“A decision made from fear is always the wrong decision.”
That’s a quote from the ever-wise Tony Robbins, coach, author, motivational speaker, and philanthropist. And he’s right. This is why we’re not going to ‘scare’ you into making the right decisions for your startup. Because, yes, many startups do fail.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20% of startups failed in the first year, 50% within five years, and 65% within ten years. But there are many successful startups, too. And we believe that any successful startup needs a robust and detailed go-to-market strategy to put its best foot forward.
You have to know how you will get your product or service into the hands of the people who need it most. You need to reach your target audience where they are, with the exact message they need to hear to take action.
Startups are notoriously strapped for cash. It’s essential that every dollar spent on marketing results in a positive ROI. The most common mistake startups make is rushing to market without a clear action plan. This inevitably results in wasted time and money. A robust, well-planned go-to-market strategy will make your marketing more profitable.
This article includes the ten critical steps to developing a go-to-market strategy and examples of proven strategies you can draw inspiration from or model yours on.
What is a Startup Go-to-Market Strategy?
A go-to-market strategy is a step-by-step plan that you must create to successfully launch a product to market. With a solid plan and a clear path, you can position your product and predict its performance against competitive data and market research.
Without one, you risk wasting money on mediocre marketing that doesn’t attract your ideal customers and ultimately leads to frustration. You’ll have buyers who don’t use your product and you’ll be constantly chasing your tail.
You shouldn’t need to explain the value of your product. You should show it, yes, to the right people, but once they see the value and that it solves their problems? You’re in business.
Instead of rushing to market without a plan, Lean Labs focuses on building a strategy to transform results and have used those exact strategies to help our clients generate over $100 million in revenue and raise $90 million in funding.
The Go-to-Market Strategy for Startups
- Customer development
- Competitive landscape
- Define your value proposition
- Compelling insights
- Conversion platform
- Sales funnel
- Design your lead magnet
- Design your buyer’s journey
- Build a growth website
- Go to market
1. Customer Development
The first key aspect of going to market is knowing where your market is so you can go there and speak to your ideal customers. You need to understand your audience.
Who are they? What makes them tick? Where do they hang out? Consider their hangouts both online and in the world (at conferences, groups, forums, publications, and influencers they follow). Wherever they are, you need to be there too.
As well as knowing where they are, you need to know what problems and challenges they face and how your product solves them. You can use a Jobs to be Done framework to figure this out. Remember, your customers don’t care about specific products or services. They care about solving their problems and making their lives better.
How do you find out all of this information? Again, you have to go out and look for it. Conduct interviews with prospects. What are they looking for? Where do they want to see it? How do they want to learn about it? What are their expectations?
You can interview your customers. When did they realize they had a problem? What did it feel like? What other solutions did they consider or try? What made them decide to go with you?
Questionnaires are another solid option. You can reach diverse audiences and find out pain points and behavior patterns. Look for collective pain points and speak to them through your messaging.
Finally, think about demographics and psychographics. Demographics explain who your buyer is, including their age, gender, income, and marital status. Psychographics explain why they buy and includes information such as their worldview, values, goals, and attitudes.
2. Competitive Landscape
You must understand where your product or service fits in the existing landscape. To do so, start looking at your competitors. Compare how different competitors are choosing to position their offering. What language do they use to describe the problem and their solution?
Review their products. Look for reviews, too. What are their customers or former customers saying about their product? Testimonials and case studies will help determine their strengths and weaknesses.
Look at their marketing. What’s working for them? What isn’t?
You can even Identify other companies that are aiming to solve the same problem that you solve. Note: they made not be the same type of product that you sell. For example, your main competitor might be “Microsoft Excel” or a service provider that solves the same problem as your SaaS product.
3. Define Your Value Proposition
Visitors who land on your website should know your value proposition within a few seconds. They’re looking for a solution.
Your value proposition must clearly define the problem you solve, the value you provide, and how you do it differently from your competitors. It’s not a slogan or a headline, and it’s not about your product.
Instead of talking about you or your product, paint a picture of how their life will improve after engaging with your product. Keep it short and straightforward. The shorter, the better. Your core message must be easy to read, understand, and explain to others.
Why should your audience buy from you? What will they accomplish with you? A value proposition is a promise. Lastly, it should align with your primary call to action.
An incredible value proposition and compelling CTA are a winning combination.
4. Compelling Insights
Do a deep dive into your target market with data analysis. The best marketing campaigns are data-driven. You need to find the people most likely to buy your product or service.
Unlike customer development, you’re not looking for feedback. You’re looking for insights. Here’s an example of more profound insights.
“I need a drill” is a general insight. “I need a drill because I want to drill a hole” is slightly deeper. “I need to drill a hole so I can hang shelves and create storage space” is an even deeper insight. It might be tempting to stop there.
But the most profound insight is feeling. People don’t buy drills; they buy the result: shelves on which to display their kids’ pictures.
When you think about your product, think about what it will do for your customers and how it will make them feel.
Use insights to:
- Ensure messaging is precise and reaches your target audience
- Develop marketing campaigns and pricing strategies
- Monitor brand awareness and customer sentiment
- Understand why your customers choose or don’t choose your product
Compelling insights make it easier to speak to your ideal customers. Dig deep!
5. Conversion Platform
Running your business without clear visibility into critical metrics is like sailing a ship without a compass. You might eventually get where you want to go, but more likely, you’ll end up smashed up on some rocks.
You need a scalable system or platform that shows you what you need at your level. Tools like Google Analytics and Hubspot Analytics can help you track your business's most crucial conversion metrics.
Conversions are one of the critical metrics you must track.
The word “conversion” applies to any valuable action a visitor takes on your site. Depending on your business, conversion events may include:
- Event registration
- Lead magnet download
- Email newsletter signup
- Form completion
- Visits to a key page
- Booking a meeting or demo
- Making a purchase
A conversion platform gives you clear visibility into what actions visitors take on your website. You can tune and optimize your growth engine by understanding where visitors are coming to your site from and what actions they take when they get there.
6. Sales Funnel
Any marketing campaign or strategy needs a complete sales funnel.
An effective sales funnel helps users flow from awareness to acquisition, activation, revenue, retention, and referral. Here’s what each stage entails:
- Awareness - Measure the amount of traffic you’re getting on your website. Your metrics here need to be the right kind, not vanity-focused.
- Acquisition - Turn your targeted website traffic into leads through forms, lead magnets, and offers.
- Activation - Nurture and qualify leads further and convert them into paying customers.
- Revenue - The number of SQLs you close compared to the total number of SQLs in your pipeline.
- Retention - It’s near impossible to grow if you continually churn more customers than you bring in. You don’t want to be fighting math. You need customers to stick around for a few months to be worth the amount you paid to acquire them.
- Referral - Your customers are your best marketers. Capture reviews, build credibility and leverage a seal of approval.
When done right, you’ll be able to consistently convert strangers into evangelists who are grateful for the opportunity to pay you money and who go out of their way to tell their friends about you.
You must focus on the buyer journey. But before you execute, ensure you have a sales system set up. You can't convert leads if you don’t have a plan in place. There are three potential systems you could use depending on your business model:
The self-service model is when a customer purchases independently. Generally, low-priced products are accompanied by an automated customer journey without the need for support. It’s typically a short sales cycle and is highly profitable.
The Relationship Model
The relationship model is when your sales team needs to nurture a prospect. The salesperson develops relationships with buyers built on likeability and trust. This model is best for products of medium complexity and cost; the sales cycle ranges from weeks to a few months.
The Solution Model:
The solution model solves a customer’s business problems. It’s often the work of an entire sales organization that closes large enterprise deals.
Once you have a solution, you need a sales process, which typically looks like this:
- Connect: The lead connects with your sales rep
- Qualification: our sales rep determines whether your lead is interested in your product or service, that they need it, and whether they can afford it.
- Pitch: Focus on how your product helps customers and the results they’ll see if they become users.
- Objection Handling: Listen to what your prospect says (concerns and questions) and reposition your offer.
- Close: A deal is agreed upon, and your lead becomes a customer.
7. Develop Your Lead Magnets
The point of a lead magnet is lead generation; however, it’s not possible to “generate” leads. You need to get inside your ideal customers’ heads, determine their goals, and show them you can accelerate their path to achieving those goals.
Therefore, lead magnets should be enticing and speak to your target persona’s specific jobs to be done. It’s called a “lead magnet” because it attracts your target persona and converts them into a lead. Uninteresting, low-value offers don’t attract anyone. Alternatively, offers that aren’t aligned with the core JTBD of your target persona will attract the wrong leads, which is a waste.
The goal of a lead magnet is to give your audience something of value in exchange for their contact information. You know your buyer persona and what would entice them to take advantage of your lead magnet.
Low friction, high-value offers like eBooks, mini-courses, checklists, and web classes are the best plays. Provide value and further educate and inform your potential customers, so they get to know, like, and trust you.
Do you have content and offers already in your content library? Look at your most popular blog posts; could you create a lead magnet offer off the back of one of those? If the post is popular, your audience is interested and invested.
8. Define Your Buyer’s Journey
Almost every buyer goes through the same process. They have a problem. They might not have defined their problem yet, but they experience symptoms.
Buyers then research their symptoms and define their problems. Then they look for solutions. They make a list of potential solutions and decide which solution to use. We call these stages awareness, consideration, and decision.
It’s good practice here to talk to real people! Use insights from customer interviews to better understand how users become aware of their problem, look for solutions, consider alternatives, and ultimately decide.
In each stage, you can talk to your customers to build relationships and trust so that you’re the company they want to work with.
In the awareness stage, you want to earn a prospect’s attention. Attract visitors with relevant and valuable content and help them learn about you and your product.
In the consideration stage of their journey, your potential customer has defined their problem and is looking for solutions. They might have downloaded your eBook, and you’ll have their email address to start engaging with them in a human and helpful way.
Use well-crafted emails to engage with your customers and build further trust by becoming a resource and guide.
In the decision stage, you must highlight the value of your solution and convince prospects to choose you. Demo videos, free trials, case studies, and testimonials can express how someone can solve their problems using your software and help entertain and inspire your audience.
9. Growth Website
We can’t tell you how to optimize your website in a couple of paragraphs, but we can point you in the right direction. Your website is crucial. It’s your best salesperson. It works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Even on Christmas!
Your value proposition should be the headline. Remember, it tells your customer exactly how you can solve their problems and how they will feel after.
It should be visually appealing and reflect your brand, mission, and product. But it must be designed to convert visitors into leads and drive revenue. With a robust design and data and structured tests, your website will deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
Websites don’t need to cost $80 thousand and take six months to build. You can quickly go from concept to launch and continually improve your website with a Launch Pad website. They’re more practical. Instead of chasing design perfection, a). Quickly build a website that looks and performs better than what you have today, and b). Use that website as a foundation from which you can collect real-user data and optimize.
It’s a win-win. Your site goes live in record time, and you make money faster.
Plan Your Marketing Efforts
How will you generate product demand? Will you use inbound or outbound marketing?
With inbound marketing, prospects discover your brand through marketing efforts and reach out to you. With outbound marketing, a salesperson contacts a lead through cold outreach tactics such as sending emails to a contact list, phoning them, and gathering leads.
Where will you go to market? Leverage insights from customer development to determine where to invest resources in communicating your message.
Does your target persona hang out in a few Facebook groups? Consider connecting with the group moderator to create a special offer just for this group.
Does your persona frequent a particular conference or event? Make a plan to set up a booth with a large, compelling message irresistible to your target persona.
Does your persona love making TikToks? Get your dancing pants on because you’re about to become a TikToker!
Create a Content Marketing Strategy
Inbound marketing is a better option for startups and product launches. Leads are cheaper to acquire and easier to convert.
Inbound takes time to build but pays off in the long-term with free, monthly traffic. Advertising and cold outreach will always cost more money and effort to yield results, while inbound requires an upfront investment that pays steady returns for months and years.
Inbound leads already know who you are and how you can solve their problems. To get the attention of inbound leads, you need to create content that drives traffic to your site.
You’ll need to find target keywords that potential customers search for and create related content. The process will be something like this:
- Keyword research: Identify keywordsrelated to your product. Who’s already ranking for them? Find the high volume, low competition keywords to help your content rank on search engine pages.
- Create content: Research content topics that include the keyword, and then create articles on those topics. Add relevant images, infographics, and videos to engage your audience.
- Promote content: Share your content on social media and send emails to your customer list.
- Measure: Track and measure engagement and conversion rates. Double down on what’s working and drop what isn’t.
Hone Your Marketing and Sales Process
Your sales process isn’t something you set and forget. You must continually optimize. Even if you’re converting leads, could you convert more? Is there a more streamlined process you can create?
To improve and hones your sales process, you have to measure progress. Measure, evaluate, and optimize. Set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound) goals. What are your objectives? What are your KPIs (key performance indicators)?
Metrics show you what is and isn’t working. Set targets based on established benchmarks. Hit your targets and double down on the strategies that work. Improve the ones that don’t or pivot to new strategies.
Also, focus on current customers. It’s not all about new leads. Can you increase the LTV (lifetime value) of your customers? How? Think back to retention and referrals.
You can upsell your current customers to more lucrative deals or longer subscriptions. You might also cross-sell to them. Do you have other products they might benefit from? Build long-term relationships with customers by investing in nurturing relationships.
Examples of Successful Go-to-Market Strategies
TaxJar used content marketing to create brand awareness and establish authority in the world of sales tax. They built authority with their target audience (business owners and other executives) by educating them on relevant topics.
TaxJar crafted and promoted high-level content and invested heavily in SEO because they knew they were in a solid position to corner the market. Their competitive advantage was that there wasn’t much existing content relating to their industry, so they became a go-to source for all things sales tax.
Microsoft knew it might not be able to compete with Apple in the tablet world, so it went one step further to reach people unsatisfied with the processing power and capabilities of tablets.
They realized the need for a tablet that functioned as more than a mobile. Tablets were convenient to carry but didn’t have the capabilities of a laptop.
Microsoft clarified the Suface’s value proposition: A fully functioning computer in tablet form. Still light enough to carry but didn’t sacrifice functionality. Microsoft makes it easier for target demographics such as college students and everyday users to choose their tablets.
Vuclip is a mobile video-on-demand service that tapped into emerging markets with limited access to high-quality videos, such as India, Thailand, and Egypt.
Vuclip solved slow buffering issues and presented an accessible platform to build a subscriber base of 41 million users. How? By focusing all their marketing efforts on cities that had millions of people clamoring to view the latest shows without the means.
It plans to establish a presence in even more underserved markets worldwide.
Go-To-Market Strategy for Startups: Strategize and Implement
You can’t race to market. As excited as you are to get your product in the hands of your customers, without a solid plan, you’ll waste time and money.
Remember that you don’t need to market your product; you need to sell what it does and how it will make a difference in your customers’ lives.
Would you like a go-to-market strategy to transform your results? No matter where you are in your journey, whether you’re a bootstrapped startup or have a solid budget, we can help you get your product to market.
Step 1: Request a strategy call. On this call, we’ll discuss how we work together to plan, build, and scale growth.
Step 2: Download our Growth Playbook to see precisely what we do to help startups grow effectively and rapidly.
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