How to Build a Go-to-Market Strategy in 8 Steps

Mateusz Makosiewicz
Marketing researcher and educator at Ahrefs. Mateusz has over 10 years of experience in marketing gained in agencies, SaaS and hardware businesses. When not writing, he's composing music or enjoying long walks.
    Most new products fail—we’ve all heard that. But the better you prepare your product and yourself for the product launch, the better your chances of escaping that disheartening statistic.

    The go-to-market strategy is the method to give yourself the green light to introduce a new product and make any significant changes while there’s still time.

    Recommendation

    Go-to-market strategy template—just click on the link to make your own editable copy in Google Sheets.

    A go-to-market (GTM) strategy is a company’s plan to bring a new product or service to the market. Fundamentally, it identifies what you will offer, to what market, at what price, how you will offer it, and what is required operationally to launch the product/service.

    These terms are often used interchangeably despite not being the same. Here’s a quick comparison of a go-to-market strategy, marketing strategy, and business plan:

    Difference between a GTM strategy, marketing strategy, and business plan

    In an ideal, frictionless, non-competitive world, you’d launch your product with a single click followed by a single tweet. Everyone would then know about your product, want it, and things would take care of themselves. 

    But, unfortunately, things aren’t that simple. So let’s look at three reasons why you need a go-to-market strategy.

    1. Set up for growth

    Setting up for growth means that you can identify the best-case scenario for your product launch and understand how to tackle that opportunity.

    When developing your go-to-market strategy, you’re making sure that:

    • The product solves your target audience’s problem.
    • There is demand for your product and possibly more demand in the near future.
    • Your customers will see the value of your product and be able to afford it.
    • The profits from the product will allow your company to grow.
    • You’re not entering an oversaturated market.
    • You have a substantial advantage over the competition.
    • You are operationally ready for growth (or have a plan to scale up).

    2. Decrease risk

    Conversely to setting up for growth, the risk-decreasing role of a go-to-market strategy is to help you identify the worst-case scenario and do all you can to avoid it.

    What’s the risk?

    If your product launch flops, it may be tough to regain ground for your product or brand, as bad reviews can stick to the product and the brand behind it. Although that’s not a massive deal for giants like Microsft and Apple that can afford the odd flop, most companies don’t have virtually unlimited budgets and safety nets.

    3. Align the company toward a product launch

    Preparing for a product launch often gets lost in the prose of day-to-day revenue operations. But what better time to get buy-in from all other departments? What other way to manage expectations for the launch?

    Aligning the company means everybody knows that you’re about to launch the product and is ready when you push that big, red “launch” button.

    So no more “marketing didn’t give us any materials,” no more “sales have no idea what they’re selling,” and no more support reps desperately seeking answers throughout the company. Nobody needs that kind of drama.

    4. Assess and secure resources

    Before even contemplating the launch of anything, you need to make sure you’ve got enough time to prepare and enough money to support your tactics. A go-to-market strategy secures that formally.

    You can’t predict everything. No one can. But there are still many things you can predict and influence when launching a product. So rather than reinventing the wheel, let’s run through how to build a go-to-market strategy around tried and tested components step by step.

    Feel free to use our go-to-market strategy template as you go along (you will need Google Sheets to use it). Click on this link to make an editable copy on your Google Drive.

    1. Identify your market (along with your competitors)

    Market research is your first port of call. The sooner you can employ it, the better. However, this is a super important yet time-consuming process, so we’ve written a separate article on this topic.

    Let me give you a few takeaways from that article so we can move forward.

    First, 90% of your success lies in having the correct data. You need to gather and analyze primary research (done by yourself) and secondary research (done by others and already available).

    Secondary research includes industry reports, industry statistics, whitepapers, etc., and it’s the most affordable (relatively) and quickest way to get data about your market.

    For example, if you’re in the 3D printing business, you need to get a hold of the Wohlers Report, which provides a “worldwide review and analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing.”

    Wohlers Report cover

    An example of secondary market research for the 3D printing industry. Source: Wohlers Report.

    Such reports offer a macro perspective of the marketplace and a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings.

    Second, no market research is complete without competitive analysis. Really, this is a must. A competitive analysis tells you what the competition is doing right, wrong, and not at all. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to conduct one.

    By the end of your competitive analysis, you should be able to conduct a SWOT analysis.

    Here’s an example SWOT analysis for an imaginary email marketing tool:

    SWOT analysis example

    Besides the types and market research methods mentioned above, I encourage you to perform primary research. Conducting primary research can unveil unique market insight and help you understand where the untapped market potential lies. For this, consider surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

    To tie together the key findings from market research, consider the following table. We’ve filled it with dummy data for the 3D printing industry. If you can fill it out based on your research, you’re good to go for the next step of the go-to-market process.

    Define your market using these categories

    2. Identify your customer

    Once you’ve got a good idea of the market, it’s time to move a “level lower” and understand who you’ll be trying to sell to.

    Depending on your resources, there are two ways you can identify your customers:

    • The scientific way – Talk to potential customers (based on the market research you’ve already done). This can be your leads, social media followers, or simply people you know who may be interested in your product. You can also consider using services like SurveyMonkey, UserTesting, or Remesh to reach these people.
    • The educated-guess way – If you can’t talk to real people at this stage, you need to get creative. The trick here is to use your competitors’ data and “enrich” it with other sources. For example, your competitor may publish a case study with a quote from a client whom you can then research on LinkedIn. You can also look up industry data on the type of role that person has in the company. You may find that, for example, organic search is the #1 spending priority, according to a CMO survey. 

    Typically, the end product for this step is a buyer persona—an imaginary person you create that represents the common characteristics of your customers (an archetype). Know that your target market may have multiple buyer personas. 

    Here’s an example of what a buyer persona for Ahrefs may look like:

    Example of a buyer persona

    A buyer persona helps you visualize your customers’ buying journey, internalize who they are, and empathize with their challenges and goals.

    You can use the buyer persona as an aid in organizing and communicating insights about your potential customers. If you’re looking for more information on this topic, here’s a detailed guide on creating a buyer persona.

    If you’re selling B2B, it’s also worth mapping out the decision-making process within the type of organizations you’re targeting. This is known as the buying center and helps you determine who to direct your product or services marketing toward.

    • Initiator: starts the buying process
    • User: the actual end user of the product
    • Influencer: convinces others of the product
    • Decider: approves the purchase
    • Buyer: owns the budget
    • Approver: management that pushes the initiative on a larger scale
    • Gatekeeper: controls the flow of information

    For example, let’s say that you’re targeting SEO agencies. The buyer center can look something like this:

    • Initiator: senior SEO manager
    • User: SEO managers, content marketing managers, SEO analysts
    • Influencer: director of content marketing
    • Decider: head of SEO
    • Buyer: operations specialist
    • Approver: CEO
    • Gatekeeper: operations specialist

    3. Define product positioning and price

    Product positioning and price form the basis of how the market will perceive your product. If developed correctly, they work in tandem to aid your product’s adoption.

    Product positioning

    Positioning is one of those classic evergreen concepts in marketing. It was coined in the late 60s by Jack Trout and later discussed in a bestseller book co-written with Al Ries, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.”

    According to Trout and Ries, to position a product (or brand) is to make sure that consumers instantly identify that product with a particular benefit or a small set of benefits.

    Why only one benefit or a small set of benefits? Because in our increasingly noisy society, products and brands need oversimplified messages to stand out.

    Let’s look at an example of positioning. This example is probably one of the most spectacular and famous examples ever—from Avis Car Rental:

    At the time of publishing this ad, Avis was number #2 in the car rental business. Avis took that inconvenient fact and flipped the script.

    Slack is another good example of product positioning…

    From the very beginning, Slack has positioned its product as an anti-email tool and pushed this narrative at every marketing opportunity.

    Slack's positioning. Anti-email app (example 1)

    Slack's positioning. Anti-email app (example 2)

    Source: CMO.

    That’s positioning in a nutshell. It’s not creating something new or different; it’s manipulating what’s already in the prospect’s mind.

    The most helpful tool when developing your positioning is the perceptual map (also called a positioning map). A perceptual map illustrates the positioning of products (or brands) in the minds of the customers.

    To create one, you identify attributes (aka dimensions) that define the product space and determine the position of given products in that space.

    The best (most scientific) way to develop a perceptual map is to assess the factors that impact customer buying decisions and ask a sample of your prospects to rate products on those factors. You usually then plot the results on a two-dimensional chart.

    Sample perceptual map

    Source: Eden Kleiman.

    Nestle commissioned the perceptual map above to help bring a new chocolate bar to market (case study). It shows how consumers perceive competing chocolate in New Zealand. For example, they deem Lindt’s dark chocolate bar with chili a mature and exotic choice and Milkybar as a more traditional option appealing to a younger audience.

    When positioning a product, make sure that you meet these requirements:

    • The target consumer cares about your positioning – It just can’t be something unique yet completely irrelevant. That won’t work.
    • The organization is uniquely suited to delivering it – What will you base the positioning on, what’s your competitive advantage, why should the consumer believe you, and does your product have the right features? 
    • Competitors are not adequately addressing it – But you can.

    Price

    Product pricing should be a function of your positioning. If you want consumers to see your product as an affordable choice, your price tag should communicate that.

    Of course, a new product must be profitable to the company first and foremost (unless you’re doing a crazy stunt like a price war to make the competition bleed out). If you want to learn more about securing profitability with product pricing, read this article. For now, let’s focus on the marketing aspect of pricing.

    A helpful exercise to help determine a product’s price is pinpointing where it sits in terms of price vs. benefits (see the table below). While you’re at it, you can also map your competitors. Generally, the winning strategies are the ones in green.

    Value proposition matrix with examples

    4. Define product messaging and core marketing tactics

    Now it’s time to discuss what to say to potential customers and which tactics and channels you should use to communicate with them.

    Product messaging

    Product messaging catches the attention of your target audience and educates them about your product.

    From an operational point of view, product messaging is the strategic center of your communication with the customer. It’s the matrix of every message that will be crafted for your target audience, be it a single digital ad, a PR release, product training, or the content on the product’s webpage.

    Below, you will find an example of a product messaging framework filled out with data for our product.

    To maximize the document’s effectiveness, you should have sales, product, and possibly even legal departments review it.

    Product messaging framework with sample data

    PRO TIP

    When doing this, focus on what makes you unique, keep things short and straightforward, and don’t try to appeal to everyone.

    Core marketing tactics

    If you build it, they will come.”

    Don’t count on it.

    Markets are crowded with solutions for pretty much everything, and consumers are overloaded with information. You need something to cut through the noise—which is where marketing tactics come in.

    Marketing tactics are activities that help you achieve marketing goals. They’re a means to an end.

    In my opinion, there are two roads you can take when developing your marketing tactics:

    1. Copy others Find out how similar companies introduced their products or take inspiration from the companies/marketers you admire. See what results they got and what they had to invest to pull them off. Then remix, improve, and use the tactics for yourself. 
    2. Get creative – Develop something custom and unique.

    Let’s discuss the first approach: copying others.

    Firstly, there’s no shame in copying others. Take content marketing as an example. Who started it? Michelin? John Deere? Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

    What people care about is whether it works.

    Today, thousands of companies use content marketing, including us. This Twitter thread explains Ahrefs’ take on content marketing:

    But copying is an art in itself. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” In other words, don’t try to be someone else but do selectively take elements from your inspirations and use them to your advantage.

    You can copy (“steal” ):

    • Promotion channels
    • Marketing tech stacks
    • Ad formats
    • Types of marketing collateral
    • Types of content
    • Website layouts (but not from your direct competitors)
    • SEO tactics

    You probably shouldn’t copy:

    • Creative copywriting (headlines, ad copies, straplines, etc)
    • Logos and other elements of corporate identity
    • Value propositions

    On the other hand, if you’d like to get creative, here are some questions that should help your creative juices flow: 

    • What marketing channels are you going to use to attract your audience?
    • How can your prospects learn about the functionality and the benefits of your product?
    • How can your prospects experience your product?
    • How will you stay in touch with people who are considering your product?
    • How will you retain customers and build brand loyalty?

    5. Define product distribution

    Distribution is the process of making a product or service available to the consumer.

    For simplicity, we can segment distribution channels based on product type: digital or physical.

    Digital products

    • Proprietary/direct Your software can only be bought through your website. You control the entire experience and don’t need to pay a third party (except for your payment processor). This is probably the most common model out there.
    • App stores and marketplaces  Your software is available only (or primarily) through third-party services like Apple’s App Store or the platform you integrate with, like the Atlassian Marketplace. Fees differ depending on the platform, from 5% in your first year to 30% of your revenue after that.
    • Partner programs  You pay a commission (or provide other benefits) to partners who promote your business (affiliate marketing) or act as service partners (Xero supposedly gets ~50% of its business through its partner program). This is usually an auxiliary channel.
    • OEM Your product is packed inside another end product. For example, Amazon AWS runs the backend of many popular services, including Netflix.

    Physical products

    • Direct distribution  You sell directly to customers, be it online or in physical stores. You keep all revenue and have direct contact with your customers. Contrary to digital products, hardware manufacturers rarely rely on this as their only channel. They usually employ a mix of distribution channels.
    • Mass (intensive) distribution  You offer your products in as many places as possible. You can expect a distributor to take as much as 40% of your revenue.
    • Selective distribution  Your product is sold only in selected stores—typically those specializing in your niche that can provide added value, like high-quality support.
    • Exclusive distribution  You sign a deal with one or two partners who have the exclusive rights to offer your product in a particular region (that usually means excluding direct sales in that region as well).
    • OEM Your product is packed inside another end product. Think “Intel inside” and Microsoft Windows shipped with the majority of PCs.

    So as you can see, the architecture of your product pretty much defines your distribution. For instance, apps made for specific platforms have only one way to distribute, and the usual choice for SaaS products is direct distribution.

    Another factor that can determine your distribution is the market environment, i.e., consumer habits and your competition. If everyone on the market leverages some kind of third-party distribution model, it will be hard to penetrate the market relying only on direct sales. And yes, that even applies to Apple:

    Apple's U.S. sales by product and retailer (2017)

    Source: 9to5mac.com.

    That said, most of the time you’ll have some room to mix and match. As is the case for Xero, it may make sense to you to provide the product directly and through intermediaries too. Or you can mix direct distribution with mass distribution and OEM, like Intel does with its processors.

    In any case, consider the costs and benefits of choosing one model over the other. Any kind of indirect distribution will cut a portion of your revenue, but it can increase revenue in the long run by putting your product in front of more people.

    6. Sync marketing, sales, and support

    As we’re getting close to the end of the process of creating a go-to-market strategy, you’ll see that arguably the most challenging part is already behind us. Everything from now on relies more on internal than external factors.

    First, you need to tie everything together by synchronizing marketing, sales, and support departments for the upcoming product launch.

    As every organization is different, I won’t advise you on how to make your organization “click.” Instead, I’d like to share a few tips on what worked for me when launching new products or milestone features:

    1. Work as much as possible with other departments This is a must when developing your go-to-market strategy (at any stage of the process). Conduct internal interviews (but don’t make them formal) and ask people for their insight and ideas.
    2. Gather requirements from other departments  Ask your teammates what they need to support the product launch on their side.
    3. Create “the source of truth”  This is fundamental documentation that serves as the go-to source for any future work with the product. Examples include press releases, product manuals (or online knowledgebase), pricing tables, sales messaging guides, and FAQs.

    7. Determine the budget, time frame, and resources needed

    Getting any product to market will take time, resources, and money. You need to define these things upfront if you want to promptly get your product to market without breaking the bank or planning for things you don’t have the resources for.

    This kind of task is best tackled with other departments and C-suite executives.

    If you’re working with a fixed budget, allocating time and resources is relatively straightforward. Just divide the budget between marketing tactics and divide your tactics between team members to make sure that everything gets done on time.

    If you have more flexibility in those three areas, you will need to make some estimations to get the project off the ground. Here are a few options:

    • Use data from similar projects  For example, the budget for a previous GTM strategy.
    • Use known variables  For example, you can take your CAC and multiply it by the number of clients you expect to attract in the first year.
    • List everything and add it up Simple as that. The trick here is to be as specific as possible when listing elements of the budget, time, and resources. Fortunately, there are tools for that: free templates for Google Sheets or Excel, ready-made templates within project management tools (like Monday.com), and online estimators like Eastimate or Simple Estimate.
    • Calculate the average to give yourself some margin It’s called a three-point estimation. You take three different estimates and calculate the average. Your three estimates can be these: an optimistic scenario, conservative scenario, and pessimistic scenario. Your conservative scenario can be calculated by one of the methods listed above. Other scenarios will be accordingly modified versions of the conservative one.

    8. Define your success metrics

    Your success metrics link your objective and the measures the company can control to achieve that objective. There are essentially two philosophies to consider when defining your go-to-market strategy metrics.

    The first philosophy is to measure key metrics for the entire customer journey for maximum insight and control.

    For example, you could base your success metrics on the flywheel model. In this model, you measure three main stages of the customer journey: attracting, engaging, and delighting. Growth happens as a “byproduct” of optimizing for those three metrics. This is how HubSpot grows its company (after ditching the old funnel model) and how Jeff Bezos designed the growth strategy for Amazon.

    The marketing flywheel concept

    The second philosophy is to track just one or a few “true north” metrics. Examples include conversions (or sales), revenue growth, and Net Promoter Score (NPS).

    What the NPS scale represents

    If, however, you feel that you need a tailored solution for your go-to-market strategy, here’s a thorough guide on how to develop your own success metrics.

    We’ll take a quick look at the early days of LinkedIn, Ahrefs, and SEGA of America.

    LinkedIn

    LinkedIn started in 2002. Its aim? Give professionals a trusted place to find and transact with each other online. Back then, no one was solving this problem “the right way.”

    Excerpt from LinkedIn's pitch deck

    Source: Piktochart.

    To get the product off the ground, it experimented a lot with the network effect. 

    For example, it devised a “double viral loop”; new users invited more new users and engaged old users by making connections with their current and past companies. 

    As its user base grew, this became even more powerful. Consequently, its user base grew exponentially.

    Takeaway: to solve a problem no one is solving may not be enough. You still may need to experiment a lot. And when you find something that works, double down on it and keep tweaking.

    You can learn more about LinkedIn’s growth story in “Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth.”

    Ahrefs

    Ahrefs started in 2011. Its aim? Provide the best link analysis tool on the market for SEOs.

    The strategy was simple: build a better web crawler than the competition.

    Of course, plans like “we’ll be better than the competition” are easier said than done. But when you actually accomplish such a thing, your customers can become your best “promotional tactic” through positive word of mouth. WOM has remained one of Ahrefs’ top user acquisition channels.

    A poll about the most trusted link data providers

    Source: Aira.

    Takeaway: If the market already has a similar solution, you can start by being better at one thing important to your audience and then expand to other areas. In other words, there may be a possibility to take on the competition “piece by piece” instead of competing in all areas from the start.

    Also, when you get your product right, marketing will feel much lighter.

    SEGA

    SEGA re-entered the North American market in 1985. Its aim? Beat Nintendo to win the U.S. home console market.

    Netflix’s “High Score” devoted a whole episode to this famous go-to-market strategy (minus the “boring parts”). Here’s SEGA of America CEO Tom Kalinske and his battle for beating Nintendo at its own game.

    Tom Kalinske's GTM strategy for SEGA of America (from Netflix's "High Score")

    Source: netflix.com.

    1. Lower the price Allegedly the easiest part. However, SEGA’s Genesis console was more technologically advanced than what Nintendo offered.
    2. Defeat Mario  That’s how the hit game Sonic The Hedgehog was born. 
    3. More sports  Because teenage players were into sports. It just so happened that Madden NFL game developer was looking for a fast enough console to make the game actually exciting (SEGA Genesis was the fastest console on the market). 
    4. Cool for teens Nintendo was marketing for children 9–13 years old. By going after the older audience, they were making the console look cool for the younger audience. Two friends with one gift. 
    5. Make fun of Nintendo “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” The cherry on top. 

    I won’t spoil the show any longer, so watch episode #4 of “High Score” when you get a chance. 

    Takeaway: It may take a mix of different things to compete in the market successfully. Start by knowing your market really well.

    Final thoughts

    Building a go-to-market strategy requires a lot of work and a lot of skill. However, there’s no better way to secure the launch of a product. I’d even be willing to bet that it’s better to have an “okayish” go-to-market strategy than none at all.

    So keep calm and carry on with your go-to-market strategy. When you’re done with all the steps, you’ll have a tool that increases your chances for success, plus it will let you and your teammates sleep better during that stressful time of a product launch.

    Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.

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