Why big company sales and marketing is wrong for startups

Chris Grannell
TIC Group

Ambitious startups should resist emulating the sales and marketing practices of established companies if they want to succeed in new markets.

Managers working with startups and radically new ideas are often tempted by 'tried and tested' sales and marketing methodologies borrowed from products and companies that are already successful. Perhaps surprisingly, this approach is almost certain to fail.

Although the principles of marketing are universal, it's easy to forget that how they are applied is context-dependent. The same is true for sales. What works in established firms is generally not what startups need.

Copying big firms leads startup managers to make wholly inappropriate assertions, such as 'get it right before we ship', 'make sure it looks the part', and 'build awareness to support the sales process'. Big company thinking seems right, looks good and feels grown up. But – stop and think for a moment – once established, big companies need strategies relating to market dominance, consumer confidence, mass market education, power over channels and building differentiation. Few of these concepts are relevant to new products in new markets. The premature pursuit of ideas like these can lead startups into what Steve Blank (more on him later) refers to as a 'death spiral': throwing more good money after bad and frequently churning through executives to boot.