When you're unveiling a new product, the last thing you want is to launch it without a proper go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
Without planning, it’s impossible to know if you’re chasing the wrong audience, you’re too early or too late to the market, or the market is already too saturated with similar solutions. You can also end up wasting time and resources launching an unprofitable product. To avoid this, it’s important to craft a carefully thought out go-to-market plan.
I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to build a killer GTM strategy. This guide can be used for startups, B2B businesses, and virtually any new venture you plan on launching.
Before we go any further, what is a go-to-market strategy?
Go-to-Market (GTM) Strategy
A go-to-market (GTM) strategy is a step-by-step plan created to successfully launch a product to market. A good GTM strategy generally identifies a target audience, includes a marketing plan, and outlines a sales strategy. While each product and market will be different, a GTM strategy should identify a market problem and position the product as a solution.
In simpler terms, a GTM strategy is the way in which a company brings a product to market. It’s a handy roadmap that measures feasibility and predicts success based on market research, prior examples, and competitive data.
You don’t necessarily have to launch a product, either. You can create a GTM plan for a new service, a new branch of your company, or even an entirely new business.
Why do you need a go-to-market strategy?
An idea might seem bright, but its execution can result in failure. Indeed, it’s a well-known fact that 90% of startups fail, with many not making it past the first year.
Creating a go-to-market plan can prevent many of the pitfalls that ail new product launches. Poor product-market fit and oversaturation can dampen a launch, even if the product is well-designed and innovative.
While a strategy won’t fully prevent failure, it can help you keep your expectations reasonable and work out any kinks before you invest in bringing a product to market.
The 4 Components of a GTM Strategy
Before I share my go-to-market strategy framework, I thought I’d go over four key points of a GTM plan.
All of these points are integrated into the step-by-step guide I share below, so you don’t need to answer these questions now. They’re useful for keeping in mind, however — especially if you’re creating a never-before-seen product.
Here are the four critical parts of a go-to-market strategy:
- Product-market fit: What problem(s) does your product solve?
- Target audience: Who is experiencing the problem that your product solves? How much are they willing to pay for a solution? What are the pain points and frustrations that you can alleviate?
- Competition and demand: Who already offers what you’re launching? Is there demand for the product, or is the market oversaturated?
- Distribution: Through what mediums will you sell the product or service? A website, an app, or a third-party distributor?
Now, let’s get started. Below is my step-by-step guide to building your own GTM strategy using the tactics I’ve implemented to build multiple companies throughout the years.
I’ve also outlined how you can iterate and optimize as your company evolves, and you’ll find helpful examples of how we’ve broken these steps down at my most recent company, SalesHero.
How to Build a Go-to-Market Strategy
- Identify the buying center and personas.
- Craft a value matrix to help identify messaging.
- Test your messaging.
- Optimize your ads based on the results of your tests before implementing them on a wide scale.
- Understand your buyer’s journey.
- Choose one (or more) of the four most common sales strategies.
- Build brand awareness and demand generation with inbound and/or outbound methods.
- Create content to get inbound leads.
- Find ways to optimize your pipeline and increase conversion rates.
- Analyze and shorten the sales cycle.
- Reduce customer acquisition cost.
- Strategize ways to tap into your existing customer base.
1. Identify the buying center and personas.
As cliché as it might seem, the first thing to do when preparing your product for market is to consider your customer.
On average, there are 6.8 decision makers for every sale who have a say in whether a product is purchased. These people make up what is called the “buying center.”
The roughly seven roles are as follows (though it’s important to note some job titles might occupy more than one role):
- Initiator: Starts the buying process or shows initial interest
- User: Uses your product regularly
- Influencer: Convinces others the product is needed
- Decision maker: Gives final approval for the purchase
- Buyer: Owns the budget
- Approver: Final approver who pushes the initiative on a larger scale (typically someone in the C-suite)
- Gatekeeper: Blocker in getting a product implemented or approved
These roles vary based on the product, industry, and vertical you’re selling to. Get your team together and brainstorm the various job titles that could be impacted by your solution.
Research each role to get a general sense of what they do, their goals, and their pain points. It’s critical to learn who these people are, what motivates them, and what their problems are, as they will be the ones to put your product on the map.
Using SalesHero as an example, the buying center breaks down like this:
2. Craft a value matrix to help identify messaging.
After mapping your buying center personas, it’s time to map out your value matrix.
A value matrix is a breakdown of each buying center persona, their business problems, and how your product is valuable in solving those problems.
The value matrix will also include a relevant marketing message tying the problem and solution together.
Create a chart with each persona in one column. Below each persona, list the pain points they face on a daily basis. If your product can solve or ease any of these problems, include them in a row below.
Lastly, the message needs to capture the pain point and value in a meaningful way. The best way to achieve this is to agitate the pain point. People will take a painkiller to cure a headache but are much less likely to take a daily vitamin to prevent the pain in the first place. The value your product brings should solve the pain, not act as a vitamin.
Here’s an example of a complete value matrix:
3. Test your messaging.
Once your value matrix is in place, it’s time to test your messaging. Start advertising on marketing platforms using the messages you’ve just created for various audience members.
You’ll have three variables to test: the channel you advertise on, the audience you target, and the message you share.
When deciding where to test, first consider where your audience is. Possible paid digital ad channels might be LinkedIn, Google Ads, Facebook, and Twitter. Test the various channels and continue advertising on those showing high conversions. And stop investing in channels where you see low conversions.
4. Optimize your ads based on the results of your tests before implementing them on a wide scale.
Next, optimize your audience. Some ad platforms have highly targeted audience settings for advertisers. For example, LinkedIn offers options for job title, job function, company size, and geographic location. Test different options to see who is more likely to click or convert.
For example, we noticed high clicks in certain industries, so we began targeting and using our ad budget to focus on those handful of industries on LinkedIn. The key here is spending money where you’ll get the biggest return on investment.
And you’ll be testing your message to see which versions resonate most with your audience. The engagement and conversion rates of your ads will indicate which value proposition and pain points work best.
Once you’ve collected this data, you can base your larger campaigns off these successful insights.
5. Understand your buyer’s journey.
With your personas and value matrix built, dive deeper to understand the journey a potential customer will take, both from the buyer’s perspective and from the perspective of your company.
From your customer’s perspective, the buying process is linear. More or less, it will go like this:
- The buyer realizes they have a business problem and research the topic
- The buyer shortlists potential solutions
- That list is narrowed down by talking to sales teams from the solution provider and by testing product use cases until a decision is made
The buyer’s journey — from the perspective of the business — used to be a funnel. In the traditional sales funnel, there is a lot of general interest at the top. It gradually narrows down as opportunities fall out of the pipeline.
This journey was divided into three sections:
But the sales funnel is no longer the best way to look at your buyer’s journey. Instead, I propose using the flywheel methodology, which takes a more holistic approach that puts your customer at the center and turns your leads from prospects to customers to active promoters.
In the flywheel model, customers go through three stages: attract, engage, and delight.
First up is the attract phase. Content at this stage grabs a potential customer’s attention. This can be in the form of a blog, whitepaper, or video. A lead gets here by clicking on an ad, social media post, or a search engine result. However, these behaviors do not indicate that this lead is ready to make a purchase yet.
After that comes the engage phase. In this stage, a prospect has demonstrated they have a problem your product can solve. They show this through digital behavior like downloading an ebook or joining a webinar, giving you the opportunity to engage them with educational content.
While each company divides the lead generation and qualification process differently, marketing is typically in charge of the attract and engage phases. Your marketing team will need to generate interest and awareness and educate the relevant audience on a product’s value through messaging and content (more on that later).
Halfway through the engage phase, the prospect should ask for a quote or a trial period. They’re nearing a decision on whether or not to purchase.
Once the prospect reaches this point, the sales team takes over. The process will typically look as follows:
- Contact: Communication between the lead and sales rep begins.
- Qualification: The sales rep learns more about the company and their lead’s problems and asks questions to see if they meet the basic requirements to purchase the product (BANT is a popular sales qualification method but there are several others sales methodologies that are used to qualify).
- Business case: The prospect tests the product through a free trial or POC to see if it can solve their needs.
- Evaluation: The decision makers in the organization weigh the cost of the product to the results they achieved during the business case.
- Negotiation: Both sales rep and decision makers discuss pricing details and feature needs.
- Close: A deal is agreed upon and your prospect turns into a customer.
- Renewal (Optional): Your customer renews their contract or subscription.
Right after your sales representative closes the sale, the lead leaves the engage phase and enters the delight phase. When your customer has reached this stage, they should be delighted with a painless onboarding process and friendly customer service options.
After that, your customer should ideally turn into a promoter. They bring you more customers, keeping the flywheel going and enabling you to grow better.
6. Choose one (or more) of the four most common sales strategies.
You’ve done all the required foundational work, now it’s time to pick a strategy that will push your product into the market. No one method will work for every product or market, so it’s important to consider the complexity, scalability, and cost of yours.
There are generally four go-to-market sales strategies — each one catering to a different product and business model.
The Self-Service model
The self-service model is when a customer makes a purchase on their own. We typically see this model with B2C purchases in which a customer can find and buy a product via a website, like Netflix or Amazon.
This works best for simple products with a low cost point and high volume of sales. It’s difficult to build, but, when successful, it sees a short sales cycle, zero cost to hire salespeople, and is highly profitable.
While you won’t need a sales team, you will need a marketing team to drive traffic and conversions to your site. The core marketing team would likely include growth marketing, performance marketing, and content marketing experts, though there will likely be other team members as well.
The Inside Sales Business Model
The inside sales business model is when a prospect needs to be nurtured by a sales rep to convert into a deal. This type of model works best with a product of medium complexity and price.
The sales cycle ranges between a few weeks and a few months. Here, you’ll invest in a sales team — but inside sales reps are less expensive than field reps.
With a high volume of sales, this model can be profitable and is fairly easy to build and scale as you hire more team members. The sales team in this model is typically comprised of a sales manager that supervises a handful of reps.
The Field Sales Business Model
The field sales business model is when you have a full sales organization that closes large enterprise deals. These are typically complex products with high price points, which also means there’s typically a low volume of deals with a long sales cycle.
The sales team in this model is often very costly as the field reps are experienced, high-salary employees. This model is easy to build, but harder to scale, because it takes time and money to hire and train a full sales organization.
Members include a sales manager, field reps, sales engineers, a sales development representative (SDR) team, and sales operations.
The Channel Model
Lastly, in the channel model, an outside agency or partner sells your product for you. This is hard to build, as the people can be difficult to recruit and educate on the benefits of your product. They are also often less motivated to sell than your own sales team would be.
However, this is a cheap model, because you don’t need to pay a sales team of your own. It works best with a product that matches with the partner’s interest. For example, if you sell phone cases, you might want to find partners selling related products, like Best Buy or Apple.
You can mix and match these strategies based on industry or customer size (i.e., number of licenses or seats). For startups, it’s healthy to scale over time rather than investing in an expensive sales team too early.
7. Build brand awareness and demand generation with inbound and/or outbound methods.
Now you need to fill your pipeline by snagging the attention of your target audience. This occurs through demand generation, which can happen with inbound and/or outbound strategies.
With inbound, prospects discover your brand through marketing efforts and reach out to you or show signs of interest organically. Some examples of organic inbound traffic channels could be social media, content, or paid ads leading to a landing page.
Outbound demand generation is when a salesperson contacts a lead through cold outreach tactics. They might do this by reaching out to a contact list, sending warm emails, phoning leads, or gathering leads at industry conferences.
Once interest has been generated through these methods, sales conversations begin, and the leads are led to more educational content and then into the sales funnel.
8. Create content to get inbound leads.
Inbound leads are generally easier to convert and cheaper to acquire than outbound leads. This is because inbound leads are already partially educated on the business problem you solve, aware of your product, and usually more interested in buying your product.
Content marketing is the key to generating that inbound interest, as content will drive traffic to your site.
Your content marketing team will drive this inbound traffic by finding and targeting keywords that your potential customers would search for and then creating and posting related content on your website.
At the core of content marketing is search engine optimization (SEO), which is the way a search engine ranks the content on the internet once a query is entered into the search bar. This will be a main source for your organic web traffic.
What goes into content marketing? It’s a cycle of keyword research, creation, and measurement.
- Keyword research: Identify keywords related to your product, analyze the volume (how often that keyword is searched) and difficulty of ranking for that keyword (i.e., how competitive that keyword is) and see who is already ranking for those keywords.
- Content research: Brainstorm content topics that include that keyword. See what articles already exist around these topics and begin to plan your content calendar.
- Content creation: Put those ideas into motion and have a writer create articles on those topics.
- Design: Add relevant images, infographics, videos, and other multimedia to your content so it’s more visual and engaging.
- Promote: Spread your content and drive traffic to your website by sharing the links via social media or emails to your customer database.
- Build links: Reach out to other publishers and ask them to link to your content to gain even more traffic with link building tactics. This gives you site authority, which helps improve your SEO rankings.
- Conversion rate: Track and measure the engagement and conversion rates of your content. Keep doing what works and drop what doesn’t. From there, begin the content creation cycle again.
Your content team should develop content that aligns with the various stages of the buyer’s journey (top-of-funnel, middle-of-funnel, bottom-of-funnel).
Top-of-funnel content is lighter educational content, middle-of-funnel content is deeper, more applied learning, and bottom-of-funnel content is for those who are ready to buy and implement. To use SalesHero as an example, the content at each level of the funnel would look like this:
- Top-of-funnel content: “What is sales AI?”
- Middle-of-funnel content: “How sales AI can increase productivity”
- Bottom-of-funnel content: “Using sales AI to extract dark data”
9. Find ways to optimize your pipeline and increase conversion rates.
Growth requires more than simply picking a sales strategy and building a demand generation process. You must optimize.
You’ll also want to track how many opportunities come into the flywheel: your pipeline volume.
Then track how many leads turned into customers. Comparing the volume of the pipeline opportunities to the number of won deals will get you your overall conversion rate.
It’s even more important to optimize the conversion rate between stages. As opportunities move through the funnel, they’ll go through various qualification processes (i.e. basic qualifications, current solutions in use, technical evaluation, and closing), and you’ll want to track at which stage the opportunities fall out and why.
You’ll need to measure this for your overall flywheel and per sales rep. This information tells you where each rep needs to improve and potentially receive more training. Work to personalize your sales coaching efforts to shorten the sales cycle of each rep. Compare time and conversion rate to see who's better and faster in particular stages.
Track how many opportunities each rep converts and at what stage in the process they drop out. The sooner an unqualified opportunity falls out of the flywheel, the better, because less time, energy, and resources are spent on that particular lead.
10. Analyze and shorten the sales cycle.
Finally, track how long your sales cycle is. This is the amount of time it takes for an opportunity to enter the sales funnel and change to a closed/won deal. The goal is to shorten the conversion between every stage. This can be done by identifying common objections (and iterating ways to remove them before they happen), doing ongoing lead nurturing, and brainstorming ways to find the best fit customers.
11. Reduce customer acquisition cost.
As a business owner, you’ll also need to optimize your customer acquisition cost. This will be very expensive at first, but as time goes on, you’ll need to reduce this cost by optimizing your processes, or you’ll be losing more money than you make.
Customer acquisition is how much it costs to gain a new customer or deal per $1. The lower the customer acquisition cost, the lower the impact your marketing efforts have on your PNL, and the higher the profit you get per customer.
12. Strategize ways to tap into your existing customer base.
A common adage in the industry is that it costs 7 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to do business with an existing customer. That's because, if you're providing a great buying experience, existing customers already know, like, and trust you.
The best opportunity for companies to earn more and gain revenue is through renewals, cross-selling, and upselling. The average cost for a company to renew a product is $0.13, while upsells cost a company $0.28.
Many people think of sales as a black box. But with analytics and new sales AI technologies cropping up, business leaders can optimize their processes to accelerate business.
Building a successful company is not reserved for those entrepreneurs who’ve been blessed with special skills.
Chances are, you’ve already built your product, and building a company is a very similar process. You must be strategic and continue to improve throughout the process.
Take time and continue to iterate, and you too can build a company.
Still stumped? Below, I’ve included a few more examples of go-to-market strategies that can help you inspire your own.
Go-to-Market Strategy Examples
- Microsoft Surface
- Bread Beauty Supply
- The Sip
While Uber has bypassed Via in popularity and product usage, Via has effectively carved a niche in the transportation technology space.
The company’s GTM strategy consisted of its emphasis on ride sharing — that is, riders literally share rides with other riders who are traveling in the same direction. The driver takes a predetermined route and drops riders off at convenient locations, rather than picking up riders at private locations.
Via set out to solve a common pain point for commuters: overcrowded or unavailable public transit with inflexible routes.
Another pain point of the target audience was that Uber and Lyft rides were overpriced and couldn’t be used for daily commutes. Via looked at this problem and created a true ridesharing service that could fill the space Uber and Lyft didn’t fill.
Now, the company partners with private transit operators, schools, and public transit agencies to expand existing operations or provide more riding options for passengers. The result of Via’s go-to-market strategy is that it no longer sees Uber as a direct competitor.
2. Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Windows has long been the preeminent OS, and for good reason: most computer manufacturers offer Windows laptops and desktops.
So why would Microsoft launch its own line of computers and tablets if its software is ubiquitous?
In its go-to-market strategy for its Surface products, Microsoft set out to solve a common problem for tablet users. Tablets were primarily mobile devices; while they were convenient to carry, they didn’t offer the full functionality of a laptop. And for many people, owning both a tablet and a laptop was not financially feasible.
When it released the third generation of the Surface tablet, Microsoft made its position clear. The device was a fully functioning computer in tablet form. You could have a light device without sacrificing function. Compared to the Apple iPad, its principal competitor, the Surface tablet offered more functionality at the same price.
Now, the Microsoft Surface line has expanded to include laptops and desktops. Microsoft realized that laptop buyers may not purchase a Windows laptop because there are so many manufacturers to choose from. Specifications and hardware components vary from machine to machine.
With its Surface laptops, Microsoft makes the choice easier for target demographics such as college students and everyday users. These devices compete with Apple’s macOS offerings and are designed to seamlessly integrate with all of the features of Windows OS.
At first glance, the Owala brand of water bottles doesn’t seem much different from competitors.
But in its go-to-market strategy, the brand used its motto, “Do more of what you love,” to hint at its products’ ease-of-use. You can “do more of what you love” since you won’t even waste time opening the bottle. The lid itself is where you sip.
With its product launch, Owala addressed common problems for water-drinkers: openings that are too wide, spills, and two-handed drinking.
Owala specifically targets those who are active. In its first series of Instagram posts, the brand posted a mosaic of a man on a motorcycle, and in most of its social posts, it includes people in workout clothes.
The company arguably entered an overcrowded space. Brands such as HydroFlask and Contigo dominate the industry. By addressing a specific target buyer and solving their problems, however, Owala successfully launched into a crowded market. The brand distributes its offerings through its website, BestBuy, and Amazon for optimum reach.
4. Bread Beauty Supply
Bread Beauty Supply, a black- and woman-owned hair care line, set out to solve a common problem for its curly-haired audience: overcomplicated routines that waste time, energy, and products.
The brand launched in 2020 and partnered with Sephora as its principal distribution channel. In its go-to-market strategy, the brand identified a segment of buyers who would rather keep their routine simple and leave their curls in their natural state.
Compare this strategy with that of competitor brands such as Pattern Beauty and Ouidad, both of which offer a multitude of hair care products that can dizzy, confuse, and overwhelm buyers. When creating its go-to-market plan, Bread Beauty Supply recognized that some people with curly hair would rather spend less, not more, time on their hair.
While the curly hair care industry verges on overcrowded, Bread Beauty Supply successfully launched by taking a unique stance in the industry.
5. The Sip
The Sip, also black- and woman-owned, is a champagne subscription service that makes drinking luxury wine more affordable.
Champagne clubs have always been around, offering monthly deliveries of delectable wines at a premium cost.
To the target audience, however, this model poses a few problems. The wine of choice for that month could fail to meet expectations, and that could result in a wasted bottle. And that is at full cost, too. One of The Sip’s competitors, Club Bubbly, charges $100 per month to deliver two bottles of champagne.
In its go-to-market strategy, The Sip emphasized its mini-bottle program: subscribers can try three mini-bottles of champagne at a fraction of the cost. If you happen to like one, you can buy the full bottle.
By solving common problems faced by subscribers of wine boxes, The Sip not only attracted the subscribers of its competition, but opened up this type of subscription to buyers who could not previously afford it.
Create a Strong GTM Strategy for Your New Venture
Building a go-to-market strategy is critical before bringing your new product to market. With the steps I shared in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to launching a product or service that solves for your future customers and becomes profitable in the marketplace.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jan 28, 2021 5:00:00 PM, updated January 29 2021