GO-TO-MARKET STRATEGY DEEP DIVE

Why a Killer Go-to-Market Always Wins over a Great Product

For startups and other companies that want to grow fast(er)

I’m running a 3 hours free intensive on go-to-market on Wednesday, September 29, 14–17 CEST (UTC+2).

Welcome to join live over Zoom — registration details will be available. The organizer does not share the recording after the event.

You can have an amazing product that is technically superior but without having the right access to the market you will lose. The sad story is that a large company with a better distribution system launches something far inferior and wins. That is why a killer Go-to-market always wins over a great product. And the history repeats itself to a great extent not only in startups but in enterprises as well.

I have been doing Go-to-market for years, ever since I started working after college — first in financial services and banking followed by publishing and software development/services. The last three years I spent in two startups (iOT and fintech), the first one before product market fit and the latter scaling after PMF has been reached for the initial market. Having been involved in more than 20 new product launches pushed me to master the craft of product launching on consumer markets, SMBs, and enterprise.

Ever since I transitioned from the banking sector I developed this side obsession to figure out, whether you can design a better Go-to-market, if you have been switching the industries or markets by transferring best practices. I tried to approach the go-to-market system with design thinking in mind: what is the need for a Go-to-Market system, how it is implemented, and how it should be implemented.

Speed has been a new competitive weapon for a while and this deep dive of resources gives you a starting point to design your own Go-to-market faster than starting from scratch.

If you understand the importance of Go-to-market strategy and how you can build a suitable machine before you launch a new product, enter new markets or open new channels that will give you an unfair competitive advantage in your execution and possibility to write your version of David and Goliath story.

Enjoy the deep dive!

Table of Contents

Gathering Everything There is on Go-to-Market Strategy

Look Before You Leap and Begin with the End in Mind

Go-to-Market is about Connecting the Dots, Orchestration, and Alignment

Understanding the Importance of Go-to-Market Strategy

Building Your Go-to-Market Machine

From 0 to 1: Time to Product/Market Fit (TTPMF), Product-Market Fit (PMF), and Founder Go-to-Market-Fit

From 1 to n: Go-to-Market Fit, Moat, The Messy Middle, Growth and Beyond

Gathering Everything There is on Go-to-Market Strategy

The go-to-market is an extremely broad domain and there is a lot of content available, some of it very specific to either sellers or buyers markets, companies designed to grow fast (startups), or large companies that want to grow their business fast.

I tried to gather relevant resources that can help you when you need to design a Go-to-market strategy, launch plan or a Go-to-market plan so you don’t have to start from scratch.

This collection is just the tip of the Go-to-market iceberg and is not some magic pill for designing your GTM quickly for your situation. But it will give you all the different points of view to better understand the matter and further explore this interesting topic on your own, especially if you did not find the relevant stuff by googling it. And if you find just one useful resource that helps you design and execute faster for your particular situation, that’s all you need.

Look Before You Leap and Begin with the End in Mind

There is no one size fits all solution, each Go-to-market is different and unique. To make the matter worse, there an overwhelming number of resources available online, each with a different spin and tailored to a different industry, company stage, or company type.

There is one general rule how to go about Go-to-market — look before you leap.

  1. Jump into execution mode before understanding the big picture — prepare a Go-to-Market plan before research, understanding value proposition, and defining the Go-to-market strategy
  2. Endlessly talk about high-level Go-to-market strategy but not having a clear idea of how it can be executed or have the resources to execute it
  3. Not having anything planned and justify it: “It will sell itself since we made such a great product.” or “We’ll just try to advertise it on Facebook.”
  4. Just learning by doing and firmly believe you can figure out quickly “We do not need this GTM framework and plans, we are lean.”
  5. Switching the strategy too often and too extremely “Yesterday we planned an expedition to Mount Everest and tomorrow we are sailing to Galapagos.” and expecting your team and operations to follow quickly
  6. Not having a clear understanding in which phase the market is to design the GTM strategy (are we pre-chasm or in a declining market makes all the difference)

Go-to-Market is about Connecting the Dots, Orchestration, and Alignment

In spite of its complexity designing go to market strategy and preparing go to market has some rules that can be generalised for any situation or organisation. Newly founded businesses, SMEs, enterprises or NGOs could learn a lot from startups how to build traction on different channels and how to use rapid experimentation process. On the other hand, startups can benefit from understanding and managing complex distribution (and tools used) from large sales or distribution-focused organisations, especially when designing marketplaces, platforms, and ecosystems.

“A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.” Paul Graham

A lot of knowledge and wisdom how to design a Go-to-market and build your growth machine comes from venture capital investors and other people since their high-risk investments focus on companies that have high growth potential and they have been through this process repeatedly.

The hardest part of designing a go to market strategy is to think about its execution at the same time you are building it. It is all about connecting the dots, orchestration, and alignment — thinking with the end in mind and being able to change everything if the conditions change drastically.

But there is one major warning here — your Go-to-Market framework is not set in stone once you design it — it can only be successful if your framework has a built-in adaptability to change when the conditions change or new data is gathered that changes the initial hypothesis that we build the framework on.

If you are able to have “Strong Opinions, Weakly Held” and be in a mode of “Information search”, “Concept formation” and having “Conceptual Flexibility” you will do great.

“Information search, concept formation, and conceptual flexibility” are on the top of the list of high-performance behaviors that Center for High Performance Development (CHPD) has validated in their research at a performance at a higher level and extremely difficult conditions. That can be used when you design your Go-to-Market especially when you are entering a new market or designing something completely new:

  • Information search — gathering many different kinds of information and use wide variety of sources to build a rich informational environment in preparation for decision-making.
  • Concept formation — build frameworks or models, form concepts, hypothesis or ideas on the basis of information. Become aware of patterns, trends, cause/effect relations by linking disparate information.
  • Conceptual flexibility — identify feasible alternatives or multiple options in planning and decision making. Hold different opinions in focus simultaneously and evaluates their pros and cons. Explore options before making a decision.

Consider how much domain expertise is really important in your case. Maybe you would vastly benefit from the different points of view from another industry. There are lessons to be learned from companies outside your category.

Understanding the Importance of Go-to-Market Strategy

“And as much as I love tech and live tech and dream tech… it’s the killer Go-to-market that always wins.” Vijay Pande

You can have an amazing product that is technically superior but with not having the right access to the market you will lose. Enterprise with better distribution could launch something far inferior but would beat you in this process. Not getting initial traction for your product is often connected with spending too much time on building and not on allocating enough time and resources on distribution and attracting users.

Sequoia Capital has followed a basic mantra “Market, product, team. In that order.” for more than two decades and Kirill Sheynkman made some interesting assessment who is more likely to win: “Nice toy” — having a great product but no market nor the team do not have any chance to win and “The Business Guys” have a 30% chance having market and the team vs 10% for “The Techies” having product and the team.

“Understanding your Go-to-market strategy as a function of the primacy of sales or marketing is paramount.” Mark Leslie “If you’re marketing-intensive, the product is bought. If it’s sales-intensive, the product is sold.”

Mark Leslie uses a simple framework to quickly establish whether you have a sales-intensive or marketing-intensive product that you are bringing to the market. An overview of seven key variables: price, market size, the complexity of technology, fit and finish, type of customer lifetime and level of customer engagement help you to determine where you stand and whether you are aligned with everything. Besides smoother Go-to-market strategy, this process will help marketing and sales to better coordinate their efforts to win customers.

“Startups are commonly instructed to just focus on product market fit in the early days. This leads to teams ignoring the other fits. While I agree in the earliest phases you focus on proving Market Product Fit, that does not mean you can ignore the others.” Brian Balfour “There are four essential fits: Market Product Fit, Product Channel Fit, Channel Model Fit, Model Market Fit.” “1.You need to find four fits to grow to $100M+ company in a venture-backed time frame. 2. Each of these fits influences each other, so you can’t think about them in isolation. 3. The fits are always evolving/changing/breaking. When that happens, you can’t simply change one element, you have to revisit and potentially change them all.”

Market, product, channel, and model all have to interact and work together as part of one constant ecosystem and Brian Balfour designed a framework to align all four fits and explained why you cannot think of them separately. Building a great product is not an answer that your company will grow successfully. Great products have failed, while terrible products have grown to a huge company. You need to have a hypothesis for each work together to build an ecosystem. You do not prove all the hypotheses at once but you formulate them from a start before you build something. If you have nailed it your growth journey will be the one of “a Smooth sailor — a little effort for lots of speed” vs. “Tugboat — a lot of effort for little speed”.

Go-to-Market Strategy is focused on how the organization will put offerings into the market to reach market penetration, revenue and profitability expectations. This charter is a superset of marketing strategy as it impacts all functions within an organization with the goal of preparing the entire company for market success.” Peter Buscemi

A comprehensive GTM strategy includes a detailed analysis of your target markets, customer segments, budget requirements, offers, positioning and can take several weeks or longer to formulate. Successful implementation can take 12 to 36 months. It is not an event — a product launch or a plan to push an existing product through a sales channel. It is focused on the entire product lifecycle and has to be adjusted and changed when the market conditions change.

“How do you help your companies acquire customers? How do you help companies grow?” Michael J. Skok “Many early-stage founders don’t come in with an innate sense of how they’ll acquire customers. They might know the usual levers to pull and experiments to run, but every company is different — and sometimes very different if they’re working in a new industry or domain. Whether you’re a consumer company trying to nail early paid marketing or an enterprise company crafting its Go-to-market strategy, the best way to get up to speed fast is the same: learn from folks who have been there before.”

Skok explains in great detail how to build a Go-To-Market (GTM) strategy for the startup business in Part 4 of the Startup Secrets. The framework has 3 parts: strategic, tactical, and execution. The strategy includes positioning, brand, targeting, and segmentation. If you want to drive competitive advantage in your go-to market your segments need to be small enough to be actionable but big enough to be meaningful.

Minimum viable product (MVP) comes hand in hand with the minimum viable segment (MVS) and his great startup secret is that if your segmentation is based on needs that will lead that customer will reference each other.

“The best way to build the Go-to-Market strategy is to copy someone’s else. Unless you want to make money or grow consistently.” Hugh Macfarlane “You are shaping your strategy according to what the buyer needs not what the seller wants to do.”

When designing your go-to-market it is important to identify your market stage and the strategy required to cater to that phase. It is not what the seller wants to do but respects what the market needs. As Moore argues in his Crossing the Chasm book that there is a chasm between the early adopters of the product and the early majority, therefore, is vital to identify your market stage, the strategy required, and plan for the next phase of the market. Moore suggests the techniques to successfully cross the “chasm”: choosing the target market, understanding the whole product concept, positioning the product, building a market strategy, choosing the most appropriate distribution channel and pricing.

“So, the target for startups or large firms entering new markets in order to be successful should not just be product-market fit, but product-market scale. If you achieve that, you dominate markets and cannot seem to be usurped no matter how few barriers to entry you have.” Casey Winters

It is not only the first-mover advantage nor product-market-fit to dominate the market. If you figure out how to scale with velocity you can overtake successful players that were already in that market.

“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Elad Gil “Spotting nonobvious markets is about finding those pockets of innovation before everyone else. You can still win even if someone else gets there first. Dig deeper to find differentiation and capture what they’re leaving on the table.” “Sometimes it’s not niche, it’s just boring. If you conflate the two, you’ll miss out on incredible opportunities.”

Gil believes that most successful founders are able to see what others don’t by almost cloning themselves as a customer. You can crack through the markets by being product-centric rather than customer-centric. Often the market will seem crowded but in drilling deeper you can spot dramatically underserved segments where there is a growing customer base. Many trends start out in small communities and then eventually spread elsewhere. Gil recommends three types of markets to go after new technology, looks competitive but is not, and it seems too niche.

“Frameworks are great for teaching concepts but in the end life so often evades our best efforts to put method to madness.” Morgan Brown “So, as neat and tidy as this framework looks, anyone who’s thrown their hat in the startup ring knows there are infinite variations on how the parts of this outline can be mixed, matched, layered and timed.”

In his framework of startup lifecycle Morgan defines 5 phases: (1) Finding problem/solution fit, 2. Minimum Viable Product (MVP), 3. Product/Market Fit, 3. Scale, and 4. Maturity. When talking about rules for growth Morgan is cautious about using frameworks — they are great but not life — since you can never be sure how the details of your startup live story will reveal themselves.

Building Your Go-to-Market Machine

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

“A mediocre plan executed today is better than an excellent plan executed tomorrow.” Patton

It is the ‘when the rubber meets the road’ situation. Initially, the go-to-market plan should only be created after gathering user insights and creating success metrics and that will inevitably mean that in the best of circumstances you will have to tweak your go-to-market strategy.

The plans you have produced always evolve through execution (stuff happens). In the planning process, you anticipate what your challenges and needs will be and this process going through detail after detail and considering various alternatives to end up with a plan gives you a great perspective.

The interdependencies, considering the alternatives to get to milestone (e.g. product launch or channel adoption), come to great value when circumstances change and you need an alternative plan. With an understanding of all the components, you are in a much better position to come up with an alternative plan, if you have done the planning part properly. And things almost always get rough in anything complex.

Going to the market is all about execution in the end — not just how to decide and plan but carry it out.

“So many of today’s founders come from a product or technical background and have never been involved with sales and marketing. Right after starting their venture, they are hit with the huge problem of how to build their go-to-market organization and processes.” David Skok “Conventional wisdom has it that when you find product-market fit, you’re ready to start scaling and hit the gas. While this works very well for consumer-focused companies, it doesn’t work for B2B startups. Founders are often surprised that when they turn up the spend in sales and marketing, sales don’t grow.”

Focusing to build marketing organization and processes is of equal importance as building your product. If you want to scale, you have to invest time and resources to build your sales and marketing machine — this will be your foundation for a repeatable, scalable, and profitable growth process. Since the number on startup killer is the cost of customer acquisition (CAC) try to carefully reconsider your go-to-market strategy, if you are planning to have channel and field sales from the start.

“The first part of go to market is understanding what a channel is and a channel definition.” Peter Levine “A Coverage matrix is the mapping of your Go-to-market to different customer segments based on the product that is coming out of the organization. Over time there are more products that come out and put out a simple picture how your routes to market and products and customers align…how do we go selling to what market and what are we actually selling.”

Using a Coverage Matrix will help you better align different roots to market with customer segments. You will also be able to make a better decision about what are you going to start with since it will be impossible to do all. Over time when you will be adding more products to the portfolio, this framework will help you optimize your routes to the market and what you are selling.

“One of the most important parts of a product marketer’s role is to create a Go-to-market (GTM) plan. The GTM is a blueprint or roadmap that accounts for all of the inputs into how the company will take a product to market, build a competitive advantage, generate demand in the market and ensure customer adoption. It answers the who, what, where when, why and how of a product launch.” Yasmeen Turayhi “The underlying foundation for driving a successful launch is developing a deep understanding of the customer — and this happens before positioning, framing and GTM. Bringing a product marketer into the mix late in the game, and skipping the research phase, sets the product marketer, the rest of the team, and the product up for failure.”

Since many entrepreneurs and companies struggle to bring their products to market Turayhi new book Product Marketing Debunked: The Essential Go-To-Market Guide provides a GTM framework and checklist that can be used before launching your product. Hiring an effective product marketer early enough will ensure that he/she will understand cross-functional dependencies, identify customer unknowns and do the research and will document learnings, and create a GTM strategy.

Asking basic Go-to-market questions and keeping it in a centrally accessible repository forces companies to recognize their strategic goals and creates alignment across cross-functional teams. It is important to assign one person to align all the activities around the product launch and that person is usually has a role of a product marketing manager. If you are doing this for the first time it is better to hire somebody from outside with more experience to align all the teams and activities. The product manager will usually be too busy to perform Go-to-market.

“Don’t waterfall product marketing.” Suneet Bhatt “Stop thinking of yourself as the ideal user all the time.” “We agree on the destination. Please don’t judge my preferred mode of travel.” “But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the bridge from the Sales and Marketing side can be built in larger, more thoughtful chunks while the bridge from the Product and Engineering side could better embrace the pace of Sales and Marketing’s approach. To build a bridge from both sides, we need to acknowledge our shared goals. We need to acknowledge our collective pursuit of progress to (a most likely unattainable) perfection. We need to realize that the success of the organizations we work for requires not self-reliance, but embraced interdependence.”

No one suggests that marketing and product should be separate entities. Suneet Bhatt has faced the single biggest uphill battle — getting the customer-facing organization included. Focus on distinguishing two dates in every product release calendar: code complete (when a product is ready for release) and commercially available (when a product is released to customers). As someone in the product organization, you can play an amazing role to be a partner to your product marketer and build commercialization into your release.

“Death by a wolf when you become so deaf to warnings of change, that you ignore a big, bad one when it actually arrives.” Jon Dick “Death by boa when you add so many small “process improvements” that you slowly squeeze the life out of your customer experience.” “Death by a whale when you ignore the biggest (and loudest) channel you have because it’s below the water line.”

Jon Dick from Hubspot argues that your Go-to-market is killing your business and you do not even know it. You may not be aware that consumers want to communicate with companies through 13 different channels. Customers are impatient and patience wears out in 10 minutes. Customers rely on very different sources when making purchase decisions (word of mouth, customer references…).

“The issue we see weekly is that this tends to be applied only to the tech and product side of things. Which is why we must include the learnings from Google’s former head of enterprise apps Dave Gerrard. He outlines the same problem that in business speed is seen as an asset primarily in product development. Ship fast, break things. But for some strange reason this matra isn’t being adopted on the sales and marketing and business side of things. What you shouldn’t fail to grasp is that speed matters to the rest of the business too. Not just product !” ”David Arnoux

Experiment driven approach can be an efficient and effective way of your Go-to-market. Focusing on building speed not only in product departments but also in marketing and growth departments can be vital to build speed and momentum. David Arnoux from Growth Tribe shares there is no secret sauce for rapid experimentation — it is really process-driven. Growth Tribe team has designed a G.R.O.W.S. framework and internal process to help companies grow with an experiment-driven approach. There are three main prerequisites before you implement that in your organization: 1. your business model canvas is about 80% validated, 2. there is problem-solution fit (your business product or service has a clear pain and the right solution for that pain), and 3. you have a clear understanding of your segments or your personas.

G stands to gather all the ideas and you will create a huge backlog of every idea that you and your company has and later on prioritizing them and starting to experiment with. Arnoux swears by Jeff Bezos advice “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week…” and “Being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.”

“Once you’ve intentionally created your strategy, give it time.” Christian Beck “ Too often I find founders either impulsively tweaking too many parts of their GTM strategy, or simply abandoning entire efforts when things don’t go well. Change the price, don’t make it free. Change your ad copy, don’t drop Facebook and start using Pinterest. And most importantly, don’t make all these changes at once! You can run multiple experiments but too many changes makes it difficult to know what’s working and what’s not.”

Give your strategies some time to reveal themselves and tweak them, not overhaul. Even if you are lean and ready to pivot — try to move fast but still have patience. And even if you need an overhaul the way to get there is by incremental improvements and once you find what is successful you can rapidly scale the tactic.

From 0 to 1: Time to Product/Market Fit (TTPMF), Product-Market Fit (PMF), and Founder Go-to-Market-Fit

“But iteration without a bold plan won’t take you from 0 to 1. A company is the strangest place of all for an indefinite optimist: why should you expect your own business to succeed without a plan to make it happen? Darwinism may be a fine theory in other contexts, but in startups, intelligent design works best.” Peter Thiel “Go after small markets, often markets that are so small that people don’t even notice them, they don’t think they make sense.” “You’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business — no matter how good the product.”

The book From Zero to One by Peter Thiel gives us away from a great secret of our time — that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create.

“There are only 3 things that kill pre-product market fit companies. These are self-evident, but founders tend to forget them. To not die you need to: (1) Find product-market fit. (2) Resolve co-founder conflicts. (3) Don’t run out of money. Everything else is noise.” Elad Gil

Gil states that focusing on PMF should be the main priority for founders but unfortunately spend time on unnecessary areas (constant speaking events, over-hiring team, constant fundraising, chasing fake customer signals). If you and your co-founder are constantly fighting it takes longer than it should and you do not have anymore the advantage of speed over incumbents. In the end, it is important not to run out of money — companies wait for too long to cut costs, raise prices or start charging for services. You should focus on margin, customer churn, and organic adoption.

“The point of an MVP, in essence, is to see whether you can provide a minimal amount of value to a very well specified very particular group of customers that solves that problem sufficiently well that they want to keep using it…” Matt Clifford “The three fatal traps between MVP and product-market fit: 1. Building a lonely MVP 2. Being to responsive to too few people (Getting feedback and iterate on feedback but actually iterating too much on too loo little evidence) 3. Declaring the victory too soon.”

You need to build your MVP for Minimum Viable Segment. If nobody is using your MVP you are essentially not testing anything important. The point of the MVP is to allow you to prove or disprove your hypothesis of what the product needs to do. Too often the people launch the MVP and do not use it to validate the hypothesis. It seems that it has become very popular to build the product and then think about your strategy for reaching those customers. It has to come prior to actually building the product.

“Getting product right means finding product/market fit. It does not mean launching the product. It means getting to the point where the market accepts your product and wants more of it.” Fred Wilson

First, you have to figure if you have a product-market fit. If you are not very certain about that consider going through all the points in Tren Griffin’s 12 Things about Product-Market Fit. Scaling prematurely is a sure way to kill your startup or project. Scaling a sales team at the first sign of the revenue traction can be dangerous since early traction can be from early adopters not from the actual market itself. Another way to check it is if your product is growing organically, not depending on paid advertising.

“In our search for P-M-F, we’ve always adhered to this mantra: “you want to be a painkiller, not a vitamin — vitamins are nice-to-haves, but people can’t live without painkillers. We had a product we believed solved a real pain point, we just didn’t know who felt the pain most, and how best to reach them. Wonder is ubiquitous both vertically and horizontally — it’s used by everyone from teachers to consultants to lawyers to recruiters. This presented us with the difficult challenge in that we had endless verticals and roles to explore, and lack of focus generally leads to failure when there are so many shiny toys to chase. We had to be laser focused on 1–2 verticals to gain initial traction.” Guy Cohen

Great companies fail each year having this amazing product but do not figure out how to get it to market fast enough. Guy Cohen from Wonder shares his story finding the P-M-F and the checklist he builds along the way. Wonder had a product that could be used by many verticals and they were aware that finding Product Market Fit they would have to go vertical by vertical and define a different buyer persona, business benefits delivered, positioning, messaging, pricing for each vertical.

“When it comes to market leadership, be the gorilla.” Andy Rachleff “Contrary to popular opinion, product leadership is not synonymous with being first to market. In reality, few market leaders were the first to introduce products into the markets they now lead. Rather, the market leader is the first to hit product-market fit. In other words, they were the first company to deliver a product that addressed what customers actually wanted.” “The leader usually only needs a product that’s good enough, not better than new entrants to maintain its market supremacy.” “Sailors know you can’t overtake your competitor on the same wind. It’s no different in business. You need to tack (i.e. take a different path) if you want to overtake the leader.”

Rachleff believes that there is a process behind reaching a product market fit and first you need to define and test your value hypothesis (the what, the who, and the how) and then move to the growth hypothesis. Iteration is more about the market and the business model than the product itself.

“Startups need to get to “Product/Market Fit” or die trying. Most die trying. Steve Blank talks about the idea that tech companies die because of lack of customers, not inability to build technology. Marc Andreessen says it’s the only thing that matters. Basically, you want to get to the point where your product is working, and if you can’t get there within the first 1–2 years of your company’s existence, you generally run out of money or your team falls apart.” Andrew Chen “If your plan for TTPMF exceeds your funding runway, you’re already dead.”

Time to Product/Market Fit (TTPMF) is the point where you can achieve it and scale up the business on traction or either reach profitability or raise it to the next round. Andrew Chen suggests there is only one option to shorten TTPMF that you copy somebody else but that approach has a lot of weaknesses.

“After some low hanging fruit is harvested (i.e., after some friends and family buy the product), acquiring customers will always cost real money. This is an unavoidable truth. A business can acquire customers with paid marketing (inorganic) or acquire them by using the product itself or aspects of the product as the means or acquisition (organic). Some customer acquisition cost very little and some costs an enormous amount.” Tren Griffin “Inorganic customer acquisition via paid marketing is one of the fastest methods ever invented for a business to consume cash. It is also one of the easiest ways to “strand” capital since customers can leave before the business recovers that cost of customer acquisition.”

Some successful startups do not advertise at all until they reach a significant scale. Addiction to paid ads is bad. Since the pressure to find the product-market fit is so great some companies pretend they have found it and launch their growth efforts anyway. So-called premature scaling is always deadly. Rules of thumb like “Rule 40” has been developed to give the business some guidance on how much to spend. The sales and marketing spending required to grow a business today is much higher than in earlier times.

“I firmly believe that having knowledge and background in how customers are acquired helps entrepreneurs find traction faster and/or better than those brand new to the acquisition strategy.” David Biesel “But more recently, we’ve started considering a related concept: Founder-Go-to-Market Fit. That is, “how well do the team’s go-to-market DNA and the startup’s acquisition strategy align?”

There is a similar concept related to PMF and is called Founder-Market Fit — whether there is a match between the founder and the problem they are going after. Biesel believes that Go-to-Market Fit is one of the most important parts of evaluating Founder-Market Fit. Different startups go to market differently, even in the same industry. The idea that everyday activities can be reimagined with a technology-first mindset means that the distribution for those services won’t follow the traditional marketing playbook in their industries. A successful go to market strategy matches the strengths of founders but is a departure from how companies in these categories have historically operated. Because of these founders’ DNA their startups had an unfair distribution advantage and that fueled their revenue growth.

“Hyper-verticalization is the secret sauce of early startup success. If you’re an early-stage company looking for your product-market fit, I have some words of wisdom for you.” Ben Parr “1. Always verticalize a level deeper than you think you need to go. 2. Verticalize your vertical. 3. Win your vertical before expanding. 4. Turn down customers. 5. Be a specialist.”

If you follow these rules you will see your marketing and sales take off. Be patient and win one vertical at a time and you will be rewarded in the long run. Parr advises to ask the following questions before moving to another vertical: “How many more customers are there in my current vertical? How dominant is my company’s vertical? And what will happen if I stop 100 percent focusing on this vertical?”.

“Go-to-market strategy (GTM) is an action plan that describes repeatable and scalable processes for how a company acquires, retains, and grows customers.” Myk Pono “For early stage companies, the first milestone in executing a GTM strategy is reaching product/market fit.” “The main reason many startups that reach product/market fit fail to accelerate growth is due to lack of a repeatable and scalable GTM strategy. Repeatable means that the organization can expect very similar results when executing against a particular GTM playbook.”

Scalable GTM strategy means that the company can hire and train new employees using the GTM playbook and see proportional revenue growth in the process of acquiring customers.

Find more details in the book Mastering Product Experience: How to Deliver Personalized Product Experiences with Product-led Go-to-Market Strategy by Nick Bonfiglio, Mickey Alon, and Myk Pono where you can find out what it takes to succeed with a Software-as-a-Service company and how to implement a faster and more effective product-led-go-to-market strategy to meet changing customer expectations.

“When companies start in SMB and move towards Enterprise this is referred to as moving Up-Stream. When companies sell in the enterprise and they start to sell to the faster paced SMB market or Pro-User market is called going Down-Stream. The most common problem is that companies move UpStream or Downstream by just hiring additional salespeople, not contemplating the consequences for the other parts of the organization. However, pursuing a new segment needs to be a company initiative — it may even require you to re-look your product-market fit.” Jacco Van der Kooij

The enterprise market may use lengthy RFP/RFQ purchasing procedures whereas SMB, on the other hand, offers a greater flexibility with shorter 30–90 days sales cycles. Your CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost) determines the go-to-market strategy you choose — it would be foolish to expect enterprise client to commit to a 100K platform by visiting the website and paying by credit card on one hand, as selling a 5 a month plugin with a personal visit. Each of these 2 cases has a different go to market approach ad CAC has to be in line with the revenue it generates.

“Selling to enterprises is a lot like getting a bill passed through Congress: it can get stuck. And getting stuck — or going down the wrong path — can mean death to startups in a competitive market. A strong go-to-market process and structure can help avoid that. Depending on how you’re going after your market/acquiring users, you may need to build a sales organization that’s optimized for a top-down or bottom-up sales process (or perhaps both).” Mark Cranney

16z Go-To-Market Boot Camp has been designed to provide you with Go-To-Market processes, best practices, and templates required to validate the right model for your business, optimize your sales and marketing efforts, hire the right executives, reduce time to market, isolate yourself from the competition and provide situational awareness and direction to scale efficiently.

“Need More Time” or Lack of Product-Market Fit?” Martin Cascado “Going to market early changes everything about building a company.” “In fact, the majority of the go-to-market ecosystem around enterprise software and hardware — VARs, resellers, distributors, OEMs — is geared towards large, existing markets. No amount of business development meetings, relationship touch-points, cross-logo posting, or integrations will create the behavior you want from a partner as much as dangling a big market in front of them will. Pre-chasm companies have to create a pull-based market — not a push based one — before they can truly engage the benefits of such partners.”

Cascado explains what to do when you are going to market and no market exists. It is hard to figure out if you just need more time or the market does not actually exist. Cascado shares five possible signs from his own experience: #1 Getting stuck in the ‘innovation friend zone’, #2 Even if customers are ‘sold’, they still can’t buy, #3 Your biggest competition isn’t another company..it’s the status quo (or is it?), #4 The paradox of pricing when you know what the value is… but not what the people will pay for #5 No startup is an island, and there’s no ocean of partners around your platform. Pre-chasm enterprise startups throw time and resources at indirect sales channels (including OEM). It is still important to foster ecosystem relationships early since strong business goes hand in hand with strong partnerships but you cannot jump ahead and skip the first step of creating a pull-based market.

From 1 to n: Go-to-Market Fit, Moat, The Messy Middle, Growth and Beyond

“Product Market Fit isn’t sufficient to unlock growth for enterprise startups. There’s a missing link between finding PMF and unlocking growth. That missing link didn’t have a name, but it is an equally important milestone and eureka moment. We call the missing link Go-To-Market Fit (GTM Fit).” Bob Thinker and Tea Hea Nahm “GTM Fit brings three things together: A clear sales model, a repeatable GTM playbook, and urgency.”

Finding Go-to-Market fit is hard and search is stressful. When enterprise startups achieve PMF and rapidly invest in sales and marketing with a plan to unlock growth cash burn accelerates. GTM Playbook is a powerful tool that becomes a blueprint to align the entire company behind what it needs to do to win. Nailing GTM Playbook is harder than it sounds, requiring distillation and lots of iteration. On 1–2 pages it outlines the steps how the company finds, engages, wins, and ramps customers. Do not get the playbook confused with a simple slide deck and sales tactics.

“Raising prices is a great way to flesh out whether you actually do have a moat… The definition of a moat is the ability to charge more.” Marc Andreessen “And then number two, companies that charge more can better fund both their distribution efforts and their ongoing R&D efforts. Charging more is a key lever to be able to grow. And the companies that charge more, therefore, tend to grow faster.”

Every product becomes obsolete and that can happen very quickly. Since we are in a product cycle business number one is the ability to charge more and number two is getting to the next product. If you do not keep innovating — just take your current product to market, your product will go stale and somebody will come up with a better product and replace you.

“No matter what it is you’re trying to create or transform, the myth of a successful journey is that it starts with an idea, followed by a ton of hardship, and then a gradual and linear rise to the finish line. But no extraordinary journey is linear. In reality, the middle is extraordinarily volatile — a continuous sequence of ups and downs, flush with uncertainty and struggle.” Scott Belsky “Every advance reveals a new shortcoming. Your job is to endure the lows and optimize the highs to achieve a positive slope within the jaggedness of the messy middle — so that, on average, every low is less low than the one before it, and every subsequent high is a little higher.”

Scott Belsky’s new book The Messy Middle touches on the untold stories of the hardest part of starting anything new. With more than 100+ lessons and insightful interviews from entrepreneurs, artists, writers and executives will help you understand what happens in the middle of any journey. Lessons learned are broken into three sections: endure, optimize and finish.

“Growth is an after effect of strong product/market fit and great distribution.” Andrew Chen “Growth is a magnifying glass. If you have a tiny diamond and you put it under a magnifying glass, then you’ll make something big and great. But if it’s just kind of a tiny piece of shit, then it’s just going to be a big piece of shit, right?”

When you are designing your Go-to-market you have to secure your product market fit and distribution — this is your foundation for growth. A great product is very important since the growth will just magnify everything. Chen believes in creating a growth system around your product, not just applying a set of universal tactics to it.

“Startups tend to succeed by building a product that is so compelling and differentiated that it causes a large number of customers to adopt it over an incumbent. This large customer base becomes a major asset for the company going forward. Products can be cross-sold to these customers, and the company’s share of time or wallet can expand. Since focusing on the product is what caused initial success, founders of breakout companies often think product development is their primary competency and asset. In reality, the distribution channel and customer base derived from their first product is now one of the biggest go-forward advantages and differentiators the company has.” Elad Gil

Elad Gil believes that all startup advice is only useful in context and that only good generic startup advice is- there is none. He summarized painfully tactical advice in his High Growth Handbook. As a VC he sees a lot how much competition emerges whenever anything works — there may be 20 new venture back competitors doing the same exact thing in a short period of time and the founders thought that their startup is unique. It would be a mistake not to take advantage of the distribution platform that the company developed — it may be more valuable than the original product in the end.

“When a startup matures to the point where it has a killer product, a clear and sizable market, and a robust distribution channel, it has the opportunity to become a “scaleup,”- a world changing company that touches millions or even billions of lives. Often the fastest and most direct path from startup to scaleup is the hyper growth produced by blitzscaling.” Reid Hoffman

Startups that scale as fast as possible become enduring and market-defining companies. Term blitzscaling has been used to describe how to achieve massive scale at incredible speed. Successful startups get to scale as fast as possible and they wipe out the competition fast.

Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh share a set of techniques and strategies to pursue rapid growth in the new book Blitzscaling: The Lightning Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies. They believe when we prioritize speed over efficiency you can scale a startup from a garage to global scale.

“Growth never ends. It’s all about creating a reiterative process. Use your data to identify opportunities, validate the results of your tests, document and then do it all over again. What works now may not work in the future and what fails now may work in the future.” Jon Butterfield “Thou shalt keep an open mind and never stop trying.”

This is the last commandment of the 10 Commandments of Product Growth by Jon Butterfield. After you find Product-Market fit you continue with North Star (one metric that matters), focus also on retention beside acquisition, focus on the magic moment for first time users, activating the users, develop main KPIs that lead to your North Star, accept failure as a lesson, focus on marginal users, and optimize and present the features at the correct time of user journey.

Conclusion

Designing a Go-to-market strategy is part craft and part a creative process, especially if you have been able to approach this process with the execution in mind.

There are no shortcuts in the process of designing your Go-to-market but learning from the people who have been there before and put their knowledge in the context of your market stage and market can speed you up. Hope this Go-to-market deep dive gave you at least one resource to faster design your Go-to-market strategy and find the learnings that matter for you faster.

End Notes from the Quotes

Paul Graham

Understanding the Importance of Go-to-Market Strategy

Vijay Pande

Mark Leslie

Brian Balfour

Michael J. Skok, https://www.startupsecrets.com/go-to-market

Go to Market Part I — Strategy
Go to Market, Part II, Tactics

https://www.slideshare.net/mjskok/goto-market/4-A_Startup_GTM_Framework_Marketing

Hugh Macfarlane

Casey Winters

Elad Gil

Morgan Brown

Building Your Go-to-Market Machine

David Skok

Peter Levine

Yasmeen Turayhi

Suneet Bhatt

Jon Dick

David Arnoux

Christian Beck

From 0 to 1: Time to Product/Market Fit (TTPMF), Product-Market Fit (PMF), and Founder Go-to-Market-Fit

Elad Gil

Matt Clifford

Fred Wilson

Guy Cohen

Andy Rachleff

Andrew Chen

Tren Griffin

Ben Parr

Nick Bonfiglio, Mickey Alon, and Myk Pono

Jacco Van der Kooij, https://www.saleshacker.com/go-to-market-strategy/References

Mark Cranney, https://a16z.com/2015/03/06/go-to-market-bootcamp/

Martin Cascado

From 1 to n: Go-to-Market Fit, Moat, The Messy Middle, Growth and Beyond

Bob Thinker and Tea Hea Nahm

Marc Andreessen

Scott Belsky

Andrew Chen

Elad Gil

Reid Hoffman

Jon Butterfield

References

Articles

5 Phases of the Startup Lifecycle: Morgan Brown on What it Takes to Grow a Startup by Lauren Bass

A Summary of “Crossing the Chasm” by Jonathan S. Linowes

Ask Women in Product: Does domain expertise really matter?

A Dozen Lessons About Product/Market Fit by Tren Griffin

Developing a Winning Go To Market Strategy

Go-to-Market Playbooks

How to Make a Design Framework to Structure Your Project by Chris Conley

Strong Opinions, Weakly Held — a framework for thinking by Ameet Ranadive

The 19 Channels You Can Use to Get Traction by Gabriel Weinberg

Books

Blitzscaling: The Lightning Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. More

High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil

Mastering Product Experience: How to Deliver Personalized Product Experiences with Product-led Go-to-Market Strategy by Nick Bonfiglio, Mickey Alon, and Myk Pono

Product Marketing Debunked: The Essential Go-To-Market Guide by Yasmeen Turayhi

Survival to Thrival: Building the Enterprise Startup — Book 1 The Company Journey, Bob Thinker and Tea Hea Nahm

The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky

The Leaky Funnel by Hugh Macfarlane

Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters

Videos, Courses and Presentations

Extra: Short and Sweet Definitions on Go-to-Market

“Go-to-market answers the what, the why, the how, the when, and the where for a product launch.” Yasmeen Turayhi

In other words, a go-to-market strategy is similar to a military strategy. You can think of it as: the environment and landscape of the battle (i.e.,market conditions) and competitive positioning, the target (i.e., target customer), weapon of choice (i.e., product offering and pricing), how the operation will be carried out (i.e., customer acquisition process and channels)” Myk Pono

“Consider the process of building a house to running a business, the first thing you need is the blueprint or the map; without which all your plans come to a standstill. Now, it might be that the map is rejected by the authorities at first, so you make changes accordingly and try again. Whatever you do, before you start the construction of the foundation, you know exactly how you will make it ready for possession. This blueprint, when made for delivering a product to a customer is called a Go-To-Market Strategy. It can also be referred to as an action plan devised for the business to assist it to achieve its objectives and growth potential. A portable manual of how-to, when-to and even what-to.” Quora answer

Omneechannel

Practical advice on how to design your go-to-market, enter…

Omneechannel

Practical advice on how to design your go-to-market, enter new markets and engage with customers in an omnichannel world we live in. For starters and old dogs learning new tricks that make things happen.

Jasna Klemenc Puntar

Written by

Product and growth bridge builder. Go-to-market is my side obsession. Always curious. Connecting the dots differently. Sailing & mountains lover and mom of 2.

Omneechannel

Practical advice on how to design your go-to-market, enter new markets and engage with customers in an omnichannel world we live in. For starters and old dogs learning new tricks that make things happen.