The Go to Market strategy is one of the most critical elements in a startup’s arsenal. You can have an awesome product or service, but without a good Go to Market (GTM) strategy, you might not get that product out into the world before someone else steals your thunder. You certainly won’t build a business. And while the GTM is critical it seems to be one of the things that many first time founders don’t fully understand. The Go to Market strategy isn’t something that you should start thinking about for the first time when you’re creating an investor pitch deck, but should be part of your internal company playbook. Every activity of the company in the early days should be aligned with the GTM. If you don’t have one, you can’t have that alignment.
A great GTM will:
- Impress investors
- Help you validate your market/idea/product
- Help you get to Product/Market fit
- Be a competitive advantage
- Generate revenues
I understand why so many founders are confused about go to market strategies. For a lot of first time founders, this is something new and the info on the internet isn’t consistent. When I ask people to tell or show me their go to market strategies, I’ve had bright people reply with 2 and 3 word answers like “Growth Hacking” or “advertising, marketing, and sales”. Those are not go to market strategies. They are categories of activities that are too vague to act on with no more info. The answers might not be wrong, but they certainly are not enough.
So what is a go to market strategy and how should you go about crafting yours?
Before I go on, I want to remind you that this is not about what you should put in your GTM slide on your pitch deck. This is about your actual “go to market” strategy. What ends up in your pitch deck is “just enough” to convince investors that you actually have a plan to get users to adopt your product. A large percentage of the GTMs I review seem to suggest that “if I build it, they will come”, or that “serendipity” is an acceptable GTM strategy. Spoiler alert, those are not good answers.
What is a Go To Market Strategy?
Let’s keep this simple. A Go To Market strategy is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a plan that shows how you are going to go from where your product is today and get it in the hands of your next group of users/customers. I say “next group” because if you don’t yet have customers, your GTM will be about how you get to your early adopters and how that will lead to later users. If you already have initial customers, your GTM will be more about how you will grow from your base.
You should have 2 versions of your GTM, one that you can use to execute and one that you will use when communicating with people outside the company like investors or potential strategic partners. The latter version, for the outsiders, will be a distilled version of your internal strategic document. The internal execution version of the GTM is your road map and will help align everyone on the team. GTM’s are not meant to be vague or general. That’s why “growth hacking” is not a good GTM strategy.
Your go to market strategy should address the main stages of what is known as the customer journey. Although the specifics of the customer journey vary a bit between consumer and enterprise companies, there is enough common ground to use to craft your GTM strategy.
Using a high level customer journey, your GTM should answer the following questions:
- Do you know who your users/customers/stakeholders are and how to reach them? For enterprise, this means knowing the decision makers and the buying process.
- How will you make your users/customers aware that your product exists and potentially solves their problem better than the legacy solutions or competitive products?
- How will you reach them to deliver your message? Inside sales team? Personal networks? Trade shows? And why will they listen?
- Once they are aware of your product, how will you get them to trial/test your product/service? Why will they take a chance on your unproven solution? How will you make it easy for them to “try you”.
- How will you make it easy for them to adopt your solution? Will you train them? Can they self install/sign up? Will you transfer their legacy data for them?
- Will you make it easy for people that see your message to share your message (virality/referrers)?
- Is pricing part of the enticement to trial? (14 day trials? Freemium?)
- Do you have some advantage that you can use as part of getting in front of potential buyers (ex. Certification from a regulatory group that is difficult to get, or a relationship with a trade organization that will advertise you)
- Do you have a special strategic alliance that helps you get awareness?
It all starts with the the target customer
The most important part of your go to market strategy is having a clear idea of who your target customer is and an understanding of their experiences and motivations. A consistent weakness I see in GTMs is either a weak understanding of the customer, or a vague one.
A vague description of the customer for consumer businesses might be “women 25-35”. For enterprise, it might be “SMB’s”. These are vague because these groups are so large and varied that it’s not likely that they all have a common pain point that you are going to solve.
A weak description might be one that describes a somewhat narrow group, which might seem focused, but where the group’s characteristics are loosely connected to whether or not they have a common pain point, like “sole practitioner dentists in the Bay Area” when the problem you are solving is about “helping dentists market more effectively”. I can’t tell from the description of the group if Bay Area dentists consider marketing to be a pain point many of them have.
Any good description of your target customer will not just describe who they are, but what they want and need. It will describe when, how, and why they experience your problem use case. It will describe their motives for taking a leap of faith… or not. It will show that you understand who they are and some of the thinking that influence their behaviors.
You should have 2 levels of target users (at least). There is a larger pool of people who are likely to be experiencing the problem you are solving. Then there is the smaller, laser focused group of people that are almost certainly feeling pain, know they have a problem, and are looking for a solution. Those people are your spear tip. They are where your GTM starts and how you validate that your solution is valued.
Take a moment and think about your product or service. If you had to describe the potential early adopters, the people who will be thrilled that you have arrived, how would you describe those people?
So now you know who your GTM is targetting. And you have the questions above to help you draft the considerations of your plan. So what else do you need to do?
There’s actually a lot more to do that I can cover in one article, but here is how you make your GTM better than most…
Doing this will level up your GTM
Think about why people in your ideal-target-market group, after being shown your messaging and your product, would NOT become customers. To do this part correctly, you need to step outside of your founder-centric enthusiasm. You need to forget why you love your product. You need to stop assuming that everyone will instantly want to give you money. And at the same time, you have to assume that you have GOOD reasons not to buy.
I know. It’s insane. But play along. Make a list of the reasons. Some might include:
- They are worried that you are a scam
- They don’t want to share their information with an unproven stranger
- They like the fact that their imperfect legacy product is integrated with their other systems
- They may not want to take a risk on your product because if it fails, they might get fired
- They might not have the pain you think they have at the level you expected
- They may worry about the effort they have to make to adopt a new product
- They may not want to lose all the work they’ve stored on the old system/app
- They may worry that you won’t be around in a few years
- They may not like the combination of features you created
- The innovative new UI you thought would wow them is confusing to them
I could fill a whole page with more examples, but the point is: think hard about what it will take to get people to make a change. Change is scary and takes effort. Change has a learning curve. Change might not work and is risky. Inertia is the biggest competitor most startups will face.
So when you are thinking about your GTM, you need to think about how, at each step, you address these very real and very valid concerns.
After you make your list of “reasons not to buy” go back to your GTM and think about elements you can add to your approach, your ads, your sales scripts, your product, your guarantees, etc.
Adding these steps when you are developing your Go To Market strategy will not only give you a better chance for success, but it will prepare you to answer the hard questions that you’ll get when you are ready to fundraise.
In addition to starting and scaling companies of my own, I’ve worked with numerous coaching clients to help them craft their strategy and story in their early stages. In addition, I am part of an angel investment group’s selection committee and a frequent pitch panel judge. As a result of those roles, I see and review dozens of startup pitches and plans each month and know which ones give investors confidence and which don’t.
I’ve been working in or with startups for the last 25 years and am the CEO of The Founder’s Forge. The Founder’s Forge was created to provide an amalgam of business coaching, personal coaching, founder advisory and mentorship, fundraising strategies, and startup foundation education for early stage founders and first time CEOs. We focus on giving founders the tools they need to: execute effectively, avoid common mistakes, get clarity and focus, and do all of that with less stress and better relationships.
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