Why you need to hire a go-to-market (GTM) owner.

I have been talking to a number of startups in different industries in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and as far as Dubai about commercialization and go-to-market frameworks, and the same questions emerge:

  1. Where does “go-to-market” belong in an organization?
  2. Who should own the “go-to-market” process?
  3. How should this owner work with everyone else within the organization?

In my last article, I spoke about the “The similarities of playing goalie and commercializing a product. As a follow up to this last article, I want to explore the “go-to-market” process further and talk specifically about the roles and responsibilities of “go-to-market” and what that entails.

The term “go-to-market” (GTM) is one of the most widely used phrases in the world of tech, and is often attributed with either the success or the failure of a beta, pilot and a product launch.

Oftentimes, many teams throw the word around and often over-simplify the GTM process without understanding the complexities around a proper go-to-market plan.

A proper go-to-market plan is a concentrated, orchestrated and strategic effort that requires company and market participation, and leadership buy-in.

Before we begin, let’s chat about the challenges of owning the go-to-market process

Creating a go-to-market plan is equivalent to driving in the dark during a snowstorm. Until you’ve reached out to customers, strategic partners, and identified key stakeholders in a company to meet on a regular basis and provide product feedback — it’s nearly impossible to create a successful plan and see the road ahead.

The initial stages of creating a go-to-market plan include both internal and external due diligence (ie. an understanding of internal company dynamics along with the market and the user). The go-to-market plan and process is never static, and can and should change all the time. As GTM owner, I prefer to check in with teams on a weekly basis, as new milestones are achieved, new data is introduced, and new risks and opportunities emerge both internally and externally.

Oftentimes, teams disagree on the objective of a product launch and the associated problem it solves, and the go-to-market owner oftentimes gets stuck in the middle. Unfortunately, this happens often and the leadership team should assign a neutral sponsor for each product launch in the event there are disagreements in the process. This sponsor is usually an Executive who can weigh in when difficult decisions need to be made after reviewing the prioritization chart.

“This is outside of my role”. “I’m not responsible for that.” “I was hired to do something different”. “I only own this product — that is (insert any name)’s product”.

Cringe.

When you hear any of these phrases spoken in your company, you are in dire need of a go-to-market product owner.

What happens without a clear GTM owner?

Indecision and confusion often leads to some of the worse results for a go-to-market plan, and unfortunately this occurs if several key stakeholders disagree on how to move forward when there is no designated leader. Go-to-market often touches many roles within a company — which is why it’s often blamed when a product launch fails or receives negative customer feedback.

While disagreement is healthy and oftentimes necessary, indecision is not.

After launching hundreds of go-to-market plans and witnessing the mix of emotions involved in this process, I believe that a CEO or the leadership team needs to empower one neutral team or person to own the end to end go-to-market process and capture metrics for a product launch and reconcile the value proposition across different functions.

If the GTM owner understands the greater goals and vision of the company, they can act as a conduit to the CEO and leadership team and alert them to important business decisions as it relates to a product launch.

So where does go-to-market belong in a company? And who should own the go-to-market process?

I have personally run the go-to-market process across a number of different teams and functions and reported to the Head of Strategy, then the Head of Product Management, and then the Head of Product Marketing, Marketing and most recently, the CEO.

I’ve also talked to a number of different companies within the software and hardware space about go-to-market, and the vast majority of folks identify Product Marketing as the role that owns this discipline followed closely by Product Management and in some cases — Product Operations.

A new role: Commercialization Manager

For some companies, go-to-market sits outside of the traditional Product Marketing and Product Management role. Fairly recently, Google, via DoubleClick pioneered a new role called “Commercialization Manager” to run the end to end go-to-market process for a product launch, as (I believe) they saw that Product Managers were focused on building the right product and feature set with Engineering, while Marketing was focused on creating collateral and campaigns in accordance for the launch, and Sales was focused on selling the product within the value proposition.

Yet there was no single neutral owner tracking the operational and business go-to-market process and creating the process for answering the how, the what, the why, and then when for new products and feature sets. The Commercialization Manager not only owns the entire end to end go-to-market process, but is also responsible for how the launch is orchestrated across the company, and creates the support process for how the product launch rolls into the greater suite of products and services.

How should this owner work with everyone else within the organization?

The go-to-market owner should approach 1–2 key stakeholders from different teams starting with Engineering, Product Management, Marketing, Business Development, Operations, and Support to start. After identifying these key stakeholders, the owner should share the GTM plan in a central location and work with these teams frequently to provide the most up to date information on the launch.

Once the GTM plan is ready for launch, the owner should ensure that everyone in the company is ready for the launch, and train all teams on the value proposition, positioning, and how the product aligns with the goals of the company.

Without the transparency around business metrics, and a measurement of success for each go-to-market plan, companies and teams have no insight into whether or not their product is being adopted by their users and why.

For each go-to-market plan, the GTM owner should discover what is not working and what can be done to remedy the situation. Oftentimes, this can be done by running beta programs, creating quantitative and qualitative metrics, testing user feedback, iterating on the feedback, sharing the results in a weekly or bi-weekly meeting, and identifying the specific drivers behind each quantitative metric.

Go-to-market comes in different shapes and sizes.

There is a difference between a “business go-to-market plan”, a “marketing go-to-market plan” and lastly a “product go-to-market plan”. All of these go-to-market plans must be aligned and synchronized before the launch of a product and or major feature.

  • Business GTM: ensures the operational and business goals are set for the product launch
  • Marketing GTM: ensures that all collateral, pr, and external communication plans line up with the product launch
  • Product GTM: ensures that the build of the product functionally works and is accessible to all customers

Assigning one person or team to own the entire end to end GTM eliminates finger pointing and confusion around who is responsible for a launch. This owner can also report business metrics attributed to the launch without feeling subjective to the whims of the greater influence of individual teams.

By eliminating any emotional attachment to the product itself and using data to understand how to move forward and aligning those efforts with cross-functional teams, you get the most efficient and robust end to end go-to-market process.

Please stay tuned for more on the go-to-market and commercialization process.

As always, I love hearing from you. Please stay in touch!

My book “Product Marketing Debunked. The Essential Go-To-Market Guide” is available on Amazon!