformation of Marketo and sold it to Adobe for 4.75 billion. That was about a 10 year journey. After that I was like, "Okay, what do I want to do next?" Now I spend my time focusing on two things. One, I run a YouTube channel on helping SaaS founders grow their SaaS businesses. I also run a coaching program where I work with SaaS founders to flush out their go-to-market strategy so that they can eventually go into work with agencies like you guys, where they can run the execution. SaaS businesses and Lagavulin and scotch, those are my two favorite things and I get to do both when I'm coaching founders.

Maia Wells:
Fantastic. I really love the four sets of questions that you point out on your blog and on your YouTube channel about GTM. Can we talk more about those ones? The first one is what is your target market, and what's the underserved part of that market, and who are the top competitors? Things like that. Is that one of the most important things SaaS founders need to think about first?

TK Kader:
A lot of the founders that I work with, and this is true for even when I was building my company. When we're in the early stages, we're essentially doing this Shawshank crawl to product market fit. A lot of times we're founders that are technical founders, and we have this technology and we're really trying to make sure that there's a real market for it. It can be really easy to fall into a trap where you're falling into this one more feature trap, and you keep building, building, building. This is why embracing sales and marketing is important. I think when you're doing that, it's important to understand are you going after a market, and are you going after a problem that is urgent and important? A lot of founders skip that. Turns out that market is more important than a lot of other things, including how great your product is or how great your team is. If the market forces aren't there, then none of it will matter.

Maia Wells:
Do you find that you see a lot of founders getting in that trap where they've done a lot of work towards the product for example, or they've got a great team together, and then they're surprised when they work with you to hear that they need to do a heck of a lot more work on market first?

TK Kader:
One of the things I talk a lot about in my YouTube channel and also with the founders that I work with directly, is there's a difference between go-to-market execution and go-to-market strategy. There are lots of agencies and marketers, even you guys that do a lot around execution, but it's the strategy that often gets forgotten, and that's owned by the CEO, no one else can do that. No marketer that you can hire can figure out the strategy. That's what I work with CEOs on and figure out what's the right market for this? Is it an urgent important problem? What's the ideal customer profile? Those are things that are more strategic things that then drive the execution on how many ads do we run? Or what should our emails say? Those who get conflated, and I think founders that understand the difference between those two and prioritize strategy first, and then the execution, tend to win in the market.

Maia Wells:
What's the best way for these founders to go about exploring the market and competitors and things like that?

TK Kader:
What we like to see especially when I'm working with founders is do they have domain knowledge? I think every founder should ask themselves do you have domain knowledge in the market you're going after? If you don't have domain knowledge, then chances are you're not going to win, especially in B2B SaaS, which is what I specialize in. The most successful founders have had worked in a company and experienced the problem, or have been in a certain very specific vertical, and have seen the problem over and over. That's what you want. That's usually the first thing to look at, do you have domain knowledge? If you don't have domain knowledge then maybe this is not the right market for you to go after. It's kind of like being the one... I remember when I was first starting ToutApp I was part of an accelerator program and there was these two guys that were going to revolutionize the wedding industry.

That was their pitch. I'm like, "Well, are you guys married?" They were not married. I'm like, "Have you ever worked in the wedding industry?" They never worked in the wedding industry. Needless to say that the company didn't go anywhere. I think domain knowledge is super important. Once you have that domain knowledge, then it's about, well, who do you know that's in that domain that you've already worked with and how do you validate it with them? How do you get them to buy quickly? Can you please sell to them? Those are the things that are very unscalable in the early stages, but if you do it, it can actually help you validate the market very quickly.

Maia Wells:
Are you saying that you would like to see founders validating the market through something like a smoke test for example, before they ever build anything?

TK Kader:
Yeah, 100%. A lot of people think of go-to-market, especially go-to-market strategy as like oh, I'm going to go build, build, build, build, build, and then we're going to go sell the product. I think you need to do that at day zero. Day zero as you're writing the first line of code, you're also testing the market, and getting your messaging and thinking about the strategy. Those are super important.

Maia Wells:
For you it can be a concurrent process?

TK Kader:
It should 100% be a concurrent process yeah.

Maia Wells:
Okay that does make sense. I see a lot of that where people will say, "Here's our product, now how do we market it?" If there's not a market fit, a product market fit, it's really hard to do that. I definitely see where you're coming from. How do you help founders think about the problems that they're solving? One of the questions that you have on your YouTube channel for this is what's the important, urgent and frequent problem that you're solving and why does this problem exist? I think what you're saying is the domain knowledge will help you out a little bit with that. How do they dive deeper into that second question of your four?

TK Kader:
One of the things that I always look for when I'm evaluating founders on whether I work with them or not, is does their product line up with the compensation plan of who they're selling to? If I'm selling to a VP of sales, a VP of sales gets compensated on closing deals. They get compensated on generating pipeline, and they get compensated on ramping sales people. Those are the three things they get compensated on. If you're building a sales software that is not aligned with those three compensation plan factors, then chances are you're going to fail. That's one of the mental tricks that I always use and I teach founders on. That's how you figure out if it's an urgent and important problem. It's an urgent problem if you're [inaudible 00:07:48] on it simple.

Maia Wells:
Is there an example that you can think of where that problem wasn't as urgent as they may have thought and you help them to pivot the product idea?

TK Kader:
One of the things that I often come across is productivity problems. If you're in the space of productivity, we are like we'll help you do X faster. That's usually a trap. One of the members of my coaching program, what we do in the coaching program is we help them get this strategy right. One of the members came in, they've already built a product, they have some revenues. Interestingly enough, they had gone to an agency partner of ours and the agency partner is like, "Hey, you're too early. You shouldn't spend money on all this. You should go figure out the strategy," and they referred them to us. We put them through prep school and give them back to the agency partners that way. For them to have this incredible technology, and they were like, "Hey, we help accounting firms operate faster." It's like well, no one really cares about operating faster.

We were able to pivot their messaging more around we help firms scale revenues without hiring more people, which is the same thing, except you're not talking about productivity, you're talking about more revenues. One of the things I was talking about, you're either helping them increase revenues and growth, or you're helping them save money, or because it's very well measured, or you're actually reducing risk. It's one of those three. That was one of those pivot in the messaging, and really allowed that company to grow a lot faster and get their value proposition right. Then they're able to go run ads on it, and do all the other kind of things that an agency would do a lot faster. The execution became that much easier because the strategy was right.

Maia Wells:
You have a destination that you're working towards it sounds like when you do the work first.

TK Kader:
I think you have a foundation is probably the best way to think about it.

Maia Wells:
Yeah, it makes sense. It sounds like part of that foundation really is knowing your ideal customer profile very, very well. That's the third question in your four questions about GTM. How do you actually define that ideal customer profile or that initial customer profile with the people that you work with?

TK Kader:
I think for the listener right now, it's like what is the title of the person? What is the company size and what is the industry? What is their compensation plan, and how do we actually deliver, how do we impact that compensation plan? If you're a listener literally take out a blank piece of paper, you don't need to hire anyone. You don't need to talk to anyone just literally just do that. That's stage one. A lot of people don't even have that, they just write those things down. The second stage, one of our most popular YouTube videos is three things you didn't know about your ideal customer profile. You can literally give a search for ideal customer profile Unstoppable TK and you'll see it on YouTube. That goes into some of the more technographic and trigger-based things that you can build out your ideal customer profile around.

It's like, what type of technology does your ideal customer tend to use? What is the right time, what event happened for that customer that makes it that your platform is that much more valuable to them? That's the second layer. When you work with me, we actually have about a 25 point ICP creation process. It's a lot more detailed that goes into a lot more depth, and that helps us actually do research, and based on that craft the messaging, which then makes it easy to run ads and run campaigns and all those kinds of things. It goes in shades. A lot of people don't even have the first shade, which is just write down some of the basics that I just mentioned. A lot of people don't even have the technographics. That's the second [inaudible 00:11:34] and then you can get into a much more detailed one when the time is right.

Maia Wells:
Then as you're building out those customer profiles, are you also thinking about things like positioning, value proposition, strategic narrative for the solution itself in that stage?

TK Kader:
That comes after. I think ICP is first, it's like who are you literally serving? Is this valuable to them? Is it urgent and important to them? THere's three big things that we work on with founders in the program. First is ICP, second is strategic narrative, and the third is execution pieces, which the founders can do themselves or they can partner with an agency to do.

Maia Wells:
Let's go on to that fourth question about GTM on your YouTube channel that we pulled out. The fourth question here is, how will you implement everything you know about the market, the big macro trend and your ICP to distill it down into running a successful go-to-market machine? I think that's leading towards that execution piece that you just mentioned. What is the most important part of that execution piece once you have those strategic elements in place?

TK Kader:
The first one I think is focus on there's six different channels that you can really generate demand under. You've got referrals which is the easiest, go through existing customers. Second is social, go through LinkedIn or Twitter, especially if you're B2B SaaS. Third is you can do outbound email, cold calling. Fourth is you can get into marketplaces. Fifth is you can run ads. Sixth is you can do SEO. The first three you can do on your own, and you can hire a junior marketer to do. The next three you can lose a lot of money if you don't have a trusted partner, a trusted agency that literally manages hundreds of millions of dollars of ad budget, or a real crafted SEO expert. You think about those six ways, and you start to prioritize them on what you can do in-house and who you hire and who you partner with externally to get the scale that you want once you have the strategy right.

Maia Wells:
What are some of the most important pieces of advice you can give our listeners about choosing partners? You just mentioned it's a pretty big deal. They're going to be spending money on your behalf, and helping you to go-to-market. Can you give us some advice on how to pick a partner?

TK Kader:
Totally. Let's look at strategy separate from execution, because that's how I think about it. When you're thinking about strategy, the core strategy of your SAAS business, your go-to-market strategy or fundraising strategy. Pick a partner, whether it's an advisor, a board member, a coach like me, someone that's done it. There are a lot of people that are out there that has never done it before, and their first job is to help you build a massively scalable business. It's like well that should be their second job, not their first job. Believability is important, so understand believability around strategy. Pick someone that's done that before and can help you reduce the execution risk. That's I think the first thing, like literally do they have experience in building out a strategy and have they been in your seat before?

That's the first thing, that's the strategy piece. On the execution piece you want to look at scale. You want to go with partners that have dealt with a massive amount of scale and a massive number of clients. Go with someone that manages millions of dollars of Facebook ads or LinkedIn ads or Google ads. Because they can see the data on what's working and what's not, and you get the value of that data, instead of you trying to learn on your own. I think for that strategy piece, put someone in that's been in your shoes literally. For the execution piece pick the people that have scale, that can get a broader view of the market and knows what's working and what's not, so that when they're executing they know how to actually optimize the execution.

Maia Wells:
You were talking about being mostly involved in the B2B space. Do you have any thoughts on differences between go-to-market strategies for B2B versus consumer solutions? Is it a lot different?

TK Kader:
I try to stay away from B2C because I've never done it before, and that's my principle. I think there are core principles that do translate over. All I know is a B2C is a lot harder. B2C is a hit space business. Either you're freaking huge or you're nothing. B2B, little by little you can get better and better and better and better and better. In a lot of ways there's some logic involved. It's tied to your compensation plan, we can say "here's how you get the ROI ... boom." Whereas B2C there's a lot of emotions involved. I stick to what I know. I know there are some principles that translate over. Ultimately as marketers, we're all trying to convince the same 10,000 year old brain or however old it is. It's the same brain we're trying to convert. But the reasons around why people say yes are different between B2B and B2C, and so I think I try to stick to my lane.

Maia Wells:
Are there differences for GTM for SaaS at different stages of funding? Are there differences for companies that are pre-seed versus in seed round, first round thereafter? Or are we always keeping the same approach to go-to-market, no matter how much money we've got, no matter what round of funding we're in?

TK Kader:
I think the vectors are do you have product market fit or not? That's the first factor I look at it as. If we know there's clear product market fit, then you obviously want to step on the gas a lot faster. If you don't know yet, then there's a question of, okay, well what is our thesis on why we need to have a fit, and how do we vet that out? I think that's the first vector that determines how far and how hard you push on the gas. That's number one. I think the second thing is, regardless of stage, it's a question of what type of business are you looking to build?

TK Kader:
Is it a land grab? If it's a land grab, then you probably want to invest as much as possible to grow as fast as possible and raise venture capital. If it's not a land grab, then maybe you want to hold on to the equity and grow at a much better pace and a much more quality pace and then do a growth around much later. I think of it more as those two vectors on what is the market and the competitive dynamics, and what's the product market fit belief. Those help determine how much you push on the gas more than how much money you have in the bank.

Maia Wells:
How do you actually figure that out?

TK Kader:
My favorite is the thing that's been popularized by I believe Sean Ellis and Rahul Vohra of Superhuman, you ask your customers. It's like how sad would you be if you could no longer use product X? Would you be very disappointed, somewhat disappointed, disappointed, not disappointed? Versus like, I'd be really happy if you just left me alone. If greater than 40% replies somewhat disappointed, then you have product market fit. I think that's the metric that they use. I think that's really good. That's the closest anyone has gotten, it's brilliant. That's the closest that anyone's gotten to scientifically determine product market fit. I think that's a pretty good metric, just surveying users and say how disappointed would you be? You can look this up, you can just Google it on product market fit Rahul Vohra Superhuman, you'll get it really quick.

Maia Wells:
Okay. We'll be sure to link all these things that you're mentioning in the show notes for everybody out there listening, so that you can quickly go through and link to TK and his YouTube channel and blog, and these other resources that we're mentioning here. Definitely want this podcast to be a go-to resource for you as you're thinking about all of these different things. One of the things as you were talking there TK that I was thinking about is, so it really sounds like no matter what stage you're in, you're almost having to do all of these things at once, and push them forward in little increments all at once.

Thinking about the product itself, thinking about the go-to-market strategy and the ideal customer, and testing out whether there might be a fit. The reason I'm thinking that as you're saying ask your users, so that means you have to have some users to ask. You have to have some people that are using the solution from the very beginning. Would you say that that's a fair summary of what you're saying here, is that we're pushing all fronts forward at the same time? Or are there certain things we need to be doing for second, third always with go-to-market?

TK Kader:
Well, I think the question is really around company building. As a founder what do you focus on? I think as a founder you literally have two levers. One is you're either shipping code, and the second is you're closing deals, especially in the early stages. Ship code, close deals that's it. You're either shipping code that's going to help you close more deals, or you're closing deals that helps you get more resources and helps you ship more code. Maybe if you're losing a deal, then it'll tell you what code to ship so that you don't lose any more deals because of that reason. Ship code closed deals is the general mantra that I like to follow, and I teach my founders to do that I work with. That allows you to understand which one do you need to push on more at any given moment. Maybe it's both, maybe it's one.

Maybe you went out in the market a bunch of people told you look, literally not interested. Then you need to go back to shipping code on how do we get into solving a problem that people are interested in? Or maybe you got into a point where the product's pretty good. Yeah there's always one more feature, but really you need to start closing some deals to really know if the product's really as good as you think it is, or your initial customers say it is. Then you've got to pull back on shipping code and push more on closing deals. I think those are the two levers that matter the most from a company building founder or CEO perspective.

Maia Wells:
Ship code, close deals. It sounds like a great t-shirt to release for Unstoppable.

TK Kader:
We do have a t-shirt store for Unstoppable, and we do have that t-shirt

Maia Wells:
Well good, I didn't even know that actually, it sounds like a plant that I said that, but I literally did not know that so that's great. Great minds think alike. I think I'll be going over there and doing some shopping after this.

TK Kader:
You should totally. You can link to it in the show notes.

Maia Wells:
Yes of course.

TK Kader:
We don't make any money on the t-shirts. People just love them so we started to sell them at cost.

Maia Wells:
One of the things that's really interesting for me is the experiences that you've had as a founder, as someone who has built and sold something very significant. You've been in this game for a few years now, do you think that this go-to-market strategy or the game in general of SaaS, has it changed in let's say the last five years? Has it changed a lot what we need to be paying attention to nowadays?

TK Kader:
It's certainly evolved. I think there are two or three things that are wildly different today than ever before. One, I think the scale of enterprise software and B2B SaaS is bigger than ever before. There are more niche industries, verticals that are still running on old software or spreadsheets that SaaS cannot solve for, so it's bigger than ever before. Companies that we thought would cap out on 100 million are billion-dollar companies. The market's way bigger than we realized. That's one thing that's evolved and changed for the better. The second thing that's changed is the different ways you can go to market has certainly changed and evolved, and the bar is higher.

I believe the bar is higher for a quality go-to-market experience, machine messaging. You got to be crisp, you got to be tidy. You got to really speak to your customer, otherwise they'll ignore you. I think it's a lot higher because now the competition is so much higher. I think that's number two. The third thing that's changed I think is the barrier to entry is very low. You can go and start a SaaS business fairly quickly on Amazon AWS, put up a web flow homepage and boom you're in business. The barrier to entry is lower than ever, but the barrier to win is higher than ever, and the opportunity is bigger than ever, which makes for a really great industry when I think about it.

Maia Wells:
You don't find that intimidating in the least?

TK Kader:
I've been doing this for 15 years, so I have an unfair advantage. Every founder that I work with gets an unfair advantage. For us it's like hell yeah, bring it on let's go.

Maia Wells:
I love it. Well, TK I really appreciate you coming on the show. We're going to link all of your stuff in the show notes so people can come and find you and work with you if they are a SaaS founder looking for help with these things. Do you have any last piece of golden advice for our B2B SaaS founders out there who are looking for some inspiration?

TK Kader:
Yeah, ship code, close deals.

About TK Kader

TK was CEO & Founder at ToutApp (backed by a16z, Jackson Square Ventures and prominent angel investors in Silicon Valley). After scaling ToutApp, it was acquired by Marketo where TK went on to join Marketo's executive team and serve as their Senior Vice President of Strategy. After running a 2-year transformation as part of the executive team, Marketo was acquired by Adobe for $4.75bn. 
 
TK now spends his time as a Strategic Advisor to 50+ B2B SaaS Founders globally. As Founder of Unstoppable Strategies, he helps Founders grow their startups faster through his weekly Youtube videos (tkkader.com/youtube) and his SaaS Go-To-Market Coaching Program (tkkader.com/gtm). 
 
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