May 18, 2023

Go-to-Market Strategy for SaaS Startups

For startups in the software as a service (SaaS) industry, determining the right go-to-market (GTM) strategy is crucial for the business to grow and scale. While many SaaS startups initially rely on word-of-mouth or referrals, more strategic and organized GTM approaches are needed as the product matures.

The go-to-market strategy outlines how a business will sell its product or service. It involves identifying target customers, determining pricing and packaging, choosing distribution channels, and creating an effective sales and marketing plan. For SaaS companies, this often includes free versus paid tiers, self-serve versus agent-assisted sales, outbound versus inbound strategies, and more.

The challenges and opportunities unique to software make traditional GTM models less effective for SaaS. Finding the right balance of channels to acquire and retain loyal customers while making a profit. An iterative and data-driven approach will help optimize the GTM strategy continuously.

This article will cover the following:

  • Defining the Market
  • Target Customer Segments
  • Pricing and Packaging Options
  • Distribution Channels and Partners
  • Sales and Marketing Strategies
  • Optimization Through Metrics
  • Effective Tools to Operationalize GTM Strategy
  • Go-To-Market Strategies for International Expansion
  • Go-To-Market Strategy is Key for SaaS Startup Success

Defining the Market

SaaS companies must define their target market before choosing a go-to-market strategy. This involves understanding:

Market size. What is the total addressable market for your product? How many potential customers exist within your industry? Start by researching your market size and growth rate to gauge potential.

Market trends. 

What trends are shaping your industry and the needs of potential customers? Are there emerging technologies creating new opportunities? Stay abreast of technological advances and changing customer behaviors.

Competitive landscape. 

Who are your direct and indirect competitors? What differentiators does your product offer compared to alternatives? Thoroughly researching competitors will help identify gaps in the market to target.

Customer problems. 

What specific problems is your product solving for customers? How vital and painful are these problems? The more critical the problem your product solves, the more demand you can generate.

With this market research in hand, SaaS companies can define their market opportunity in terms of size, growth rate, and the uniqueness of their solution. They can identify ideal customers who share similar problems and will benefit the most from using the product. This clarity helps guide selecting a go-to-market strategy tailored to the defined market.

As SaaS startups refine their products based on customer feedback, they may need to revise their initial market definition. An effective go-to-market strategy incorporates ongoing research and data analysis to ensure it aligns with the evolving market realities.

Target Customer Segments

Once a SaaS startup has defined its overall market, it must identify specific customer segments to focus its go-to-market strategy on. Even within industries and problem types, meaningful differences between customer types can exist. Segmenting the market allows startups to customize their GTM approach for the unique needs of certain groups.

Common customer segments for SaaS startups include:

Company size: Small businesses tend to be most sensitive to price and self-serve options, while enterprises demand stronger customization and support.

Industry: Some products target multiple verticals, while others specialize within a niche industry with specific requirements.

By spending habits: Some customers prefer free trial versions, while others are willing to pay immediately for functionality.

Role: Some target C-level executives, while others sell to department leads or individual users within companies.

Geography: Multi-national companies may require localized versions for different regions.

When targeting customer segments, SaaS startups must consider the following:

Relevance: Does the segment truly require the product’s core functionality? Is the solution suited to their specific needs?

Access: Are there clear channels to reach and sell to this segment? Will they respond to your marketing efforts?

Affordability: Can the segment easily pay your initial and ongoing pricing tiers? Will the value proposition seem worthwhile?

Growth potential: Is the segment large enough and growing rapidly to generate sustainable revenue?

Competitiveness: Do you offer a compelling differentiator compared to alternatives targeted at that segment?

Prioritizing the right customer segments early on helps SaaS startups develop a focused go-to-market plan to acquire and please those ideal customers most effectively. As the business scales and matures, additional segments may be targeted through adapted strategies.

Some startups err by trying to appeal too broadly at first. Defining 2-3 high-potential customer segments and executing well is a foundation for future expansion into other groups. Having a clear vision of who the initial core customers are allowed a startup to make product, pricing, and messaging decisions tailored purely to their needs.

Distribution Channels and Partners

After identifying target customer segments, SaaS startups must determine which channels and partnerships will most effectively reach those customers. The distribution strategy weighs options along two dimensions:

Direct vs. Indirect: Companies can sell directly to customers through sales reps, webinars, and self-service trial signups. Or they utilize indirect channels like resellers, affiliates, marketplaces, and app stores to access customers.

Push vs. Pull: Startups can push their solution out through outbound strategies like pay-per-click advertising, email campaigns, and telesales. Or they allow prospects to find and pull the solution through SEO, content marketing, networking, and word-of-mouth.

Common distribution channels for SaaS startups include:

  • Inbound marketing: SEO, content, social media
  • Self-serve trial: Website signup forms
  • Outbound sales: Email and cold calls
  • Channel partners: Marketplaces, distributors, consultants
  • Referral networks: Influencers, customers
  • App stores: Apple, Google
  • Intermediaries: Marketplaces, aggregators

When choosing channels, startups should evaluate the following:

Cost: How much does the channel cost to access and maintain over time?

Control: How much control does the startup have over the customer experience in that channel?

Conversion: What percentage of exposures in the channel result in paid customers?

Lifetime value: Do customers acquired through the channel have high retention and spending?

Scale: Can the channel grow with the company, or does capacity max out quickly?

Complementary: Does the channel align and reinforce other parts of the GTM strategy?

No single distribution channel is effective for all startups. A balanced mix that hits on the target customers’ priorities is ideal. As customers need to evolve, channels added or emphasized can shift accordingly. Startups should also explore partnership opportunities to cost-effectively access new channels and markets.

In the early stages, SaaS startups often rely on lower-cost inbound channels while building awareness and demand. As products mature and markets expand, more resourced outbound and partner-driven strategies may be employed. But continuously optimizing for the highest return on effort across the entire distribution network helps ensure channels enhance rather than detract from the GTM strategy.

Sales and Marketing Strategies

In addition to choosing the right distribution channels, SaaS startups must determine how sales and marketing efforts will work together to drive customers through the funnel.

On the marketing side, strategies may include:

  • Content marketing to establish expertise and build trust
  • Nurture campaigns through email and social media
  • Paid advertisements optimizing for conversion rate
  • Brand building through events and public relations
  • Partner marketing to leverage partner networks

Each marketing tactic aims to generate qualified leads by demonstrating product-market fit, value proposition, and differentiation. The goal is to attract ideal customers ready for a sales conversation.

For sales, strategies may incorporate:

  • Self-serve options for customers requiring little hand holding
  • Inside sales reps to qualify and close leads via phone and email
  • Field sales reps who visit prospects in-person
  • Freemium and free trial tiers for lead generation
  • Technical pre-sales professionals to solve complex issues
  • Channel sales through VARs, ISVs, and consulting partners

The sales team works to convert generated leads by understanding customer requirements, negotiating contracts, addressing objections, offering customized value, and closing deals.

For early-stage SaaS startups, some common GTM scenarios include:

  • Inbound self-serve: Rely heavily on inbound channels and trial users with minimal marketing and sales. Ideal for simple products.
  • Freemium plus inside sales: Combine free basic versions, inbound marketing, and inside reps to close paid upgrades. Best for mid-complexity solutions.
  • Outbound field sales: Hire field reps to generate sales from cold prospects through outbound efforts. Requires fully-featured products and longer sales cycles.
  • Channel sales: Leverage VARs, consultants, and ISVs as an extension of the sales team. Suited for complex enterprise sales or geographical scale.

Regardless of the specific strategy, integrating sales and marketing is crucial. Marketing generates the raw material - qualified leads - that sales convert into paying customers. The two functions must work closely, aligning objectives, metrics, processes, and terminology.

For SaaS startups, testing and optimizing the marketing-sales integration is key. Over time, as products mature and customer segments expand, the needed balance of marketing automation versus human sales involvement may adjust. , But the focus should remain on choosing the mix of strategies that drives the highest possible conversion of leads to customers aligned with the overall go-to-market vision.

Optimization Through Metrics

An effective go-to-market strategy for SaaS startups incorporates metrics and data analytics to optimize performance over time. Common metrics used to measure and improve GTM include:

Marketing metrics:

  • Lead volume: Number of leads generated through all marketing channels.
  • Lead cost: Total marketing spend divided by the number of leads.
  • Lead score/quality: Assessment of lead information and buying signals.
  • MQL to SQL conversion: Percentage of marketing-qualified leads that progress to sales-qualified leads.

Sales metrics:

  • Opportunity/pipeline volume: Total value of current quotes and proposals.
  • Close rate: Percentage of qualified opportunities that are ultimately won.
  • Sales cycle time: Average time from lead qualification to close or lost deal.
  • Revenue per rep: Total revenue generated by each salesperson.

Customer metrics:

  • Lifetime value (LTV) - Predicted total revenue generated from a customer over time.
  • Customer acquisition cost (CAC) - Total cost to acquire a new paying customer.
  • Churn rate - Percentage of customers lost in a given period.
  • Net retention rate - Percent of revenue retained from existing customers.

These metrics provide critical insights for go-to-market optimization:

  • Identify bottlenecks - Where are leads dropping off between stages?
  • Pinpoint ineffective channels - Which channels have the highest LTV to CAC ratios?
  • Recalibrate resources - Should sales or marketing resources be reallocated?
  • Spot customer risk - Which segments show higher churn or lower retention?
  • Adjust packaging/pricing - Can pricing tiers or discounts increase conversions?

Ongoing testing and A/B testing of marketing content, sales motions, channels, and more can further improve results revealed by analytics. While vanity metrics should be avoided, actionable metrics tied to business goals will help SaaS startups fine-tune their GTM strategy over time.

As companies scale, additional metrics like segment-specific LTV and CAC can provide a more granular view. Dashboards and reporting tools that aggregate data across departments become critical for visibility. But the emphasis should remain on using metrics to iterate and optimize the go-to-market approach in service of the company’s vision.

Data gives SaaS startups the ability to understand what is working, what needs adjustment, and where to focus scarce resources for maximum impact. Building a culture that values testing, iteration, and continual improvement based on metrics and analytics will allow a startup’s GTM strategy to evolve alongside the business and market realities.

Effective Tools to Operationalize GTM Strategy

For SaaS startups, determining the right go-to-market strategy is critical to success. While the overarching vision is important, implementing and operationalizing that strategy requires the proper tools and systems.

Product demo software like Folio can empower GTM strategies by streamlining content creation, social selling, and sales enablement processes for remote and hybrid teams.

Folio helps SaaS startups go to market effectively by:

  • Allowing sales, marketing, and customer success teams to collaborate on building persuasive demos that resonate with target customers and clearly illustrate product-market fit. Alignment between functions drives growth.
  • Automating and personalizing demo delivery so reps can spend less time preparing and more time selling. Reps receive ready-made, customized demonstrations matching prospects’ roles and needs.
  • Gathering audience feedback and insights during and after demos via polls, comments, and surveys. This data reveals what’s resonating and where to focus on value propositions.
  • Enabling reps to deliver demos from anywhere. Flexibility supports modern selling approaches that blend digital and in-person channels.
  • Creating a central source of truth for approved content that all teams can access and update. Consistency across demos and presentations drives improved messaging.
  • Providing analytics to track performance metrics like open rates, view times, mentions, and social shares. Data reveals what’s working and what needs adjusting.
  • Integrating smoothly with other tools in the tech stack via Zapier and other tools. Interoperability allows reps to maximize existing investments.

Product demo software becomes essential as SaaS startups scale and complexity increases. Tools like Folio can support the full go-to-market effort by:

  • Helping define target markets by capturing customer insights and feedback during demos
  • Demonstrating product value to optimize pricing and packaging strategies
  • Supplementing distribution channels via social selling and virtual events
  • Aligning sales and marketing teams around a single source of demo truth
  • Localizing content to expand into global regions efficiently
  • Generating metrics to continuously improve the overall GTM approach

SaaS startups can turn their go-to-market visions into performance strategies by arming teams with the right systems. Technologies like Folio product demo software enhance - rather than replace - other aspects of GTM planning by automating repetitive tasks and highlighting what’s most impactful.

With the right tools, startups can focus their energy on executing, experimenting, and evolving their strategies to scale quickly and capture market share from a position of strength.

Go-To-Market Strategies for International Expansion

As SaaS startups see success in their domestic market, many seek to expand internationally to access new customers and revenue. However, going global presents unique challenges that require adaptation of the go-to-market approach.

Key considerations for international GTM strategies include:

Localization: Products may need to be translated and customized for local regulations, languages, cultures, and preferences. This often requires partnering with localization experts.

Pricing: Currency exchange rates and purchasing power parity must be factored to set competitive pricing in new markets. Pricing tiers may differ for geographic segments.

Distribution: Existing channels may not be effective in international regions, requiring research and testing of new partner ecosystems. Direct sales teams may need to be hired locally.

Competition: New competitors may emerge when entering a geographic market for the first time. Thorough research is crucial to understand differentiation.

Speed to market: Moving quickly into promising regions and establishing a local presence helps build momentum, awareness, and customer trust.

Customer support: Scaling support functions to accommodate multiple time zones, languages, and currencies can be challenging but critical for long-term success.

Transaction infrastructure: Payment gateways, contracts, and invoicing systems must support international transactions in multiple currencies.

Some common international GTM strategies for SaaS startups include:

Regional expansion - Enter adjacent countries or language regions initially for efficient scale.

Channel partnerships: Leverage global and regional partners to gain an immediate foothold in new markets.

Acquisition: Purchase an existing company with local customers, teams, and infrastructure to accelerate entry.

Soft launch: Test new markets with a limited “beta” launch before committing fully.

Start local: Hire local team members to build relationships and trial new customers from the ground up.

Data-driven targeting - Carefully evaluate the market size, growth, and competitive landscape before allocating resources.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Successful international expansion requires adapting the domestic go-to-market strategy to account for the unique complexities of going global. Experimentation, iteration, and a willingness to “think global but act local” will allow SaaS startups to unlock new geographic markets as they scale.

Go-to-Market Optimization Over Time

As a SaaS startup begins to see initial success, it’s important to continuously optimize and evolve the go-to-market strategy to match the company’s growth stage. Some common GTM shifts that companies make as they scale include:

Scaling self-serve to inside sales: As free trial users convert to paid customers, bringing on inside sales reps can qualify and close more deals from onboard leads.

Adding field reps: As the sales cycle lengthens and deals become more complex, going beyond inside sales to hire field reps who can meet prospects in-person increases closing rates.

Building a channel sales program: As the market saturates for direct sales, forming a formal channel partner program allows companies to expand their reach through VARs and consultants.

Shifting marketing mix: Early on, content and inbound efforts may dominate. But as brand recognition grows, outbound tactics like pay-per-click advertising and email campaigns may yield higher ROI.

Revising customer segments: Targeting only the most viable segments initially helps establish beachheads of success. Then additional segments can be prioritized over time.

Adjusting packaging and pricing: More generous free trials and basic tiers can gain adoption. But over time, higher paid tiers and more tailored pricing may yield better margins.

Adding or substituting tools: Relying initially on spreadsheets may suffice. But automation and sales enablement tools become necessary as processes scale.

Creating systems and processes: As teams grow, documented policies, manuals, and playbooks institutionalize knowledge and drive consistency.

Refining the value proposition: As customer feedback accumulates, honing in on the most compelling benefits and features for targeted segments drives growth.

Optimizing the customer journey: Gaining more experience reveals pain points and opportunities to simplify and streamline the customer experience.

Developing new distribution channels: New channels that provide scale and reach become valuable as the company and product mature.

While the overall GTM vision may remain intact as a SaaS startup scales, the specific tactics, tools, processes, and focuses should evolve based on learnings, metrics, and shifting market conditions. An experimentation mindset and willingness to change elements that are not driving results allow the strategy to become more effective over time.

Continual optimization based on new data and insights unlocks opportunities for the next stage of growth that may have been invisible initially. Startups that successfully “level up” their GTM approach as their business matures position themselves to scale rapidly and capture expanding market share.


Determining the right go-to-market strategy is crucial for SaaS startups to efficiently acquire and please customers. While initial GTM efforts may rely heavily on experimentation, an iterative and data-driven approach that continuously optimizes based on metrics and insights will fuel long-term growth and scale.

Defining target customer segments, choosing the optimal mix of distribution channels, integrating sales and marketing functions, and adapting for international expansion all factor into a complete GTM plan. But a willingness to evolve the strategy as the business matures allows startups to successfully “level up” their approach at each growth stage.

The journey of optimizing a go-to-market strategy never truly ends for ambitious SaaS companies. As customer needs change, competitors emerge, and technologies advance, the most successful startups view their strategy as a living document that is regularly updated, tested, and improved to capture the greatest market opportunity. With the right foundation in place, a flexible and learning-oriented mindset focused on growth will allow startups to scale their GTM efforts as big as their ambitions.

Cover Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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