So you think you have a go-to-market strategy? LOLOLOL
The goal of a go-to-market strategy is to bring the company, product or solution to market. It is a long-term process taken by a company to reach revenue targets, and ultimately, corporate goals. Therefore, the strategy should start with the company goals (duh), and incorporate the business strategy. These then help define the product, marketing and sales strategy, as well as customer onboarding and engagement with the customer success team. From here, tactical plans are developed to implement the overall strategy necessary to reach the goals.
The go-to-market strategy needs to be developed with involvement from each of these key constituents — product, sales, marketing and customer support/success. When one or more of these teams is not involved in the definition, development and implementation of the go-to-market strategy, the strategy is not as cohesive and effective as it could be. We need to be defining the strategy together and collaborating from the beginning, if we are going to have alignment and buy-in across the entire company.
What Is a Go-to-Market Strategy (Hint: It’s Not a Plan)
Let’s start with what a go-to-market strategy isn’t. It isn’t a sales plan or a marketing plan. It isn’t a one-time document or tactical plan that you put in place never to look at, update or iterate ever again. It is not a product roadmap. It should not be about just one aspect of the business (sales or product for example). Rather, it should cover the entire customer journey, including product, marketing, sales and customer success.
People, and companies, often confuse a strategy with a plan. A strategy should be a collaborative process to define, in detail, how the company will meet its objectives and goals. A plan is a tactical guide on how to execute that strategy. I have been brought in to several companies over the past year to audit the corporate “go-to-market strategy.” What I have seen is that most companies don’t have a true strategy. What they actually have are sales and marketing plans. Yay! But not going to get the company to exponential growth and possibly not even goal attainment.
So, some companies do not have a formal go-to-market strategy. Some companies do have a go-to-market strategy, but no one remembers who created it, or why, when and where it is today, both figuratively and possibly literally. And in some cases, there might be a go-to-market strategy in use, but you and the rest of the organization weren’t involved in the creation of it. (Remember Joe, who left about two years ago? This go-to-market strategy has his name all over it!!)
Regardless of where your current go-to-market strategy stands and how it was developed, it’s important to pinpoint the areas you do own, should own and could own, and how you can work with the rest of the company to have better alignment.
Related Article: Determine Where You Can Win: 4 Steps to Master Go-to-Market
How (and Why) They Often Fall Short
Go-to-market strategies (as they typically exist) fall short in many ways. The strategy itself usually starts with the sales cycle, skipping over marketing and product, and focuses on the tactical components of bringing a product to market and how to sell it after the product has been defined and built. The strategy ends up being more of a product-launch recipe for marketing to follow versus a true go-to-market strategy. Therefore it will not be as impactful. Go-to-market strategies can be developed with different focuses depending on the product, the company, and where the company is in its business lifecycle, goals and product market fit. But whatever the focus, the strategy should absolutely take into consideration the entire customer journey.
The go-to-market strategy, since it represents a company’s plan to bring a product to market and ensure the product is then adopted, is the underlying foundation of the company’s overall direction, strategy and ultimate success. Therefore the strategy needs to be complete and all-inclusive, not just focused on the marketing or the buying phase of the customer journey.
How to Align the Customer Journey With the Go-to-Market Strategy and Overall Corp Goals
A good go-to-market strategy is like a chair: it needs all four legs to work. The go-to-market strategy must include product, marketing, sales and customer success. Without one of these legs, the chair simply cannot stand up. And it doesn’t matter which leg is missing. Without it, the chair lacks the structural integrity to stand on its own, er, four feet.
Now let’s think about this chair in terms of the customer journey.
Let’s start with product. The product department owns the product blueprint phase of the customer journey. This team is tasked with collaborating cross-functionally with other organizations, such as sales and engineering, to define what the product strategy and definition will be. Then the team needs to build a product roadmap that sets priorities, which might be based on the needs of marketing (for an opportunity to launch something at an upcoming event) or sales (for a feature to help them close more deals). Next, product must work in collaboration with engineering to deliver on the roadmap and build the product itself.
Next up, marketing. Marketing is responsible for the funnel and lead lifecycle. At the top of the funnel, marketing is responsible for generating awareness of the company and its products, and bringing in quality leads. Then the department nurtures those leads through the middle of the funnel, providing useful information such as best practices in order to keep the leads engaged. And finally, at the bottom of the funnel, via targeted programs and campaigns, marketing turns leads into more qualified prospects that sales can better engage with.
Speaking of sales, that’s next. It should go without saying that their role here is to sell. Sales owns the buyer’s journey, one significant subset of the customer journey. (One quick sidenote: Since they need to be able to sell the right product to the right people at the right time, sales should be involved in more than just this piece of the customer journey. They should also be involved in defining the go-to-market strategy and helping determine how the product is positioned and sold, as they are a wealth of information. Remember, sales is on the front lines every day, talking to prospects and customers.)
The buyer’s journey sometimes overlaps with marketing, depending on when sales gets involved in your sales cycle. For example, how to categorize leads that are in trial may vary from company to company. But in general, the buyer’s journey starts at the trial or evaluation phase, progresses through the consideration and negotiation phase, and finishes with the sale or purchase phase. From here, there should be a transition to customer success that allows for successful implementation.
Which brings us to the final stage of the customer journey, and an essential leg of the chair, customer success. This team owns the customer engagement phase of the customer journey and is tasked with product implementation, customer onboarding, ongoing training, engagement, retention and satisfaction. Customer success is usually the first point of contact when issues arise with customers. Because of this, the team works closely with engineering to define and prioritize bug fixes. The customer success team should also be working closely with product on the roadmap, desired features and functionality, prioritization and building better solutions, and they should be working with marketing on customer communications around releases, issues and best practices.
So next time someone tells you that a go-to-market strategy exists, you have some questions you can ask. Like who developed it and when? And did the development include all of the stakeholders. And we didn’t even get it to who actually owns the go-to-market strategy! We’ll get into that in another upcoming article. Until then, happy strategizing!
Christina Del Villar is a Silicon Valley marketing executive, consultant and author who geeks out on helping companies transform, grow and scale, leveraging technology with 25 years of experience at Fortune 100 companies and more than 10 startups. Christina has developed go-to-market and marketing strategies for exponential growth, new product launches, acquisitions and IPOs, particularly for high-growth companies where she leverages her experience and industry perspective to take them to the next level.