What does a successful go-to-market strategy for startups look like?

Once you launch your go-to-market strategy, you shouldn’t have to wait until the end to find out if you’ve been successful. 

What does a successful go-to-market strategy look like? There are several checkpoints along the way that will tell you whether your go-to-market strategy is on the right track.

Many founders go through each phase holding their breath and hoping it works out. This can cause a lot of problems.

Instead, pay attention during each phase we’ve outlined below and make sure you’re hitting the milestones. It could take five weeks or five months, but the companies we see go from no revenue to high growth all work through these five phases and hit every one of these benchmarks.

What does a successful go-to-market strategy look like? 


Phase 1: Conversational Validation

Before you launch your go-to-market strategy, you need to plan it out and build it. To do this, have conversations with your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) or with people who know your ICP, and ask them for feedback on your strategy before launch. 

If the foundations and the hypotheses for your go-to-market strategy are accurate, you should:

  • Get the exact responses from your ICP that you would expect.

During these conversations, you should be asking your ICP specific questions that you already know the correct answer to. If you’re getting that expected answer from your ICP, that’s a good sign.

  • Receive fewer objections or questions. 

You shouldn’t be getting questions from your ICP that make you pause and think, “I don’t have an answer for that” or “I didn’t consider that.” If this is happening, that could signal trouble in the future. 

  • Turn interviews into leads.

If these early conversations go well, potential customers should turn into leads. You’ll know this is happening if people start asking you for pricing or about how to get started.

If you don’t have product-market fit, these discussions end in a very unsatisfying way. But, if they end with somebody looking for you to solve their problem, that’s validation that your strategy has legs.

Phase 2: Top- and Middle-of-Funnel Validation

In this phase, you’ve launched a go-to-market strategy, but you don’t have new customers yet. You’ll know you’re on your way to getting customers if you’re: 

  • Consistently starting conversations. 

This isn’t about sending a 1,000-person email campaign and getting a 4% response rate. You need to be targeted and reach out to a specific list of people, and they should be responding to you. 

  • Converting leads to opportunities. 

In this phase, not only are you having conversations with your targets, but those conversations should consistently be converting from introductory conversations to demos or opportunities. If you’re having initial discussions that aren’t going anywhere, your top- and middle-funnel are telling you that something with your strategy isn’t working. 

  • Receiving little to no pushback on pricing and implementation. 

If your leads are interested and not pushing back on pricing and implementation, that’s a sign you have a successful go-to-market strategy.

Phase 3: Bottom-of-Funnel Validation

What does a successful go-to-market strategy look like at the bottom of the funnel? Basically, you’ve started to acquire the right customers for you right now. Even if you’re post-revenue, hopefully, you know the difference between the right and wrong customers. You’ll know you’re on the right track here if you:

  • Acquire the customers you set out to acquire.

That first customer is not a SaaS sale. They’re more like a consulting client. Think of it as “Service and a Software.” The first customer gets a lot of customization in the sales process and product delivery, which requires time and energy from you. It might be messy or feel held together with duct tape. 

But, you’ve got the customer, and you did it in a way that isn’t set up for failure. You had to do this for the first time at some point. 

  • Have sight of customers two and three and when they will close.

Now that you have your first customer, you should have a line of sight on customers two and three.

You also need several other active conversations at the top of the funnel. This is the entire thesis of the book “Predictable Revenue.” If you get all the way down to the bottom of the funnel and close a deal but haven’t kept the rest of your pipeline full, you’ll be waiting a while to see revenue. 

Phase 4: Successful Customers 

Your first customers are about finding success with your product, whether it be through a pilot or a full engagement. Once the sale is made, the real work begins. 

Get involved in the success of these customers because they’re going to provide data points for you to acquire more customers successfully. You’ll know if you’re doing this right if: 

  • Your product is delivering on its promise.

The process should be going how you planned, and the customer should be getting the deliverables you promised. 

  • You’re collecting positive feedback and referrals to fill your pipeline organically.

Your customers should be talking about bringing in referral opportunities. If this happens, it means your product addresses a market need and is delivering value, and customers like working with you enough to give you more deals. That’s the goal of your go-to-market strategy—to get as many organic leads as possible.

Phase 5: A Repeatable and Scalable Process

By this phase, you’ve earned customers two through five. The process is still slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going well. At this stage, you want to see: 

  • Each new customer take less time, customization, and effort then the last but still achieving the same result.

The whole process should be much more scripted in this phase, and you should move from being reactive to the customer to being proactive and prescriptive. Overall, the sales cycle should be faster, easier and more repeatable. 

  • Less friction, questions, and pushback.

As you learn about the sales process and remove friction, you’ll see much less of it. With every new customer, analyze what worked, what didn’t work, and what’s creating friction so you can continuously improve. 

  • Frequent data points (like quotes, stats, and testimonials) from existing customers fuel top-of-funnel activity.

As you reduce friction, look for customer success data points. When you feed those success stories to the top of your funnel, they should be fueling new development. In the beginning, you were reaching out to people because your company is relevant but not proven. Now you have customers you can point to as proof to quickly start more conversations. 

How to build a successful go-to-market strategy for your startup

If you aren’t hitting the markers in this blog post, don’t just bury your head in the sand and hope. Look closely at your process and make adjustments. 

Also, don’t ignore feedback. More often than not, the market is giving feedback, and the founder responds that the market doesn’t get it. If the market doesn’t get it, either you chose the wrong market, or you’re not explaining it correctly. Both situations are on you, and you have an opportunity to fix them. 

Remember that going to market requires patience. Customers aren’t on your timeline. They’re on theirs. You can easily get stuck in any of these phases and be there for a while. Successful companies are the ones that keep working on the problem.

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