Field Course: Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Field Course: Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing

Course Number 6932

Senior Lecturer Frank Cespedes
Senior Lecturer Mark Roberge
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
Enrollment: Limited to 35 per section

The 3-credit Field Course: Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing (ESM) involves 14 case-method class sessions during Q1 plus project-based sessions during Q2 to plan, do field work, present team project results, and give and receive feedback from peers and the faculty.

A 1.5-credit version of this course, encompassing only the Q1 case-method sessions, is offered as Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing Q1, Course Number: 1695.

Career Focus

You should take this course if you expect to be a founder of a startup, or if you join a startup or early-stage company in a sales, sales operations, marketing, or business development role; or if you expect to join a VC, PE or other entity that evaluates and seeks to improve the go-to-market activities of startups. The course focuses on companies in a variety of settings and industries (high-tech, low-tech, professional services, retail-based, and others). It builds on concepts introduced in RC Marketing and the Business Model module of TEM, and is a complement to EC courses on Business Marketing & Sales and Product Management 101.

Educational Objectives

Compared to established firms launching new products, startups face significant challenges with customer acquisition and retention at different stages from initial customer discovery to product-market fit to scaling. This course examines some (not all) representative challenges and tools for that context.

At the outset, startups often have few or no systems in place to manage customer acquisition, including processes for basic issues such as hiring sales people, analyzing sales performance, establishing the marketing/sales budget, choosing and measuring marketing options ranging from SEM or inbound methods or paid advertising, and so on. In addition, marketing and selling in startups are often intimately linked with evolving product and other business-model decisions, not just "handled" by separate marketing or sales functions. At the same time, startups must choose target customers, make prospects aware of their offerings, frame and communicate the value proposition, and understand and optimally navigate the relevant buyer journey, while conserving scarce capital.

Later, moving from early adopters to more mainstream customer groups is often a requirement for scaling, which in turn introduces other issues involved in adapting and changing marketing or selling processes put in place at earlier stages.

Course Content and Organization

The Q1 case portion of the Field Course introduces issues, tools, frameworks, and learnings about customer acquisition and other marketing/sales topics in startups. In the Q2 project portion of the course, students focus on issues required to help build a specific startup's customer base. Project teams are expected to move quickly beyond analysis and focus most of their effort on the application of tools and tactics. In other words, the focus of the Q1 portion of the course is on discussions and concepts that help us to understand what to do and why, while the focus of the Q2 project portion is on how and the application of action-learning tools and experience at a startup company.

The class sessions in the Q1 portion of the Field Course will be primarily devoted to case studies about startup companies in a range of situations and industries.

The class sessions in the Q2 project portion will be devoted to frequent guest sessions from practitioners on specific topics, peer-to-peer feedback on work-in-progress, and tactical skill-building exercises and workshops. Working in teams of 2-4 during the second half of the term, students will complete a student- or instructor-sourced project that applies tools and techniques from the Q1 sessions to specific sales or marketing issues at a startup.

Consistent with the focus of the course on implementation and learning-by-doing, projects will involve designing and testing specific marketing methods for customer-acquisition and retention (such as paid advertising, inbound methods, content marketing, SEM, or PR), and/or various aspects of selling and sales management (e.g., hiring, interviewing, designing compensation plans, establishing a performance management process), not projects involving market or industry analyses or only strategy formulation.

Similarly, ESM projects should not involve the evaluation of embryonic concepts. The entrepreneurs should have achieved initial product-market fit and have well-formed hypotheses about the problem they are addressing, potential solutions, and target customers. In short, the project should be about a startup beyond the ideation and initial MVP testing phases; the startup should already be acquiring customers (or developing concrete plans to do so), or seeking to scale to the next phase of growth.

Examples of project topics that students might pursue include:

  • Conduct customer discovery interviews to learn about a typical prospect's buying criteria and decision making process.
  • Develop criteria for screening beta customers for a startup's first product; identify and recruit pilot participants based on these criteria.
  • Create personas and then use them to choose marketing media and craft messages.
  • Improve the onboarding process for a website or mobile app, refining marketing messages and navigation paths.
  • Draft and test selling scripts for outbound sales reps.
  • Develop or change a startup's Pricing strategy, understanding and managing the links between Pricing, Value Proposition, and the recommended Sales and Selling approach.
  • Complete some sales calls after developing call plans, then refine your selling approach based on results.
  • Develop criteria for qualifying and prioritizing leads generated through different marketing methods.
  • For a startup that employs field sales reps, develop an account prioritization scheme specifying which accounts should receive more attention from sales and marketing.
  • Run a Kickstarter campaign.
  • Plan and implement an inbound marketing program, using blog posts and other content along with social media to generate leads.
  • Craft a plan for managing channel partners, including approaches for recruitment, training, monitoring; develop fee structures and marketing materials for partners.
  • Clarify key sales tasks and develop a process and criteria for hiring early-stage salespeople.
  • Define the relevant sales funnel and the implications for training, coaching, and performance reviews.
  • Develop and put in place a process for conducting relevant and falsifiable go-to-market experiments.
  • Create a dashboard that automates cohort analysis and helps assess the ROI for different marketing programs.

Deliverables during the Q2 portion of the Field Course will include an early work plan (the Q1 portion of the course will provide time and suggestions for developing the work plan as well as opportunities for team formation), and a final presentation of project results in a forum that may involve others from the local startup community beyond HBS. Students will have written assignments in advance of the Q2 skill-building workshops, and regularly present work-in-progress in class while also providing feedback on other teams' work. Each team will also submit a final brief essay about the topic(s) involved in their projects, what they learned, and the context(s) in which those lessons do and do not apply.