What is Go-to-Market Strategy? (Definition and Expert Tips)

When searching for answers about how to develop your go-to-market strategy, there are thousands of articles that all generally provide the same broad answers. The challenge is that these go-to-market definitions tell entrepreneurs what going to market means, but they don’t really provide any value or tactical advice on how to actually do it. They don’t answer the question, what is go-to-market strategy?

So, what is Go-to-Market Strategy for startups?

A go-to-market strategy is an intentional plan and process to acquire new customers successfully

The first part of this definition is about developing an intentional plan. Before launching your strategy, you must consider all of the steps, like building a list of contacts, writing emails, having conversations, and more. Of course, it won’t be perfect, but most startups don’t have a plan at all. That’s why they fail

The second part of our go-to-market strategy definition is about acquiring customers. That is, in the most fundamental sense, the goal of every go-to-market strategy, yet many founders get confused along the way. It’s not about open rates, click rates, page views, or the number of interested people. 

The only way to measure if your go-to-market strategy is successful is whether or not you can acquire new customers.

It’s also important to understand that a go-to-market strategy is not a scaling strategy. When it comes to early stage businesses, you’re focusing on new customer acquisition. 

The word “scale” should not be part of your conversations right now. What your go-to-market strategy is all about is proving that there a market for your product. Build lean, and build for change. Then, once your market is proven, you can build for speed and scale. 

What are the 4 elements of a go-to-market strategy for startups? 

1. A target market 

You’ll need a specific target market, or an Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), for your product. If you don’t know exactly who your market is, it will negatively impact every aspect of your go-to-market strategy.

The more specific your ICP is, the more successful you’ll be.

If you only have a vague idea of who your customers are, it will be challenging to build a go-to-market strategy that’s relevant to them.

Whether you’re B2B or B2C, your target audience will always be a tangible list of people, not a persona, sector or list of companies. Companies, markets and industries don’t buy anything, people do. 

2. A problem you solve for your target market 

This also needs to be incredibly specific. You must get to know the people in your target audience and understand what their pains are today.

How do they do their jobs? What’s going wrong with the way they do their jobs without your product today? What would their day-to-day look like if you solve that problem for them?

The closer you can get to your target buyer’s actual keystrokes the easier it will be to identify the problems that they need you to solve.

3. Market Development, not Marketing

This section is where most other articles talk about a “marketing” strategy, but that’s simply the wrong approach. During your startup’s go-to-market strategy, you shouldn’t be doing any marketing.

There’s no room for ads, SEO, SEM, or videos. Your goal is to get new customers and prove the market exists in a time and capital efficient manner.

You need to learn quickly, and the fastest way to learn is to actually talk to your ideal customers.

Data points like open rates, click-through rates, and time on site don’t tell you anything about whether or not you’re in the right market. They just tell you how effective you are at getting their passive attention, and they especially don’t tell you if your target market is interested.

Rather than marketing, focus on how you can actually speak with as many people in and around your target market as possible.

Who knows your target buyers? How can you leverage your network to get in front of them? Where do they get their information from and where do they gather?

4. A sales strategy

Once you’ve acquired conversations, some of those conversations will turn into genuine interest. This is where you need to have a sales strategy or plan to take someone who is interested and lead them to becoming a customer.

What steps will you lead them through during the sales process? You need to have these details planned in advance. Most startups assume that the buyer knows what to do, but this is seldom the case.

Don’t expect your buyer to know the best way to work with or buy your product.

You need to retain control of the sales process at every step by having a plan that you can lead your potential customers through.  

What makes a startup go-to-market strategy successful? 

These are the five ways to ensure your strategy will be successful: 

1. Focus on the details of your startup’s go-to-market strategy

Don’t try to get in front of 1,000 people right now. When you recognize that your market and goal are relatively small, you’ll be freed up to focus on the tiny but important details that will minimize customer friction and accelerate sales cycles.

2. Activity drives results…but you also need patience

At the end of the day, revenue is a lagging metric. The single most important leading metric of a successful go-to-market strategy is activity. How many conversations do you have each week? How many attempts do you make to earn those conversations each week? 

These are the building blocks of revenue and you need to strike a careful balance between quantity and quality. Rather than taking a spray-and-pray approach, we always recommend doubling and even tripling down your efforts on only the highest quality leads you can find.

While you are in control of the amount of activity that you drive, you are not in control of your market and their timing. You must have patience.

Most people have never tried sales before. They think that if the market doesn’t respond to an initial email or phone call, then they aren’t interested. No response never means no. 

It takes so much time to overcome the inertia of zero miles per hour, but once you start building momentum, it grows and grows. Emails turn into conversations which turn into opportunities which turn into revenue. This process takes time.

Think about your daily efforts as an investment that you won’t see a return on for days or even weeks later. Trust the process, and don’t give up too quickly because that might be the moment where everything starts to turn around. 

3. Develop a “learn it all” mentality

Accept that you don’t know what you don’t know, and enter the market with a sense of curiosity.

At GrowthX, whether we’re making an investment or building a go-to-market strategy for startups, the only thing we know is that at some point, one or more of our presumptions about a market will be wrong. 

There will be some elements we didn’t foresee, and we will be forced to pivot. That’s ok. Having a learn-it-all mentality makes these reroutes much smoother. If you’re asking yourself, “what is a go-to-market strategy,” then you’re on the right track.

We recommend actively searching for people to contradict what you think you know. If you’re only talking to people who tell you what you want to hear, you’re probably just delaying your reroute. 

4. Don’t bring feelings to a data fight 

Once your go-to-market strategy gets activated, you’ll start creating and seeing data, like open rates, click rates, or conversion rates. But this data does nothing for you if you don’t read it and more importantly synthesize it.

Make the time to gather and analyze this data. It’s of no use to you anecdotally or in its raw form.

5. Focus on what you do for your customers

Think about your customers’ problems, not your product’s features and functions. Focus on identifying a problem you can solve, and talk about that problem (not your product!) with the customers.

The deeper you can get into your customers’ business and workflow, the smaller your pivots will be if you need to make changes. 

Some startups just talk about their product and are eager to demo. In turn, they don’t see a lot of interest from their market, assume it’s not a fit and pivot to a different industry.

That could set them back for months or even a year. If they had just learned more about their customers, they could’ve built something more at the core of what the customers need. They didn’t ask themselves, “what is a go-to-market strategy I can optimize for my market?”

6. Have a goal

We can’t say this enough. What is a go-to-market strategy without a goal? There isn’t a magical moment where a voice speaks through your computer and says, “you have arrived at your market”. 

You need to define not only where you are going (who is your target market) but also, what tangible metric will let you know that you got there. Determine a timeline and a number of customers you can measure success by.

If your go-to-market strategy doesn’t have a goal, then you have no criteria for selecting which conversations to have by when, how to set up your pricing strategy, and more.

How can you build a go-to-market strategy faster?

If you’re doing it thoughtfully, building the foundations for a highly effective go-to-market strategy should take about two months. If this sounds like a lot of time and you’re wondering how to build it more efficiently so that you can start executing, you’re asking the wrong question. The problem with that question is that it means you’re thinking about efficiency in a silo. 

You’re wondering, “How do I get through this so I can move on to all the other stuff I want to do?” But when you look at your go-to-market strategy holistically, with the end goal of validating a market with tangible customers and revenue, spending two months planning, strategizing, researching, testing and validation before you launch is the most efficient path to product-market fit.

Sure you could do all of that work in a week, but all the details that you glossed over in your rush will still be there and will only slow you down and create significant execution risk when you can least afford it, which is after you launch.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. By taking the time to build a go-to-market strategy before you launch, you not reduce risk but you actually save time by accelerating your sales cycle. 

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