What it takes to build out a Go-To-Market strategy, why you need one, and what a good one actually looks like.
If you’ve built a product and you have some revenues flowing but you’re not quite at the point where you have predictable growth, it’s time to build a scalable Go-To-Market plan.
I always thought I knew how to build a GTM plan but it wasn’t until I worked with some really, really talented Go-To-Market leaders and some very talented marketers and sales leaders that I really understood the ins and outs of a successful Go-To-Market strategy.
To give you a quick background, I’ve been part of various Go-To-Market organizations. I was CEO of ToutApp and I was responsible for driving overall growth for the company.
Then I joined Marketo (Marketo bought ToutApp) and I was SVP of Strategy. I did a quarter of running Europe, a quarter of running Australia, and then I did a year of running alliances and I helped grow each of those regions and organizations.
During that time, I learned a lot about how to build proper Go-To-Market strategies.
So in this post, I’m going to show you the six steps I’ve used countless times to build a winning Go-To-Market strategy so you can start driving scalable growth for your SaaS business.
What is a Go-To-Market Strategy?
Let’s start with the basics – what is a GTM strategy?
A GTM strategy is basically your standard sales and marketing funnel for a SaaS business.
I get it, a lot of people don’t like the word funnel. In reality, you can call it a customer journey or you can call it a funnel. I don’t really care.
You’re doing the same thing, which is figuring out a way to attract people who are in your ideal customer profile to your product. You’re trying to convert them to a real lead so that they actually engage with you.
Then you’re trying to get them into a sales conversation or to try your product so that they convert.
And then, over time, you’re trying to upsell them, cross-sell them, and make sure they renew.
Regardless of what you want to call it, this is how you go to market so people buy your product.
Why Do You Need a Go-To-Market Strategy?
The simple answer is If you build an effective strategy, more people will realize how great of a product you’ve built or that you’ve even built a product in the first place.
You might have the most incredible product in the market, but no one will ever try it, no one will ever know, and all of your efforts will have gone to waste if you don’t have a good Go-To-Market strategy.
This is why it’s so important to build a Go-To-Market strategy in the right way.
In terms of when to build it, if you’re past the point where you’ve built a new product and you’re generating revenues, or you’re looking to scale revenues, you need a strategy for your Go-To-Market.
What Are the Four Key Questions You Need to Ask Yourself When Creating Your Go-To-Market Strategy?
We’ll dive into these more below, but the four sets of questions you need to ask yourself to get clarity around creating your Go-To-Market strategy are the following:
- What is your target market and what is the underserved part of that market? Who are the top competitors in that segment of the market?
- What’s the important, urgent, and frequent problem that you’re solving? And why does this problem exist? What is the big macro trend that is creating this problem in the first place?
- How would you define your ideal customer profile and initial customer profile in detail? What is your positioning, value proposition, and strategic narrative that directly resonates with that specific group of people?
- How will you implement everything you know about the market, the big macro trend, and your ICP to distill it down into running a successful Go-To-Market machine?
How to Build a Go-To-Market Strategy
Step 1 – Calculate Your Total Addressable Market (TAM)
The first thing you’ll have to figure out for your Go-To-Market strategy is your total addressable market.
You’re going to have to answer questions such as: What is the target market? How do you define it? Are you going into a new market or are you going into an existing market and you’ll have to differentiate accordingly?
You essentially have to define what the target market is and specifically what the important, urgent, and frequent problem is that you’re solving.
This is probably the most important part of your Go-To-Market strategy.
And I know it sounds simple, but just write it down and articulate your target market succinctly over five bullet points.
You’ll start to realize how many nuances there are to this.
Step 2 – Research Competitors & Find the Underserved Part of the Market
Once you have an idea of the target market you’re going after, you’ll need to dig into your new market strategy in more detail and look at the competition and the underserved part of the market.
Generally speaking, whether it’s SMB, mid-market, or enterprise, there’s always going to be a big competitor.
So you’ll want to understand where the competitors lie in each of these segments.
When you do that, you’ll also start to understand who you can actually compete against and how you can differentiate against them effectively.
So for example, if there are well-entrenched enterprise players, it’s going to be really hard as a startup to catch up with them. Because of this, you may be better off in the SMB or the mid-market.
But at the same time, if there are tons of low-cost players that are servicing the market and there’s no way you’re going to differentiate yourself, you may have to go into the mid-market.
Just keep in mind, there’s a natural flow with this. The more premium you go, the more complex the sale is going to be. And the more low market and SMB you go, the more simple the sale is going to be because it’ll probably be self-service.
But there’s a catch to this. If you go really premium and you go into enterprise, you have a complex sale but the churn is going to be really low just by nature. If you go low cost and into SMB, you’re going to get a bunch of people that will probably go out of business a year later and therefore churn like crazy.
No matter which direction you decide to go, there are always going to be tradeoffs, but this is the kind of decision making and strategic GTM planning that you need to do for your marketing strategy.
Once you’ve mapped out the competition, you can start making decisions around your positioning and pricing.
You now know why this market exists, that it’s a big enough market, and that there’s also a segment in the market where there’s a gap you can go after.
Step 3 – Define the Problem You’re Solving in the Market
This ties into step 1. When you were initially figuring out your target market, you had to define the problem. Now, it’s time to take that a step further.
What’s the important, urgent, and frequent problem that you’re solving? And why does this problem exist? What are the most important pain points behind this problem?
What’s creating this problem in the first place? What’s the opportunity they’re after? What are the big changes in the landscape? What are the big problems that exist today that are driving this market? Meaning, there’s a whole group of people that are waking up every morning and saying, I have to go solve this problem.
The best way I know how to answer this is to actually dig into macro trends to figure out why this target market exists.
Once you do that, then you’re going to understand your new market fully. You’ll understand your buyer personas better and why they wake up every morning because this big thing is happening.
And because this big thing is happening, as soon as you talk about this big thing, then these people are going to recognize it. They’ll recognize that it’s either an opportunity or a risk they have to solve for and therefore they’re going to be interested in buying your software.
So these two things alone can clarify what it is that you’re doing and what problem you need to be solving that you can then create an action plan around in your marketing strategy.
Step 4 – Ideal Customer Profile and Initial Customer Profile
If you follow me on YouTube, you know one of the top things I talk about on my channel is how to define your ideal customer profile and buyer personas in the right way. The reason I bring it up so much is because so many founders don’t actually do it correctly.
They may have a one-liner for their ideal customer profile and buyer personas, maybe even a pain point or two, but they don’t actually have a true profile of who they’re targeting.
They don’t actually have a fleshed out version of the firmographics, demographics, and all the trigger events that come with their potential customers.
When you’re building out your ideal customer profile, the most important thing you have to remember is that the riches are in the niches.
For B2B SaaS, you need to look at company size, what kind of revenues they have, where they’re located, and what kind of tools and software they’re already using (that should be outdated compared to yours).
And, of course, you need to look at the big macro trend that’s affecting them and where you can make sure to enter the conversation they’re already having in their head about it.
You also need to remember that even if your focus is B2B, you’re still selling to people. You need to get a full understanding of what their roles and ambitions are and what they might resonate with the most when it comes to your marketing and Go-To-Market sales strategy.
Another important thing to note is that when you’re building a GTM strategy, you actually need to go beyond just an ideal customer profile. You also need to flesh out your initial customer profile.
Meaning who are the first one hundred customers you’re going to get? What do they look like, and how are you going to expand from there with a successful customer acquisition and lead generation strategy?
This is why this step is so important: when your ideal customer profile is done right, it can be the most important growth tool for your business. It can be the key to accelerating your path to product-market fit and the next stage of growth.
Step 5 – Messaging and Strategic Narrative (AKA Your Product Marketing)
After you’ve calculated your market, figured out the market within that market, and built out your ideal customer profile and target audience, you then need to create an action plan for your positioning, messaging, and, most importantly, your strategic narrative.
This is commonly known as product marketing, but it’s the most important aspect of your startup marketing strategy framework that you need to nail to reach product-market fit.
What is your positioning? What is your value proposition? What is your messaging? What is the strategic narrative that you can align the entire market around and actually differentiate your new or existing products and services from the rest of the market?
These are all important questions that you actually have to answer in your GTM strategy.
A lot of times I see founders skipping this step and just jumping right into running ads, doing inbound, or doing outbound. I stop them and ask them, but what’s your Go-To-Market strategy?
They often tell me they’re going to hire a content person who’s going to do a lot of blogs. But that in itself is not a good marketing strategy.
Because what they haven’t done is really think through their market and target audience. They haven’t dug into why they exist, what the macro trends are, and who their competitors are.
And they definitely haven’t figured out a true value proposition or their messaging, which is one of the most important aspects of a successful marketing plan.
What are the words they’re going to say to the person sitting across from them that is a potential buyer to differentiate themselves? What’s the value they’re going to bring and why should these potential customers pay attention?
These are all things that go into the value proposition, messaging, and the strategic narrative.
And you really can’t skip over this step because if you go onto the next step, which is mobilizing all of this, without doing this, you’ll be firing blanks. You’re not going to have real bullets or a real target you’re going after.
Step 6 – Mobilize Your Narrative & Customer Journey (AKA Your Sales & Marketing Funnel)
Once you’ve figured out your messaging and your value proposition, the final thing that you need to focus on is your Go-To-Market motion.
Based on the segment of the market you’re going after and based on what your messaging is, you’re then going to figure out how to mobilize and implement your Go-To-Market strategy.
When you’re implementing your Go-To-Market strategy, you have to think about your customer journey (AKA your sales strategy and marketing funnel) – what I like to call an Unstoppable sales funnel.
But there are some specific questions you need to answer first.
Should you do outbound, inbound, or partnerships and marketplaces? Are you going to have a sales-driven organization or a marketing-driven organization? Is it going to be inside sales or outside sales or some sort of hybrid? Can you afford to hire a full-time sales team and SDRs?
You have to figure out how to attract customers and convert them to a lead, or at least to a sales conversation.
This is how you create your Go-To-Market motion, by fleshing out all of these questions, which we’ll help you with below.
Sales Driven vs Marketing Driven Organization
It might seem like an innocent choice, but in reality, these are two wildly different SaaS sales models and two very different growth engines.
You’ll need to first choose which one to focus on for your business for your GTM strategy to actually work.
This is how you decide between the two growth engines:
START A TRIAL
If you can get a user into an “a-ha moment” within the first five minutes of them signing up, you should go with the start a trial button.
The reason people use software is so they can reach a certain outcome. You might not be able to get them to that final outcome within the first five minutes, but if you can help them reach an “a-ha moment” right after signing up for your product, that’s when you’ll get their attention and get them to come back to your product.
This means you’d be focusing on a marketing-led growth model.
TALK TO SALES
If you’re in a highly competitive category and a well-defined market, getting your ideal customers to their “a-ha moment” probably isn’t going to be how they make their buying decision.
They’ll have a long list of features they’re looking for and checkboxes that need to get checked, but what they’ll really be after to differentiate between companies are trust and a unique relationship.
These people want to talk to a human being because they want to understand if you’re the right strategic choice above your competitors. This means you’d be focusing on a sales-led growth model.
Which Go-To-Market Model to Go After? Direct Model vs Channel Model
Another aspect to think about before implementing your Go-To-Market strategy is what kind of play is appropriate for your target audience and for the business you’re building.
There are really two kinds of plays you can have – direct model or channel model.
As an early-stage founder, you should only pick one. It can be enticing to try and do both, but it’s impossible to be good at either one of these unless you focus on it.
So really, what you want to figure out is, do you want to focus on a direct model? Or do you want to focus on a channel model?
Let’s look at the main differences first.
A direct model is where you’re going directly to the customer, the consumer, the prospect and you’re saying, “Hey, I have a solution to a problem that you have and you should buy it.”
A channel model is where you figure out who the people are who are already selling to your target customers and how to get them to sell what you have.
Or how to get them to introduce you to those people so you can sell to them as well. Basically, the channel model is built around going through existing channels.
So how do you figure out whether you should go direct or channel? 99% of the time, if you’re an early-stage company, you should go direct.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Number one, you’re too small for channel leaders to actually notice you. A lot of times, they’ll have BizDev people. They’ll meet with you. And they’ll talk about all these things. And they’ll say they’ll introduce you or they’ll resell you.
But really, they’re going to wait and see if you’re worth it and if the market loves what you’re doing or not.
Many times, founders burn a lot of calories trying to build out a channel model because it’s more enticing when you don’t have to build out a sales team and barely have to build out a marketing team.
You just have to enable this channel and give them a cut of revenues and they’ll do all the heavy lifting for you through their teams.
It’s tempting, but in the early days, most channels won’t let you in or give you the time of day. So you’re almost always better off going after a direct model.
This is especially the case if you’re trying to validate your idea, get traction, and reach product-market fit. And once you get into direct, the question then becomes do you do inbound or outbound?
What I usually recommend is that early-stage founders should start with inbound and social, but let’s dig into the difference between inbound, outbound, and partnerships/markets.
Inbound generally splits into search/SEO (where people search for something and land on your content) or social (where people find you on social platforms and connect with your content).
If you’re in the early stages of your business, you should start building a social presence by sharing what you’re building behind the scenes.
Or, if you already have a somewhat established business that has revenues, then you should start doubling down on search and social at the same time to really lock down inbound.
So why do I suggest starting with inbound?
Starting with inbound is always a good idea because it attracts the right people into your sphere. You might not fully know who your ICP is or the people who will resonate most with your messaging. You might know you’re selling to salespeople, for example, but you might not know exactly which kind of salespeople or what type of sales.
This is why inbound is so good to start with because it allows you to put your message out there to see who you attract.
Once you see who you attract, then you can sift and sort through it. You can really get to know your ideal customer and go double down on what they resonate with the most.
Once you’ve done inbound and you’ve gotten some traction on it, then you should turn on outbound. Outbound generally breaks down into running ads, email campaigns, or cold calling.
A lot of times, founders will begin with outbound and just start spraying and praying and end up burning a lot of money on ads. The problem with ads, and starting with outbound as a whole, is that ads are very much determined by who you’re targeting. Outbound emails are also very much determined by who you’re targeting, as well as your messaging.
If you start with outbound first, I compare it to firing a giant machine gun with blanks. You don’t have quality bullets yet so all of that energy goes to waste.
This is why it’s so important to always start with inbound and then spin into outbound once you’ve tested your core messaging, your core ICP, and you know exactly the type of person who’s going to buy from you.
Once you’ve ramped up inbound and outbound and found traction with both of them, then I would go into channels. Because by now, you should have credibility and customer success stories.
Now, you can go into these channels where your people are already aggregating and partner with companies who have the marketing budgets to sell to the people who would buy your product.
You can go to them and say, “Hey, this is the exact messaging we use. This exact value proposition we have. This is the exact type of customer that loves our products. Here are the customer success stories.”
And it makes it much easier to hook into one of the marketplaces they have or to set up a co-selling, reselling, or co-marketing arrangement.
Who Is Responsible For Your Go-To-Market Strategy?
The short answer is YOU.
You, as the founder, should be responsible for creating your Go-To-Market strategy. This isn’t something you should hire out because it’s one of the core components of building a successful startup and the best way to understand your business strategy fully.
Once you have your GTM strategy fleshed out, THEN you can start delegating tasks to actually implement it. Just make sure you’re tracking the right KPIs and continuing to lead your team in the right direction because the execution is just as (if not more) important than the actual strategy.
It never hurts to remember that strategy without proper execution means nothing.
Conclusion – What Does a Great Go-To-Market Strategy for Startups Look Like?
If you’ve made it to the end of this very long and detailed blog post, you should already know the answer to this question.
But let’s recap exactly what makes a GREAT GTM strategy and how your marketing strategy and product strategy come together to create this winning strategy.
Step 1: You need to dig into your total addressable market. Are you going after a new market or an already established one with key players?
Step 2: You then need to figure out the underserved part of the market and the niched down segment that you can go after and thrive in. Who are the main competitors in that segment and how will you differentiate yourself from them?
Step 3: Next, you need to define the urgent, important, and frequent problem that your potential customers are facing. What is the big macro trend and the major pain points you’re addressing?
Step 4: Then you need to write up your Ideal Customer Profile and your Initial Customer Profile in detail. You need to understand who your potential customers are inside and out. What their goals and aspirations are and what is going to resonate with them the most so you can flesh out your strategic narrative.
Step 5: Once you have your market and ideal customer fleshed out, you have to make sure your messaging and strategic narrative are on point. In this step, you need to figure out your positioning, value proposition, and your messaging. You need to figure out how you can align your narrative around the market and how you’ll differentiate yourself from the rest.
Step 6: Lastly, you need to implement your GTM strategy and kick-start your sales and marketing funnel. You need to figure out which route you’ll be focusing on first – outbound, inbound, or partnerships and marketplaces and start doubling down.
If you’re a visual person, make sure to watch my 6-Step Go-To-Market Strategy video here as well:
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These are the main steps, but what really makes GTM strategies great is the execution and the ability to implement your strategy in an efficient and unstoppable way, which is exactly what I teach in my Go-To-Market program (where I give you the exact Go-To-Market strategy template).
In this program, I help founders grow and scale their SaaS businesses around a proven SaaS Go-To-Market strategy framework to get to $3M ARR and beyond.
From clarifying their ideal customer profile to creating their value proposition and building and running their sales funnel to close more deals, this program is for anyone who is ready to accelerate growth in a real way.
If you’re ready to learn how to create a Go-To-Market strategy that will take your startup to the next level, you can learn more about it here.
And just remember, everyone needs a strategy for their life and their business but when you’re with us, yours is going to be unstoppable.