4 Critical phases of a go-to-market strategy (Updated 2022)

You’ve got a surefire idea. Maybe it’s for a brand-new business or perhaps just a new product or service at your current agency. Whatever it is, to make your dream a reality, you need a go-to-market strategy.

Part of your go-to-market strategy includes defining your ideal customers. Simplify this step with our “Ideal customer persona template”! Download yours now.

Not to burst your bubble, but having a great idea (even a genius idea) is only a fraction of the battle. Even mapping out a go-to-market strategy doesn’t even get you halfway there.

A go-to-market strategy: As with any other kind of strategic work, a GTM strategy needs to be action-ready (Cascade). The magic happens in the execution.

Here’s what it will take to execute a go-to-market strategy:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Alignment
  • Accountability
  • Buy-in
  • And more

So what does a go-to-market strategy look like⁠—especially if you want to make it actionable?

I've got the go-to-market roadmap you need. Are you ready?

Let’s go (to market!). Sorry, couldn’t resist.

What is a go-to-market strategy?

Let’s start with the basics. What is a go-to-market strategy? And to avoid confusion, what does a go to market strategy look like compared to a traditional marketing strategy?

Unlike a traditional marketing strategy, the go-to-market process is not intended to be a long term set of rules, principles, and goals set in place to guide all of your messaging.

Rather, a go-to-market strategy is a (relatively) short term, step-by-step map that focuses on launching one specific product, service, expansion, or venture. A GTM strategy may involve engaging with a new market, or may simply be presenting a new idea to your existing client base.

What is a go-to-market strategy useful for?

Go-to-market activities can help product launches and business endeavors be more successful. Without a GTM strategy, precious time and resources can be wasted targeting the wrong audience segment, bringing a product into an oversaturated market, or getting your positioning all wrong. Additionally, a go-to-market timeline helps keep your project on track.

Statistics vary, but recent studies show that only half of all startups survive until their fourth year (Small Biz Trends). Relatedly, when looking at the causes of small business failure, “no market need” accounts for 42 percent of failure, while “product without a business model” accounts for 17 percent. These issues could have been forecasted while developing a go-to-market strategy:  that is to say, early. The resulting go-to-market roadmap would then take learnings and adapt the strategy accordingly for a much higher success rate.

So why don’t all agencies and entrepreneurs engage in the go-to-market process then, if it’s such a no-brainer?

I totally get why. When you have an idea that you’re really excited about, its greatness may seem self-evident and its success guaranteed. This enthusiasm and confidence can cause founders and innovators across industries, from media companies to managed service providers, to overlook some of the (arguably more tedious) practicalities addressed in a go-to-market timeline. When ignored or only half-heartedly addressed, these practicalities have the power to cut the legs out from under even the most ingenious endeavors.

Having a go-to-market strategy helps you keep reality in check and navigate the less-exciting bits that are still fundamental to your success.  A solid go-to-market roadmap gives you the foundation and guidance you need to weather the inevitable unexpected storms without veering off course.

Crucially, a comprehensive go-to-market strategy will also give you a framework for measuring your progress along the way, and help you detect and diagnose any issues hampering your success before they have the chance to run your venture into the ground.

Please note, as previously mentioned, a go-to-market strategy: Applicable to any new venture! From the launch of a new product, service, or even just expansion into a new area with a proven product, a GTM strategy is multifaceted. Therefore, the words offering, venture, service, and product will be used interchangeably below.

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

A go-to-market strategy and the related go-to-market activities might seem overwhelming. So I want to break this down to help you visualize it. The go-to-market process can be as simple as one, two, three, four.

1 strategy. A go-to-market strategy: Singular. It’s important to say upfront that your go-to-market strategy needs buy-in from the team. To be actionable, it must be a single, unified, coherent strategy that is agreed upon and executed together. Competing priorities, various ideas about positioning, and the like can completely derail a go-to-market roadmap.

2 goals. The basic aims of a go-to-market strategy:

  • Create awareness and demand around your new product or service offering in a clearly defined market
  • Max out market share by converting leads into customers, breaking into new markets, and maintaining an edge over the competition

Of course there are other objectives, and I’ll outline them in the rest of the article. But don’t lose sight of the simple goals of your go-to-market activities. Understand the market needs so you can generate and fulfill demand.

3 components. The components of a go-to-market strategy:

  • The go-to-market timeline. Be precise yet realistic about how much time you need to plan and execute your strategy for successfully bringing a new product or service to market.
  • The go-to-market roadmap. Integrate your strategy into your tooling if you want to make it actionable. Visualize, organize, and delegate tasks in a go-to-market roadmap using the right project management software.
  • The go-to-market process refinement. There’s something to be said about committing to your course, but remember that no process is set in stone. You don’t want to be tethered to a sinking ship if you notice the go-to-market timeline is no longer feasible, for example. Check in often, ask questions early, and make adjustments as-needed.

4 phases. There are four phases in a go-to-market strategy:

  • Phase one: Research and planning
  • Phase two: Develop the marketing
  • Phase three: Develop the roadmap
  • Phase four: Secure the customer experience

And with that, let's dive into each phase.

Developing a go-to-market strategy: 4 phases

When embarking on the go-to-market process, it’s important to note that each step listed below serves to deepen your understanding of your industry, your target market, and your product-market fit. Therefore, assumptions you make in the beginning will naturally be corrected and refined the further you delve into the GTM strategy.

Upon reading the sequence of steps, you may even think you’d like to switch around their order a bit. This is completely fine! Feel free to adjust the go-to-market process so that it makes the best sense for your project. In fact, while it’s best to complete the first phase before moving ahead with the others, the rest will probably overlap one another.

Many of the steps may, at first, sound self-explanatory. However, each contains a selection of questions to make sure your go-to-market strategy is comprehensive and covers all your bases. It is a good idea (and will sometimes be necessary) to go through the questions related to your future go-to-market activities with industry insiders, potential clients, and anyone who can give you expert advice or an informed second opinion.

Like any good plan, a go-to-market strategy should be data-driven. It’s highly recommended that you back your answers with concrete data, where and when possible. This will give you the most realistic expectations while you craft your go-to-market roadmap, and will help you make the best decisions as they arise. If you’re simply answering all the questions based on your own conjecture, the exercise drastically decreases in value.

GTM strategy phase 1: Research and planning

One of the greatest strengths of a go-to-market strategy: its ability to determine whether or not your venture is feasible and something that will interest your market enough to sustain production. The very beginning of the go-to-market timeline starts here with research and planning that aims to address that very question.

If the answer is “no,” pause your go-to-market activities.

While it can be hard to accept when the answer is no, a go-to-market strategy undertaken with honesty, realism, and humility can sometimes save you and potential investors a lot of time, money, and energy. Sometimes it’s better to halt production, cease your go-to-market activities, and regroup before you put your heart and soul into a project doomed to fail from the beginning.

If the answer is “yes,” onward with your go-to-market strategy!

Alternatively, when the answer is yes, you can move forward with the go-to-market process. You will have solidified confidence, a deeper understanding of the big picture, more informed decision-making, and a stronger plan of action to present to investors.

So what is a go-to-market-strategy in the research and planning stage? Defining your problem, defining your market and buyer, and researching the demand and feasibility of your venture.

The questions below are aimed to help you forge a way forward that best serves you, your potential investors, and your venture as a whole.

Go-to-market activities: Define the problem your offering solves or the benefit it offers

  1. What problem does my venture solve?
  2. What impact does this problem have on my target market?
  3. What does this problem ultimately prevent them from doing?
  4. Is my target market significantly bothered by this blocker?
  5. How does my offering empower my target market?
  6. Is this something the target market is asking for at the moment?

Go-to-market activities: Identify target market and buyer

  1. Whose problems are you aiming to solve with your venture?
  2. Which level(s) of this industry will you be aiming at? C-suite? Operations? Entrepreneurs?
  3. Who would be making the purchase decision for your offering? Is it the same person your offering is aimed at?
  4. Is the buyer aware of and bothered by the problem that your product addresses? If not, how do you plan on motivating them to purchase your offering? (This may be a question you deal with in more depth later when developing a marketing strategy as part of the go-to-market process, but it’s something you can start thinking about now.)
  5. Is the industry in general aware of this issue? If not, is it because it’s genuinely not something that doesn’t have a negative impact, or will there be some education required in your marketing to convince them of the need for your venture? (This could either be an indicator that your venture isn’t as necessary as you think it is, or it could be an education issue that you consider and address in your go-to-market roadmap. Either way, bring in industry experts for their input on this one.)

Go-to-market activities: Research the demand for your product

These questions are really only helpful when you bring them to your target market. Find people who fit your potential buyer persona (Shopify) and have a frank discussion about what their problems are, and whether or not your product is something that would grab their attention.

  1. What are the big-picture struggles in this industry?
  2. What are the main struggles in this industry on a day-to-day, operational level?
  3. Does your idea contribute to alleviating these struggles?
  4. How does the current problem you’re aiming to address impact your target market?
  5. On a scale from 1-10, how concerned is your target market with the problem you’re addressing?
  6. How are they addressing the issue currently? Is your proposed solution more convenient/cheaper/more attractive than this? How and why?
  7. Are there other solutions available already? If so, what does the target market like about these existing products? What do they find to be lacking?
  8. What would your target audience require from your venture in order to completely solve the problem you’re addressing?
  9. What could prevent your solution from being adopted by your target market?

Go-to-market activities: Research the financial feasibility of your product

  1. Does the technology needed to run your product already exist?
  2. If not, is it possible to develop the tools you need to build your product?
  3. How much will it cost to develop your product?
  4. What ongoing operational costs need to be considered?
  5. Can your venture realistically be developed and offered in a manner that’s affordable for potential clients?
  6. What legal issues may apply to your product? Will there be privacy issues? Taxation issues? Security issues? International legalities? (While these don’t all have to be solved at this point, it’s helpful to know what obstacles you need to be prepared to surmount.)

GTM strategy phase 2: Develop the marketing part of your go-to-market strategy

What is a go-to-market strategy without the marketing? At this juncture in the go-to-market timeline, it’s time to put the “market” in marketing. It will be key to lock this part in if you want to move on and create a go-to-market roadmap in the next phase. Here’s how to tackle this important step in the go-to-market process.

A go-to-market strategy: Create buyer personas

Developing buyer personas is a creative activity founded on what you’ve learned in Phase 1. Think about who your target market is, and describe all the main types of individuals who exist in that market. Ask yourself the following questions about who they might be and how they will fit into your GTM strategy:

  1. What business is this person in?
  2. What are their goals?
  3. What are their pain points?
  4. What are their values? In business, and more personal?
  5. How would they list the following values from most important to least important: social status, aesthetics, user-friendliness, value, luxury, social issues, work-life balance, success, trust, transparency?
  6. What is their income level? How tight is their business budget?
  7. What are your competitors already doing to reach out to them? What do they seem to be responding to, and what isn’t working with them?
  8. Is there a consistent aesthetic that they seem to be into?
  9. How experienced are they in their business?
  10. What is their consumer mindset? Do they tend to be old-school, or are they up to date with all the latest trends?
  11. What are they good at? What do they struggle with?
  12. How tech-savvy are they?
  13. Where will they struggle with your venture? What will be most attractive to them?
  14. Will they be one-time purchasers, or repeat customers? How often will they repurchase?
  15. How often will they ideally engage with your venture? What about realistically? Daily, weekly, yearly, etc.?
  16. What will be the most effective way to communicate with them? What medium do they prefer?

Basically, what does a go-to-market strategy look like based on the buyer persona you’ve created? And don’t stop there. As there will be more than one type of person that you’ll be selling to, make sure you develop a handful of different personas so you don’t aim your messaging too narrowly and miss out on potential clients. What does a go-to-market strategy look like when you encompass multiple buyer personas, and is it still cohesive?

A go-to-market strategy: Outline the buyer’s journey

Just like the go-to-market process, the buyer’s journey is a process as well. This is the time to think about the process a potential customer takes from first discovering your product, to ultimately making a purchase.  What does a go-to-market strategy look like when it tracks the buyer’s journey? Here are the four stages you’ll need to sort out:

  1. Awareness. Is the potential customer aware of their problem? If not, how will your go-to-market strategy get the word out?
  2. Consideration. How/where will the prospect be looking for a solution to their problem? How can you make sure they find you in their search?
  3. Decision. What will be the main factors that make the prospect choose one option over the others? How can you make sure you stand out amongst your competitors?
  4. Loyalty. What will the customer require to stay loyal to you? What will they require to become an advocate for your offering?

While this is the traditional way of looking at the buyer’s journey, with the implementation of technology, things aren’t necessarily the same as they once were. Make sure you fully think through the process and take these changes into consideration when creating a go-to-market timeline.

A go-to-market strategy: Develop your pricing

Pricing your product may initially seem either vague and overwhelming, or extremely straightforward and easily settled. In reality, it’s probably somewhere in the middle. If you have little experience with startups or finances, this would be a good time to consult a financial expert or bring one on your team in a more permanent capacity. You’ll also want to refer to your go-to-market roadmap (next phase!) to give you an idea of what you’ll need to charge customers in order to make a profit.

Additionally, you’ll want to look at your competitors to make sure the price you’re charging is reasonable. Most importantly, research your buyer persona to make sure potential customers will be able and willing to pay for your service. Additionally, determine whether or not your price fits their desire for value, luxury, transparency, or other goals.

But the actual number isn’t the only thing you need to consider. There are several different methods of getting clients to commit to paying for your service:

  1. Will you sell based on a one-time purchase?
  2. Will you offer a pay-per-use service?
  3. Will you offer a subscription?
  4. Do you want to implement a product-led growth strategy?
  5. Will they get a free trial of this subscription, or will there be different tiers of access?
  6. What kinds of promotions will you offer?

A go-to-market strategy: Develop your messaging

Developing clear, coherent, and engaging messaging around your product or service are an essential part of go-to-market activities.

  1. What pain point(s) are you addressing?
  2. How are you solving the problem?
  3. What is the greatest fear of the buyer you’re selling to? How can you assuage this fear through your messaging?
  4. How can you make your target market feel empowered?
  5. What makes you unique?
  6. Can you address your buyers and your users at the same time?
  7. What style does your target market prefer? Business-like and professional? Fun and casual?
  8. Do you want to stick with the language that’s being used successfully with them? Or do you want to stand out with something a little different in tone? (This can be risky and can really flop, especially if it doesn’t fit the rest of your branding. However, it can pay off big time when it works.)
  9. What paid avenues do you want to use for advertising?
  10. What organic avenues do you want to use for marketing?
  11. What are your strategies to reach prospects at each separate stage of the buyer’s journey?
  12. Is the right messaging agreed on and incorporated in your go-to-market roadmap?

GTM strategy phase 3: Develop a go-to-market roadmap for your product

The roadmapping phase involves creating a logistical outline of how you will develop and build your product, or execute your project. It can help you visualize your go-to-market timeline and keep you on track for realizing your goals.

Naturally, this is quite an involved part of the go-to-market process on its own, and merits its own post. We recommend this guide (Aha!) as a great starting point building out your own product-driven go-to-market roadmap.

To provide a quick summary of developing a roadmap in a go-to-market strategy:

  • Ensure your go-to-market strategy is aligned with phase two’s marketing strategy and there is alignment on key points such as product positioning and pricing. Remember: one unified strategy makes it easier to execute!
  • Actionable strategies are baked into the tools you use, so ensure you have product mapping or project management software.
  • Ground your go-to-market roadmap on specific (yet realistic) deadlines, deliverables, and launch dates.
  • Share the go-to-market roadmap with different stakeholders. For example, the sales team and your designers will all have go-to-market activities to keep track of on the roadmap. Sharing early and often cuts down on coordination efforts.

GTM strategy phase 4: Securing a strong customer experience

As you progress through the go-to-market timeline, you should now meet with your potential customers. This phase is all about making their every interaction a delightful one and keeping them coming back for more. What does a go-to-market strategy look like when viewed through the lens of creating an incredible  customer experience?

Go-to-market process: Sorting out sales

This step is all about sorting out how customers will actually become customers. Naturally, this will involve sorting out quite a few details and a lot of work in developing your sales funnel.

  1. Will you allow customers to self-sign up or purchase online?
  2. Will you require a sales team?
  3. Will customers purchase in-person?
  4. What kind of physical space will you require to be able to sell your product?
  5. If you have a sales team, what training will they require to be able to effectively sell your service?
  6. What CRM software will your sales team need to optimize sales and make sure none of their prospects fall through the cracks?
  7. Will automations be in place to make the entire sales process more efficient and seamless?
  8. How will they manage contacts and prospects?
  9. Will they need to be able to share demos or presentations? What software/tools will they need for this?
  10. How will salespeople communicate with prospects?
  11. What hours will you have salespeople available? How will you make sure you don’t lose out on prospects that want your product outside of business hours?
  12. How will they (and you) manage sales reporting?

Go-to-market process: Customer support services

Make sure your customers enjoy a friction-free, delightful experience with strong customer support resources. Ensure you bake in your customer support goals and tactics into the go-to-market roadmap.

  1. What will you offer your customers to help them use your product to its full capacity?
  2. Do you want to offer written material? Videos? A customer support team? Automations to lighten the lift?
  3. What resources and personnel will you need to develop these materials? Can you gather the necessary resources within the go-to-market timeline you’ve defined?
  4. What tools and software will you need to offer this support? Can you afford it?

Conclusion: What is a go-to-market strategy?

The answer? Whatever you make it out to be.

While all the questions to go through may seem overwhelming, they don’t all have to be dealt with at once. Furthermore, not all will apply to every startup, expansion, or product launch, and therefore some can probably be put aside as you define and develop your go-to-market activities.

However, when all the applicable questions are tackled with thorough research and a willingness to adjust according to newfound knowledge, you can be confident that your new venture is on solid footing to succeed in whatever market you’re diving into.

About the Author

Courtney is a former Content Marketing Specialist at Vendasta who loves spending her days researching and writing about...anything really, she's honestly a pretty big nerd. When she's not blogging up a storm, you can find her collecting too many instruments while only half-learning to play them, watching too much Netflix, or planning a trip to visit all the friends she's left behind everywhere she's lived in the past decade.

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