The 4 Critical Phases of a Go-to-Market Strategy

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 company. Whatever it is, to make your dream a reality, you need a go-to-market strategy.

What is a go-to-market strategy?

While a plain old marketing strategy is intended to be a long term set of rules, principles, and goals set in place to guide all of your messaging, 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. This may involve engaging with a new market, or may simply be presenting a new idea to your existing client base.

Why do you need a go-to-market strategy?

Statistics vary widely, but a recent study showed that only 56% of new businesses make it to the 5 year mark, while an older but more widely-reported study reports that actually 90% of startups will eventually fail. While these failures can occur for a wide variety of reasons, many could have been prevented with a solid go-to-market strategy.

When you have an idea that you’re really excited about, its greatness may seem self-evident and its success a guarantee. This enthusiasm and confidence can cause founders and innovators to overlook some of the (arguably more tedious) practicalities that, when ignored or only half-heartedly addressed, have the power to cut the legs out from under even the most ingenious endeavours.

Having a go-to-market strategy helps you keep reality in check, helps you address and navigate the less-exciting bits that are still fundamental to your success, and gives you the foundation needed to weather the inevitable unexpected storms.

Crucially, a solid and 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 that are hampering your success before they have the chance to run your venture into the ground.

NOTE: As previously mentioned, a go-to-market strategy is applicable to any new venture, whether that’s the launch of a new product, service, or even just expansion into a new area with a proven product. Therefore, the words offering, venture, service, and product will be used interchangeably below.

Developing a Go-to-Market Strategy

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 get in the process. Upon reading the sequence of steps, you may even think you’d like to switch around their order a bit. This is completely fine, you should feel free to adjust the process to make 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 you cover all your bases and only move forward when you’re on good footing to do so. It is a good idea (and will sometimes be necessary) to go through the questions with industry insiders, potential clients, and generally anyone who can give you expert advice or an informed second opinion.

Furthermore, it’s good if you can back your answers with concrete data. This will give you the most realistic expectations of what you’re getting yourself into, 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.

Phase 1: Research and Planning

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest strengths of a go-to-market strategy is its ability to determine whether or not your venture is feasible and/or something that will interest your market enough to sustain production. 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 by halting production before you put your heart and soul into a project doomed to fail from the beginning.

Alternatively, when the answer is yes, you can move forward with solidified confidence, a deeper understanding of the big picture to make better decisions based on, and a stronger plan of action to present to investors and get them involved in. The questions below are aimed to help you figure out which camp your idea fits into, and to help you make a way forward that best serves you, your potential investors, and your venture as a whole.

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?

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 reaching them and imparting the motivation to purchase your offering? (This may be a question you deal with in more depth later when developing a marketing strategy, 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 negatively affects them all that severely, 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 more fully later in marketing. Either way, bring in industry experts for their input on this one.)
  6. Is there a way you can reach those experiencing the problem without them needing to go through the buyer first? (Perhaps the purchaser will have to come into the picture after the users have had experience with the venture, realize how valuable it is, and go to bat with the buyer for you. Look into product-led growth for some ideas on this front.)

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 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?

Research the 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.)

Phase 2: Develop a Product Roadmap

This phase involves the logistical outline of how you will develop or build your product, or execute your project. Naturally, this is quite an involved process of its own, and merits its own post. See this article for building out your own Product Roadmap.

Phase 3: Develop your marketing 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:

  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. 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?

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. Sometimes it can be helpful to find a stock photo image that matches your persona and to give them a name. This can help you more thoroughly flesh out and connect with the type of person you’ll be selling to.

Outline the buyer’s journey

This is the time to think about the entire process a potential customer takes from first discovering your product, to ultimately making a purchase. The four stages you’ll need to sort out are:

  1. Awareness - Is the potential customer aware of their problem? If not, how will you 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 modern technology, things aren’t necessarily the same as they once were. To make sure you fully think through the process and take these changes into consideration, read our post on the buyer’s journey here.

Develop your pricing strategy

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 product roadmap 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, your buyer persona to make sure potential customers will be able and willing to pay for your service, and again at your buyer persona to 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?

Develop your messaging

  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. How would you describe the cohesive feel you want all of your branding to portray? What would connect with your target market?
  10. What paid avenues do you want to use for advertising?
  11. What organic avenues do you want to use for marketing?
  12. What are your strategies to reach prospects at each separate stage of the buyer’s journey?

Phase 4: Securing a Strong Customer Experience

It’s time to meet with your potential customers. This phase is all about making their every interaction a delightful one and keeping them coming back for more.

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. (If you aren’t sure what a sales funnel is, or just want a refresher to make sure you’re not forgetting any details, read our post on them here.)

  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 tools will your sales team need to optimize sales and make sure none of their prospects fall through the cracks?
  7. How will they reach out to potential clients?
  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?

Customer support services

Make sure your customers enjoy a friction-free, delightful experience with strong customer support resources.

  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?
  3. What resources/personnel will you need to develop these materials?
  4. What tools/software will you need to offer this support?

Conclusion

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 ignored.

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 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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