Devang Sachdev (Snorkel AI): Nailing Your Platform Go-to-Market

Not all SaaS products have to be platforms. There are countless definitions swirling around about what it means to be a platform and endless discussions on what the best practices for going to market entail.

What about the basics—the foundation of your platform? If you don’t know where you’re starting from and what solution you’re providing, it’s nearly impossible to navigate a successful launch. 

In today’s blog, Devang Sachdev, VP of Marketing at Snorkel AI, shares his insights on the purpose of a platform, what makes a product a platform, and his core strategies for marketing a platform versus an application. 

Dive deep with us as we discuss:

  • The difference between applications and platforms
  • The basics of bringing a platform to market 
  • Key elements of a go-to-market team

“What is most important is to know who your user is and what market you are targeting.” — Devang Sachdev

 

Know the difference between platforms and applications

Devang describes the difference between platforms and applications as revolving around use case needs vs. multiple customer needs.

“It’s not as if platforms are better or applications are better. What is most important is to know who your user is and what market you are targeting,” he says.

“I have gone down the path of brute-forcing an application roadmap towards a platform roadmap, and through that experience, I would say that it’s not a very productive venture,” he cautions. Applications are built—like most SaaS products—with specific use cases in mind. Those specifics may lead to issues when transferring an app into a platform. 

“When you have built an application, you’ve probably created hundreds—if not more—features, and you’ve done it against a very predefined set of use cases or solutions,” says Devang. 

With that comes a specific “predefined business logic of your application,” as he clarifies, and that limits flexibility for transitioning into a platform. Platforms may bring in different use cases which will find the Frankensteined product lacking when they don’t find the customization that is expected in platforms.

“One of the reasons why application builders struggle to transition into platform builders is because building a platform is time-consuming and resource-intensive. There’s a lot that you are going to expose that is sitting underneath the hood of the application.” For Devang, an app is a one-stop solution, and a platform becomes the solution as adopted by end-users. What are you helping people build? 

Determining to move from app to platform or otherwise isn’t the only main consideration when creating a solid go-to-market plan. The marketing and customer enablement approach alters as well. 

Learn the basics of bringing a platform to market

Launching a platform can be anything from organized to chaotic, and where you fall on that scale depends on your prep. It’s not uncommon to go into a launch without everything figured out, but Devang provides some advice on how to mitigate errors in your go-to-market.

“The reality is that not every SaaS product has to be a platform,” says Devang. There’s a sense of urgency for SaaS companies to sell their products as platforms to cut through to investors, but that’s not the only path. “The real purpose of the platform is to be able to enable users to build applications on top of your platform, that’s what the defining factor of a platform is to me,” Devang continues. Platforms are for builders and developers—vessels to help others create and explore. 

Part of determining the solution you’re providing is taking a look at the people using your platform, the industries you’re targeting, and getting into the weeds about what your platform is bringing to the table. 

When asked to elaborate on what role “solutions” have in a platform going to market, Devang explains his view: “One way that I think about solutions is ‘what are all the possible use cases at a few different levels of abstraction?’” 

Abstractions are aspects that exist as solely ideas, not concrete events. 

The three levels of abstraction Devang mentions are:

  • What use case is this solving for a technical user of the platform?
  • What business-based problems is the platform solving?
  • What industry-specific problems is the platform addressing?

Devang further explained that the reason to track these abstractions is that you will be engaging with these three use cases regularly when introducing your platform. The value that each use case gains will be different based on their priorities.

“You need to have at least some value messaging that is specific for industries that you have prioritized,” says Devang. A clear mission leads to quicker adoption. With knowing your end-user comes recognizing what tools you need on the table and figuring out if a platform is the best choice.

“What would you do to inspire and educate? The first thing that you need to do is deeply understand the builders and their motivations.

The differences between these two experiences don’t stop at the foundation, and Devang has intimate knowledge of those deviations. “Similar to how you build a platform, there are nuances and differences when you’re trying to market a platform,” he says, “Through my experience, I’ve discovered that platform marketing is equal parts inspiring your audience and educating them.” 

Inspiring means celebrating the success of your end-users—the builders putting the platform to good purpose in their companies. An example of this is Salesforce and their Trailblazer initiative. And, as Devang says, “Education is to educate new builders or prospective builders, on how to build amazing applications on your platform.” 

Inspiration and education must go hand in hand to encourage adoption. Oftentimes the question “what can I do with your platform?” will come, and if the answer is “you can do whatever you’d like.” it may be overwhelming for users. Builders—end-users—need a starting point, something to grip onto. Applications are ready-to-go solutions and platforms require a stronger hand to bring value. 

The people who help make that value clear are your team members. From marketing perspectives to developers, your team is easily one of the most critical aspects to a successful launch no matter where your platform is starting from.

“One way of really understanding your builders deeply is to have builders on the marketing team.

Three key elements of a go-to-market team

Especially in this market, a good team is truly priceless. Devang suggests that you set up your go-to-market function with these key teams to launch a successful product.

1. Solution marketing team

They are the members of your team that intimately understand the use cases and customers of your platform.

They look at it from the point of view of each use case and find out which features they want. What pain points are you addressing, and for who?

2. Core platform marketing 

This role (or team) defines and describes the shape of the platform—the core value, what features exist, and what is unique.

Which features are comparable? Which are holistic works on the roadmap? Which aspects are closer to the product than the problems in the market, and vice versa?

3. Builders

Developers are builders, and if you ask Devang, they’re essential players on the team. 

Having builders in your corner to lend their perspective and share insight on what your end-users are looking for creates a more cohesive product.

Determine a starting point, nail down your solution, connect with end-users, and build a team that understands the core value of the product. Those are the basics of a successful platform go-to-market strategy.

“On a marketing team, having a developer relationship really helps you build that bridge in terms of connecting with the builders.

Meg Johnson
Meg Johnson
Senior Manager of Creative Strategy
OpenView

As OpenView's Senior Manager of Creative Strategy Meg leads brand development for the firm. Obsessed with software, user experience and design thinking, she works to understand and scale OpenView's brand awareness through thought leadership content programs including: OpenView's podcast 'BUILD with Blake Bartlett' along with the video series 'PLG123' and 'Weekly Walks with Casey Renner'.
You might also like ...
Podcast
Yaw Aning (Malomo): Building Your Company On the ‘As a Service’ Part of SaaS
There’s no one right way to start a SaaS business. Most first-time founders are tasked with learning as they go,...
by Mikaela Gluck
Podcast
May Habib (Writer): On Product, Distribution, and Lessons Learned As a Second-Time Founder
Most first-time SaaS founders are obsessed with building their product. It makes sense—a successful product is a qualifying criteria for...
by Mikaela Gluck
Podcast
Alex Bilmes (Endgame): Unifying Product-Led Sales with Self-Service
You’ve probably heard companies claim that their products sell themselves. And for product-led businesses, this isn’t far from the truth....
by Mikaela Gluck