Marketing is a low priority for many early-stage startups in Canada. They see it as an evil necessity. It is something to do when problems emerge, rather than part of the growth equation.

Their tepid approach marketing is a strategic mistake. It puts Canadian startups at a disadvantage because they are missing a key piece of the puzzle.

marketingRather than invest in marketing, startups pin their hopes and dollars on product development. Sadly, this is the wrong approach.

This is a topic I have been banging away for years. So, it’s great to see a new report by Impact Centre Venture Analytics that Canadian startups don’t spend enough on marketing and sales.

In looking at 900 private Canadian technology companies that had received external investments, the report, “Canadian Tech Tortoises: Is a lack of spending on marketing and sales delaying fundraising?” found only 24% of employees were engaged in marketing and sales (M&S) compared to 36% on R&D. In the U.S., 60 tech businesses that scaled to US$10-million, spent on average 73% more than M&S than R&D.

A smaller contingent of M&S employees means that less time will be spent on vital startup activities such as market intelligence, product marketing, and business development. Companies that neglect M&S tend to approach the market only when a product is ready, therefore delaying their first revenue and growth. 

Why do Canadian startups dislike marketing and sales?

I think a big reason is many startup entrepreneurs are engineers or software developers. Their expertise and focus are product development. In their heart of hearts, they believe a good product is good enough. If they build it, customers will come.

The problem is other entrepreneurs are building products that look, cost and work the same. And, in many cases, the best products don’t win.

Fast-growing companies recognize that marketing is an absolute necessity because it creates excitement, interest, curiosity, and demand. Marketing pulls prospects into the funnel. Then, sales drives them down the funnel. It’s a classic one-two punch. When a startup doesn’t do enough marketing and sales, their product withers on the vine.

The lesson for Canadian companies and policy makers is that tech businesses must spend significantly more on M&S employees and other types of M&S expenditures if they wish to reach markets earlier, obtain funding faster, and catch up to their competitors,” the report says. “Canadian firms must break the behavioural pattern that eventually leads to smaller and slowly growing companies. Regardless of their state of development, firms are bound to remain small if they neglect M&S.

Most of my work with startups involves building and running marketing engines. These companies have raised capital but they have done no marketing. Aside from some basic marketing and sales collateral, there is nothing to nurture prospects or serve customers. My best and fast-growing clients recognize marketing accelerates growth. It turns 25% year-over-year growth into 100% or 200% growth. To them, marketing and sales are an investment that delivers strong ROI.

Sadly, too many Canadian startups turn to marketing when it’s too late. It’s like learning how to drive in your mid-30s. A lot of clients arrive with problems and pains: Websites that don’t convert, messaging that doesn’t resonate, or marketing without a roadmap.

My advice to startups is embrace marketing and sales from the beginning. Think about how you will attract, engage and win customers. Drop the belief that product is king. The product goes nowhere if no one knows about it.

Companies that want to grow and scale see marketing and sales as crucial ingredients – not something that gets bolted on.


I work with startups and entrepreneurs looking to accelerate their growth with marketing powered by storytelling and strategy. My services are driven by frameworks and processes to develop messaging, brand positioning and marketing roadmaps.

If you want marketing that makes an impact, let’s talk.

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