ABM Conversations Podcast Mark Donnigan

Engineering Your Go-to-Market Strategy for How Buyers Buy Today

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Mark Donnigan


July 7, 2022

Engineering Your Go-to-Market Strategy for How Buyers Buy TodayThe ABM Conversations Podcast

B2B marketing is no longer the funnel you’ve grown to love — in fact, most of the marketing strategies you learned in school no longer apply. I don’t need to convince you that times have changed as technology has soared to new heights, but I think some haven’t realized there’s a correlation between the change in technology and the change in marketing.


You may be thinking: If the sales funnel doesn’t really apply anymore, then what’s replacing it? Well, it’s unfortunately more complicated than that. It’s not just the structure of the sale that’s outdated, it’s the mindset and strategy behind the structure that needs upgrading.

On a recent episode of The ABM Conversations Podcast, I laid out the framework of how to best engineer the most effective go-to-market strategy for startups and growing companies alike.


  • “Build it and they will come” is a fallacy. Identify what problem your product is actually solving for your customers — forget the broad claims and focus your messaging.
  • Forget industry; know your ecosystem. Today’s businesses are so interconnected that the monolith of “industry” no longer describes reality.
  • Build a community around your prospective customers and be intentional with the content you produce. Make sure content has real value that engages and educates readers.



You made a product, it works and you’re ready to sell it. But hang on a minute, who are you selling it to

When I talk to some startups, they give me the broadest demographic you could imagine or they give me a blank stare — I’ve realized that some companies really believe that, because they built the product, people will simply flock to it.

Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. The thing is, your target customer may not even realize they have a problem in the first place, especially if your product is an innovative one within your industry.

The first step in any strategy is identifying the beneficiary. Not the “persona” or the “avatar.” I’m talking about the person who will experience the benefit of your product and say: Where have you been all my life?

You can develop the best strategies and tactics in the world, but they mean nothing if they aren’t directed at the right people.

Interestingly, once you identify that beneficiary, sometimes the rest of the marketing strategy becomes much more simple.

Become one with the ecosystem.

It’s time to stop talking “industry” and shift the way we think about the people we want to sell to. “Industry” is a faceless monolith, but “ecosystem” describes the way businesses have become so interconnected — just like the ecosystems in nature.

Understanding your ecosystem goes hand in hand with identifying your beneficiary. If you don’t know the ecosystem, how will you identify the problems and those who would benefit from your solution?

This deep knowledge of the ecosystem is essential for whoever you hire to create and manage your marketing strategies, whether it be the CMO or VP of Marketing.

The job has to go deeper than managing a team of marketers and executing the frameworks of a marketing campaign — it requires strong business acumen and a knowledge of how that business functions in the ecosystem.

Community is critical.

You’ve probably heard the scary statistic about startups — according to the Small Business Administration, around 90% of small businesses fail. The common assumption is the product didn’t actually work or the founder promised something they couldn’t deliver, but in my experience, it’s rarely a technical execution that led to failure.

I’ve found that more often, the reason a startup didn’t survive is because they failed to get out there, market their product, and sell.

You spent the time to raise seed money, maybe you landed some key customers, and perhaps that’s enough to go raise a Series A, but generally speaking, you’re not really in the market yet.

Whether your product is ready or not, you need to start marketing, and what I’ve found to be very effective is building a community around users that you ultimately want to become your customers.

What do I mean by community? While you may think of a Facebook group or a Slack channel, it can be so much more than that. Be intentional with the content you produce and focus on engaging and educating your community. Opportunities to cultivate community can be done with simple outlets such as a podcast or a blog.

The content doesn’t need to consist of constant sales pitches loaded with buzz words — there’s no value in empty messaging, plus it’s really not going to connect. You’re a tech company? Maybe have content about the evolution of technology or infrastructure. Create content with value, and convert readers by cultivating passion

Upgrade the sales funnel: The buyer’s journey has changed.

Google “sales funnel” and you’ll find an ocean of identical graphics — color-coded tornadoes outlining steps like:

    1. Awareness
    2. Interest 
    3. Intent 
    4. Evaluation 
    5. Purchase

It’s all straight out of The MBA Playbook. Fifteen years ago it worked. Why? Buyers didn’t have access to information about your company, so they had a specific journey to follow: identify the problem, search for a solution, build a list of requirements and narrow down a list of suppliers to meet.

About 10 years ago, however, as communities online grew through social media, things began to change dramatically.

Now the buyer doesn’t need to go to trade shows or meet with you, not when there are forums and resources online to answer all their questions.

Companies are still using the old funnel model and building campaigns to move people through, but the reality is that the middle market hasn’t worked this way in years. It doesn’t matter how high quality your content is — it’s not driving business, it’s not driving revenue and it’s not driving growth.

So, what do you upgrade the sales funnel with? The Demand Generation Flywheel.

Even startups can be Category Kings.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past couple of years about category design, its implementation, and whether or not it’s worth it. The original step-by-step guide, in case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is as follows:

    1. Discover and define a category problem
    2. Create a clear story or point-of-view that explains and sells the category idea
    3. Define a category blueprint
    4. Drive the category strategy across a company’s stakeholders
    5. Shape customers’ thinking (with lightning strikes)

If you’re not a Category King, winning the market will be a challenge. I have a more simplified take on category design, however. 

    1. Define the problem 
    2. Name the category and reference it when presenting your product
    3. Develop a point of view to explain the need for solving the category problem
    4. Mobilize the entire company in the process

Many startups and small businesses lack the budget for category design.

But I still believe growing companies can make it happen. Why? Because ultimately, the core concepts are achievable no matter the budget.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to smart marketing.

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