Does this sound familiar? A B2B startup raises a seed, Series A or Series B round, and immediately throws capital into expanding into an entirely new market, hiring costly new sales executives and leaders (i.e. Country Managers) in the process. Without customer traction, brand equity, or proof, the team expects immediate results, and is lost when the sales don’t come.
To use an over-simplified analogy, it’s like blindly casting a rod in open water and expecting fish to hook themselves. If it happens, it’s because of luck, and luck is not a strategy.
The tried-and-tested methods for fishing and baiting in one body of water (i.e. the EU) doesn’t translate to any body of water (i.e. the US). Whilst a startup’s current sales practices might work well in the local market, once the team hops the proverbial pond, it’s a different story. Likely, full of differences and considerations that aren’t as obvious to the naked eye (i.e. integration requirements, technical maturity, buying process, situational fit, current alternatives, organization/team composition, etc.).
Often pushed too early by investors/advisors, many B2B founders fall into two traps: (1) they cast a wide net and chase numerous verticals/buyer personas, which will most likely result in trying to be everything to everyone – and therefore speaking to no one, or; (2) they run right into sales mode and assume their EU distribution strategy and playbook will translate to the US (hint: it won’t).
So, founders, what’s the best way to go about it? The best way to prove some level of market pulse or “problem/solution” fit is to concentrate on identifying and validating themes to build repeating success within a given target market and specific use case.
This means that instead of targeting, for example, “mid-market sales leaders at tech companies”, the target market and use case would be more specific, something like “VPs of Sales managing outbound SaaS sales teams of 30-100 reps, using Salesforce”. With a focused use case like this, it’s easy to strike and iterate, should this specific market not bite.
So how do you narrow down your target use cases and get the ball rolling? It is critical founders engage 1:1 with prospective executive buyers to test and validate US commercial assumptions and potential fit. It may help to partner with a team who has done this before, many times, with many successful startups.
B2B Founders: JJELLYFISH, a US-based go-to-market consultancy, has built a model and process to support founders with just that. Their team embeds alongside European B2B founders/startups to engage their target market, test key commercial assumptions, execute a repeatable sales and outbound model. You might recognize a few B2B startups they’ve supported in the past ;). Check out JJELLYFISH or perhaps one of their case studies supporting early-stage startups with US expansion.