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

Field Course: Entrepreneurial Sales and Marketing

Course Number 6932

Senior Lecturer Frank V. Cespedes
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
28 sessions

Career Focus

You should take this course if you expect to initiate or join a startup, especially in a sales, sales operations, marketing, or business development role; or if you expect to join a VC, PE or other entity (e.g., search fund) that evaluates the go-to-market activities of ventures. The course examines firms in various settings (high-tech, low-tech, professional services, retail-based, 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, Product Management, and Launching Technology Ventures.

Educational Objectives

Startups face challenges with customer acquisition at stages from customer discovery to scaling. This course examines some (not all) representative issues and tools for that context.

At the outset, startups often have few or no systems to manage customer acquisition, including 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 intimately linked with evolving business-model decisions, not just “handled” by separate marketing or sales functions. At the same time, startups must understand and navigate the relevant buyer journey(s), while conserving scarce capital. Later, moving from early adopters to more mainstream customer groups is often a scaling requirement. This introduces issues involved in adapting marketing/selling processes put in place at earlier stages.

Course Content and Organization

The course begins with (and throughout has a heavy emphasis on) tactical issues in sales management, and then moves to wider topics in growing a customer base. The core modules are:

  1. Selling, Sales Management, and Customer Acquisition
  2. Marketing Analytics: Funnel Analysis, Customer Selection, and the Buying Journey
  3. Channel Selection and Channel Management
  4. Marketing Analytics and Sales Implementation: Pricing
  5. Scaling the Venture: Managing Marketing and Sales

There is no final exam. Instead, students form teams and focus on a field-based final paper. The case studies and guest lectures provide tools, frameworks, and learnings about customer acquisition topics in startups: what to do and why. In the projects, students focus on an issue required to help build a specific venture’s customer base: how to do it and application of analytics. Each team of 2-4 students must map the relevant buying journey for that venture, interview customers and/or business development people, apply their learnings to a specific marketing or sales topic, and present their analyses and recommendations in a final paper.

Projects can be sourced by the students (e.g., your venture, or a venture you know or want to know) and the instructors will also post projects sponsored by alumni and others. But project teams are expected to move quickly beyond analysis and focus most of their effort on the application of tools and tactics. Projects can involve designing and testing specific marketing methods for customer-acquisition and retention (e.g., paid advertising, inbound methods, content marketing, SEM, or PR), or aspects of selling and sales management (e.g., hiring, interviewing, designing compensation plans, establishing a performance management process), not projects involving only market or industry analyses or strategy formulation.

Examples of project topics that students might pursue include:

  • Conduct customer interviews to learn about prospects’ buying criteria and decision making process.
  • Develop criteria for screening beta customers for a startup’s first product; then identify and recruit pilot participants based on these criteria.
  • Create personas and then use them to choose marketing media and craft messages.
  • Draft and test selling scripts for outbound sales reps.
  • Develop or change a startup’s Pricing strategy, understanding the links between Pricing, Value Proposition, and the recommended Sales approach.
  • Complete some sales calls after developing call plans, then refine the pitch based on results.
  • Develop criteria for qualifying and prioritizing leads generated through different marketing methods.
  • Develop an account prioritization scheme.
  • Run a Kickstarter campaign.
  • Plan and execute an inbound marketing program: use blog posts or social media to generate leads.
  • Craft a plan for choosing or 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 implications for training, coaching, and performance reviews.
  • Develop and a process for conducting relevant and falsifiable go-to-market experiments.
  • Create dashboards that automate cohort analyses and assess ROI for different marketing programs.

Deliverables will include an early work plan and perhaps a final presentation of project results in a forum that may involve others from the startup community beyond HBS. As well as the team’s final paper, each team member will also submit a brief essay (1-2 pages) about what s/he learned (professionally and/or personally), and the context(s) in which those lessons do and do not apply.