You’ve spent hours, months, or even years building a great product. Now all you need are customers to show it. Time to execute a go-to-market strategy as quickly as possible and strike while the iron’s hot, right? Wrong
So many entrepreneurs have fallen victim to a rushed or mostly improvised go-to-market strategy. They act in a hurry without planning and then wonder why they fail to acquire customers. We know why. It’s because there’s a lot more involved in launching a successful go-to-market strategy for startups than just having a great product or hitting send on a 500 person cold email campaign.
Every year, organizations like CB Insights and Wilbur Labs conduct studies on why startups fail. The number one cause of failure? Founders who focus too much time, attention and budget on building products, features and functions that are interesting to build but that do not solve a market need or fail to find fit with an existing market need.
If you want to execute a successful go-to-market strategy for your startup, be thoughtful and intentional about what you’re doing before you ever do it.
Here are our top five top go-to-market tips for startups today:
Define exactly who your market is
If you’re going to go to market, you need to figure out exactly who your market is. We’ve worked with thousands of startups worldwide and estimate that 90% of them don’t know who their market actually is before they start working on their go-to-market strategy.
Typically, they are way too vague about who their customers are. A business model canvas can be a useful team exercise when considering turning your idea into a business, but a significant level of additional work and detail is required to do the actual work of go to market.
Reverse engineer who your market is based on a variety of stage-relevant factors before you go to market. Not during or after. Who feels the pain most acutely right now? Industries don’t feel pain. Companies don’t feel pain. People feel pain. So get down to the keystrokes of actual people. Understand their workflow and identify where they have a professional need to do something and are struggling to get it done on-time, under budget, etc. With this human-centered view, the right market and ideal customers will become more clear. Without a clear definition of who your initial target market is, your go-to-market strategy is destined to fail.
Need help narrowing down your target market? Download our free Ideal Customer Profile worksheet to figure it out
Plan before you act
A startup go-to-market strategy isn’t just about finding the right market. It’s also about making sure you have the resources to do it right. If you compromise on the tools, resources and expertise that your go-to-market strategy is built upon, then you will compromise the speed and ultimately the success of that strategy.
Many startups immediately hire salespeople and marketing firms to generate sales and leads, but they don’t know who the right leads are or what to do with those leads when they get them. They think if they start throwing resources at the problem, it will solve itself—but it just doesn’t work that way.
Every founder’s go-to-market strategy should borrow a page from the Navy Seals playbook: “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Your go-to-market strategy is an iterative process. You’re going to shift from a preliminary plan into a tactical one where you plan, act, pause, observe, orient, and act again.
Taking the time to properly plan before launching your go-to-market strategy is also about aligning your tools, resources and processes toward a single market and outcome.
So many companies struggle because they’ve got a website that points to one market (or several), a pricing strategy that points to another and a sales process that points to yet another. This lack of alignment is a common outcome for companies that try to build their customer acquisition strategy on the fly.
But, if everything you do is pointed toward the same outcome, you’re going to reduce friction, increase conversion rates and grow revenue. It’s an intentional process that you can’t do by accident. Go through every go-to-market resource you have, and make sure they’re all optimized for the same goal.
Define what success looks like for your go-to-market strategy
Your go-to-market strategy is a relatively short-term strategy. We aren’t trying to get you from where you are right now to an IPO. This strategy could be for two months, six months, or a year, but it’s not going to lead you to ring the bell at the NASDAQ.
What makes any strategy effective is having a goal. When we talk to entrepreneurs, we often find that the goal of their go-to-market strategy is poorly defined. Founders talk about growing revenue, scale, finding customers or the very common “I’ll know it’s working when I see it” approach.
None of these outcomes are specific which means the path to achieve them lacks clarity as well. You wouldn’t get in your car for a cross country road trip without entering the address in Google maps. The same is true for your go-to-market strategy.
Identify your main objective first, because that will help determine which tools and resources you need to get there. If your goal is to get five customers in the next four months, you won’t waste time and resources reaching out to 50,000 people. You could target 50 people instead. Then, when you successfully hit that first goal, more doors will open up for the next destination.
Keep in mind that time is also an important factor in this equation. If you’re like most founders, time is not on your side. The goal of your startup go-to-market strategy needs to take into account not just what you need to accomplish but when you need it accomplished by.
This might be the most difficult one because we’ve all heard the adage “move fast and break things.” But, that’s terrible advice for a startup go-to-market strategy. Your customers do not move fast and break things. They move on their own timeline and your go-to-market strategy is dependent on them.
This process always takes longer than you expect it to or want it to. Your customers don’t experience all the planning that leads up to you engaging with them, so they’re always a few months behind you.
Once you start to see results, they may not be what you were hoping for, but that’s totally normal. Don’t quit. Observe your process and reorient. How can you get results again but make the process faster, smoother, and more repeatable? Once you really get going, you’ll have the momentum and the motivation to keep doing this over and over and seeing better, faster results.
And if results aren’t happening at all? Don’t blame your market. Map at your process to identify where you’re creating friction for the customer and remove those friction points. Then, start over again.
Execute your startup’s go-to-market strategy
Once you’ve used these tips to plan your go-to-market strategy, you have to actually start doing it. Some companies experience what we call “paralysis by analysis,” which means there is too much discussion about go-to-market strategy but not enough tactical execution. Other startups execute their strategy, but they don’t put enough time and effort into doing it right.
Here’s a quick example of what failure to execute can look like: Recently, we were working with a founder who was struggling to connect his planned go-to-market strategy to actual customers. We discussed his Ideal Customer Profiles quite a lot but kept getting stuck trying to actually find his ICP. We asked him if he had searched Linkedin for the specific roles he was looking for and his response was “no.” In 5 minutes, we did a simple search for his ICP and were able to narrow it down to a hyper targeted list of 247 names. All it took was a simple switch from asking questions to searching for answers and he was on his way to execute.
In our next blog, we’ll go over a few of our top tips for executing your go-to-market strategy for startups after you’ve completed the necessary planning.
Want your own on-demand, go-to-market strategy coach? Apply for our Revenue Accelerator program, the only accelerator entirely dedicated to helping B2B companies win customers and grow revenue.