10 steps to building an effective go-to-market (GTM) strategy
Learn how to use a go-to-market strategy to turn your product concepts into tangible offerings—without chaos or confusion.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated August 16, 2023
Launching a new product can be terrifying. You’re taking what you believe is a unique selling proposition and telling the entire world about it in hopes that people will give you money for your idea. With fear, anticipation, and deadlines running you ragged, product launches can spiral downhill faster than you can say your elevator pitch—especially if you don’t have a go-to-market strategy to fall back on.
If you have no idea what a go-to-market strategy is or how to make one—fear not. In this article, we’ll take you from product conception to launch with the expert tips and tricks you need to develop a foolproof go-to-market strategy and framework that fits your sales methodology.
- What is a go-to-market strategy?
- Why your business needs a go-to-market strategy
- Types of go-to-market strategy
- Elements of a go-to-market strategy
- How to build a go-to-market strategy
- Go-to-market strategy examples
- Go-to-market strategy template
What is a go-to-market (GTM) strategy?
A go-to-market (GTM) strategy is a detailed, step-by-step sales and marketing plan for launching a new product or bringing an existing product to a new market.
A good GTM strategy provides your team with a blueprint for:
- Conceptualizing a product
- Targeting the right audience and marketing channels
- Crafting the messaging and unified goals
- Setting price tiers and sticking to a budget
- Creating a feasible timeline for the process
- Keeping various departments engaged and in sync
Ideally, elements of your GTM strategies will also be reusable—with small adjustments, of course. Your products may change over time, but your general audience, teams, and target demographics will likely remain relatively similar as your business grows.
What sections should you include in a GTM strategy?
You can add or remove sections in your GTM strategy plan according to your needs, but here are the fundamental components that most businesses will want to include:
|GTM section title|
|Timeline||Product roadmap with deadlines.|
|Customer pain points||List customer pain points and the category they fall under (e.g., productivity, process, etc.).|
|Ideas||Brainstorm solutions to customer pain points.|
|Industry analysis||Assess your competitors and industry trends.|
|Product concept||Use the solutions you brainstormed earlier to come up with product concepts.|
|SWOT analysis||Analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of your potential product(s).|
|Pitch||List everyone you’ll need to pitch to get buy-in and outline how you’ll sell the product to customers.|
|Goals and KPIs||Set GTM strategy goals and establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for monitoring them.|
|Status log||Keep track of key tasks, who’s accountable for them, and deadlines.|
|Journey map||Map out everything about your ideal customer experience as they move through the sales funnel.|
|Promotion||Settle on the marketing and sales enablement tools you need to meet launch sales goals.|
What’s the difference between a GTM strategy and a marketing plan?
Go-to-market strategies and marketing plans generally go hand in hand, but they have some key differences.
- GTM strategy: This is a large-scale blueprint that guides the reader through every stage of the product launch process, from research and development to release. It includes crucial steps for the sales, marketing, and product development teams to complete a short-term project.
- Marketing plan: This builds on a small subsection of the GTM strategy and outlines plans for promoting a product to the target audience, including channels, messaging, strategies, and more. Marketing plans also provide long-term suggestions for increasing brand awareness and profitability, which may go beyond a single product.
Why your business needs a go-to-market strategy
Creating and documenting your plan will help you avoid missing any steps and making costly errors. With the right GTM strategy, you can increase your chances of success and establish a foundation for future product launches.
Some other benefits of creating a go-to-market strategy include:
- Maximizing profit potential by ensuring you’re successfully targeting new and existing customers.
- Meeting business objectives by staying aligned with pre-determined goals.
- Drumming up brand awareness by developing a promotional strategy.
- Sticking to your budget by clearly defining money allocations for each stage and asset.
- Reducing time to market by setting time-bound tasks and goals.
- Minimizing productivity-related expenses by defining roles, responsibilities, and deadlines early in the GTM strategy planning process.
Who needs a GTM strategy?
Any business planning to bring a new product to market would benefit from a go-to-market strategy to help streamline its launch and improve results. GTM strategies are especially popular in SaaS, B2B, and startup businesses. However, this high-level planning is also useful to B2C companies because it provides clear direction from product ideation to post-launch performance monitoring.
When do you need a GTM strategy?
Your business should create a go-to-market plan anytime it:
- Launches an existing product in a new region
- Tests a new market
- Rolls out a new product in an established market
- Creates a new product without an established market
Types of go-to-market strategies
Your business can choose from several go-to-market strategies based on your unique objectives. But we’re going to focus on the top four:
- Sales enablement
- Account-based marketing (ABM)
- Demand generation
Overview: This strategy primarily comes into play at the “promotion” phase of your GTM strategy when you’re ready to begin selling rather than planning the product itself.
Best for: If you’re looking to quickly achieve a high sales volume or close larger accounts, your business may benefit from an outbound strategy.
Use cases: Once you’re ready to drum up sales for your new product, you can generate demand via:
- Cold calling
- Trade shows
- Cold emailing
- Direct mail
- Social media messaging
Overview: Sales enablement strategies help salespeople seamlessly guide prospects through each stage of the sales cycle, maximizing profits and productivity.
Best for: This is a great strategy if you’re a newer company or launching a product in a saturated market. Customers aren’t going to give you a chance if they already trust your competitors and don’t know much about what you have to offer.
Use cases: Sales enablement assets help salespeople:
- Create positioning statements
- Close deals faster and reduce time to revenue
- Distribute knowledge and resources to prospects
New products require a bit more oomph from sellers, but too much can chase customers away. If sales enablement is your GTM goal, equip yourself with the proper engagement platforms to assist your team.
Account-based marketing (ABM)
Overview: Rather than selling a product to the general populace, these companies develop a product with high-value customers in mind. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy, but you’ll need a firm understanding of what it takes to close a deal with your target customer.
Best for: Typically used by channel sales companies—parent companies that sell through another company—account-based marketing GTM strategies also work well for businesses that target high-profile clients.
Use cases: To see success with this strategy, you should:
- Discover intricate details about the accounts you want
- Get to know the business’s key stakeholders and decision-makers
- Personalize messaging to each business
- Lean on case studies, word-of-mouth referrals, and customer success stories
As the name suggests, this GTM strategy is all about creating reliable demand for your new product. Demand generation usually leverages outbound marketing techniques such as cold calling, email marketing, and advertising. If you have a unique product with a very specific niche, this strategy can put you in the public eye much faster than other tactics.
This tactic also places your value proposition at the forefront, fostering a clear picture of your product’s unique selling points in the eyes of consumers.
Elements of a go-to-market strategy + example applications
All GTM strategies are based on the three Cs:
These Cs inform every decision you make while developing your GTM strategy. You can break down each C by who, what, when, where, and why for a more detailed approach.
For example, let’s examine an office supply store that conducts B2B and B2C sales. Say the store is launching a back-to-school bundle in the summer to get kids ready to return to the classroom.
First, you need to determine what problem your target customer is experiencing and some other key characteristics about them. Ask yourself the following questions to get to know your ideal customer:
- Who is your target market? In this case, the target market includes parents who have a household income of over $85K, work busy schedules, and have elementary to high school-aged students who are involved in several activities. They are looking for quality products but also value convenience. Their children may have some leftover supplies from the previous school year, but they will likely need to buy new materials.
- What do they need to buy? They need to purchase new school supplies for their kids.
- When do they need your product? Most schools in the U.S. begin classes in August or September. That means your back-to-school bundle would need to be on store shelves by the end of June or the first week of July.
- Where are they shopping? Many parents that do in-store back-to-school shopping do so at big-box stores like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Staples—where they’re likely to find everything they need in one place. It’s a bonus if they can grab the school supplies while grocery shopping.
- Why do they need it? Oftentimes, schools have strict supply lists, and they expect busy parents to buy all the items on them.
Next, think about what your business offers customers and how it adds value.
- Who do you serve? Your product serves busy parents who are back-to-school shopping for their kids.
- What problems do your products solve? Your back-to-school bundle is a convenient way for parents to get all the items on their kids’ supply lists. For added convenience, you can customize bundles based on district lists so parents can grab one and go.
- When do you plan to launch? Launch in June or July to give parents enough time to shop. If you’re unsure of the best launch date, you should always review historical data to arrive at a decision.
- Where will you sell? You’ll need to sell in stores where your target market shops the most to maximize convenience. This will likely include stores like Walmart and Target.
- Why should people shop with you? Parents should buy your bundle because you’ve taken the tedious work out of back-to-school shopping. Now that they don’t have to worry about supplies, they can focus on the happenings of their daily lives or do the “fun” back-to-school shopping, like picking out new clothes and shoes with their kids.
Finally, keep an eye on the competition to ensure you maintain your competitive advantage.
- Who are your competitors? Crayola, JanSport, and Paper Mate all sell school supplies, but they stay within their own lane. This is great because they create awesome products within their niche. It just means that customers are missing out on the convenience of picking up all their school supplies at once.
- What is their selling proposition? Generally, brands that sell school supplies stick to a single category: writing tools, technology, organizers, textbooks, etc.
- When do your competitors start selling school supplies? Most back-to-school sales begin in early July and wrap up at the end of August.
- Where are they selling? You may have some regional competitors, but the aforementioned brands will likely also sell their products in the big-box stores you’re going after.
- Why would shoppers buy from you instead of you? They should choose you because you created a bundle of high-quality school supplies that are affordable and convenient to purchase.
How to build a go-to-market strategy
Build a go-to-market plan to launch your new product in 11 steps:
- Set realistic launch goals based on sales forecasts
- Set deadlines
- Identify your product’s key value propositions
- Define your target customer
- Select your KPIs
- Analyze and repurpose old GTM strategies
- Finalize sales cycle updates
- Optimize lead funnels
- Align sales activities with the customer journey
- Prepare your customer service team
- Schedule a mini-launch
1. Set realistic launch goals based on sales forecasts
A common mistake is to assume a new product will be a revenue-generating game changer. When you do that, you will spend more on marketing and production than you should and risk not breaking even.
Always assume your new product won’t generate more money than your other products. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than deeply disappointed. And remember, your sales forecast is there to keep you honest.
- Tip: Start smaller if you need to ensure you have the resource allocations and inventory to keep up with sales volume for a successful launch.
2. Set deadlines
Task deadlines keep your team on track and ensure your product gets released when it’s supposed to. Just make sure all your departments’ deadlines align so that sales, inventory, marketing, and finance are on the same page for launch day.
- Tip: Create a live project management document to keep track of deadlines and core accountabilities.
3. Identify your product’s key value proposition
Before you start your new product journey, look at what you want your company to gain from that product. New products are expensive to create and launch with no guarantee of sales, so if the answer isn’t clear, try asking yourself some of these questions:
- Why are you launching?
- Have customers requested updates on older products?
- Are you looking to increase quality?
- Do you plan to offer a cheaper solution?
- Are you going head-to-head on a competitor product?
- Tip: Know where your new product falls in your company’s value chain to ensure it’s doing its job.
4. Define your target customer
Understanding your audience is one of the most important parts of a successful GTM plan. As you think about your ideal customer, consider the following:
- What pain points are they experiencing?
- How can you resolve their problem(s)?
- How does the customer feel about their current situation?
- What features are most important to your target customer?
- How do they intend to use your product?
- Tip: Use data to segment customers and create buyer personas to refine product messaging.
5. Select your KPIs
You can’t assess the success of your strategy if you don’t know exactly what you’re measuring. For example, do you want to track conversions, brand awareness, customer retention, or something else?
When you start tracking your metrics from the very beginning with sales funnel software, it’s easier to pinpoint any problems and find solutions. A few of our KPI suggestions include:
- Number of visits to your product page
- Number of inbound interactions
- Revenue per customer
- Cash burn rate
- Customer satisfaction score
- Number of ad clicks
- Number of outbound interactions
- Tip: Before you select specific KPIs, determine which categories are the most important to you and how you will track them. Do you have proper access to track performance-related metrics?
6. Analyze and repurpose old GTM strategies
If you’ve used a GTM strategy in the past and it worked, consider using it again. Consistency isn’t just beneficial for your company; it’s also beneficial for your customers.
Brand consistency means your prospects and repeat consumers will feel secure buying from you. A huge shift in tactics can sometimes backfire and deteriorate customer trust.
- Tip: Create a GTM template and make copies to customize the launch strategy for each new product your business creates.
7. Finalize sales cycle updates and establish data collection methods
If you know your sales team is working on implementing cycle changes and new sales strategies, make those improvements before you launch.
Changing or condensing a sales cycle usually involves a fair amount of experimentation. If you’re trying to analyze sales data on a new product during cycle changes, you won’t be able to separate your product data from your sales activity data.
- Tip: If you’re expecting internal updates, plan out all product and sales-related activities at least a year in advance, so your product launch team isn’t tripping over other departments.
8. Optimize lead funnels
It doesn’t matter how much you hone in on your target audiences or buyer personas—each new product will have its own niche.
A new audience niche means your teams need to take the time to do a bit of market research, create a new market strategy, and optimize your lead funnel for maximum conversions. If your new product is a huge shift for your company, it’s worth updating your prospecting strategies and creating an alternate sales pipeline.
- Tip: Pack your lead funnel with prospects who are a good match for your new product before you officially launch.
9. Align sales activities with the customer journey
Sales activities will vary based on where your prospect is in the customer journey. Here are some examples of activities your sales reps can do as a buyer progresses through the sales funnel:
- Awareness: Let buyers know you’re an option through prospecting and marketing.
- Discovery: Score leads and schedule discovery meetings to assess their needs.
- Evaluation: Send the prospect a proposal.
- Intent: Negotiate and finalize the contract.
- Purchase: Collect payment and send the buyer to onboarding.
- Loyalty: Deliver the product and follow up for customer feedback.
- Tip: Clearly outline what actions you expect salespeople to take at each stage of the sales funnel to ensure consistency across your entire organization.
10. Prepare your customer service team
No one wants to think about product issues during a launch, but new products always come with an unavoidable onslaught of customer questions and complaints.
That’s why it’s critical to brief your customer service team on new products and prepare them for any known issues.
- Tip: Host product demonstrations for your support team to make sure they’re equipped with the knowledge to answer customer questions when the time comes.
11. Schedule a mini-launch to test performance
Your launch doesn’t have to go from zero to 60 with no seatbelt on. If you’re jumping into new territory, try setting up a mini-launch with a small group of loyal, valued customers.
These customers know your company, so they’re primed to offer insights into your product’s successes and failures. Mini-launches can also be huge money savers. If you find out your product needs to go back to the drawing board, you’re not stuck shutting down a full-size launch.
- Tip: If you want to A/B test your product, you can set up a couple of mini-launches and test results with two sets of customers.
Go-to-market strategy examples
Here are examples of how some popular brands have used GTM plans to launch new products.
Starbucks: International go-to-market strategy example
Let’s start with a company we’re all familiar with—Starbucks. Even huge businesses need to use clever GTM strategies when expanding into new markets. Starbucks first expanded into China in 1999.
Obstacle: While Starbucks now serves over 6.4 million Chinese customers a week, there was major concern 20 years ago that the launch would fail. Starbucks marketers at the time worried that opening a coffee-driven brand in a country with a national tea-drinking culture would backfire.
Solution: Starbucks researchers spent months studying culturally appropriate advertising methods, drink preferences, and population demographics. They also examined the different regions of China and any cultural and financial differences that might impact expansion.
Result: In the end, the company settled on opening its first stores in busy metropolitan areas of China where more wealthy citizens and heavier tourist traffic would bolster its brand credibility and market feasibility. Starbucks also altered its American menu to include more tea-based products that would entice locals to try the brand.
The launch was an undeniable success. China remains Starbucks’ fastest-growing market, with a new store opening every 15 hours. Starbucks thrived by listening to its new audience and appealing to what they already loved.
Huawei: Oversaturated market GTM strategy example
Huawei is a telecommunications equipment company (like Apple or Samsung) based in China. In 2000, the company started considering expansion into India despite numerous market hurdles—the most pressing being the political and economic tensions between the two countries.
Obstacle: The company needed to address two key roadblocks:
- Competition: The telecommunications market in India was already large and populated.
- Biases: At the time, much of India considered Chinese products to be inferior in quality. To succeed, Huawei would need to establish general trust and relationships as a Chinese company.
Solutions: Huawei created service centers and R&D facilities in India that provided local jobs, sourced local components, and ensured Indian employees determined product quality.
The second Huawei triumph was advertising its smartphones as “aspirational products” by partnering with English language channels. Huawei users were not only buying a product, they were buying the chance to improve their English skills and move up in the job market.
Result: These strategies led to an influx of revenue into the surrounding communities, creating trust that the brand didn’t simply want to leech off of its customers.
Establishing this trust led Huawei to great success, and today, India is Huawei’s second-largest research base outside of China.
Slack: B2B go-to-market strategy example
Slack is an interoffice communication system designed to align teams and ease file transfers, confirmations, and email overuse. Slack’s launch and development relied almost entirely on customer feedback—and it wasn’t always good.
Obstacle: According to founder Steward Butterfield, the first mini-launch went so poorly that the company scrapped the product and started anew.
Solution: In August 2013, Slack launched a second preview where users needed to request an invite to join. The company gained 8,000 users within 24 hours and 15,000 within two weeks. The word-of-mouth reputation grew, and the narrative centered around the company’s willingness to listen to consumers and adapt the product to user feedback.
Result: Combined with Slack’s low cost and simple installment, the product rocketed through the market and created a unique need for an affordable, easily installable communication system that could connect entire companies. Today, Slack continues to thrive by offering a free version of its software so that no one feels excluded from the Slack experience.
Mailchimp: SaaS go-to-market strategy example
Mailchimp is now one of the most popular email automation tools, especially for small businesses, but the company entered the market with baby steps.
Obstacle: Mailchimp started as a side project for founders Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius while they worked as web designers. After learning that 70 percent of emails were classified as spam, the duo decided to develop smarter email marketing methods. But in a world with so much spam, it was difficult to convince users to give Mailchimp a try.
Solution: All Mailchimp services remained free for the first several years of the product launch. After years of relying on SEO tactics and word-of-mouth marketing, Mailchimp was popular enough to launch tiered pricing—but that wasn’t what made it a market success.
Result: Mailchimp was one of the first products to hone in on email marketing and the power of contact management. As a result, investors pushed the founders again and again to target enterprise levels. They didn’t. Mailchimp soared to over 12 million users because it kept its strategy focused on smaller businesses and individuals. After all, enterprise companies had more money but were few and far between.
By keeping a lower-tier free version and targeting small startups and individual freelancers, Mailchimp skyrocketed from a side project to a $12 billion company.
Thinx: Equitable GTM strategy example
Thinx creates reusable underwear for people with periods, replacing the need for disposable pads and tampons.
Obstacle: Thinx’s GTM strategy was all about socio-political and economic pain points. As the cost of pads and tampons rose (and continues to rise), people were starting to look for more affordable alternatives—especially once discussions around the pink tax hit the public consciousness.
At the same time, many consumers were concerned about the environmental impact of using disposable pads and tampons, especially plastic tampon applicators.
Solutions: Thinx provided a solution to both problems. Not only does reusable Thinx underwear save money at the drugstore, but it also eliminates the need for disposable menstrual products. Additionally, Thinx provides this option to both pad and tampon users. In comparison, similar products like menstrual cups only appeal to tampon or other insert-based product users.
Result: By focusing on inclusivity, sustainability, and socioeconomic change, Thinx quickly rose to the top of the market.
Fitbit: Community-based GTM strategy example
Fitbit is a fitness-tracking watch that connects to an app on your smart device. After a bumpy start in manufacturing, it now dominates the fitness market as the most downloaded fitness app on the Apple App Store—even against key competitors like Nike. The key to Fitbit’s success? Its GTM strategy.
Obstacle: Fitbit as a product is not unique, especially today. Apple Watches and other smart fitness devices also track steps and exercise.
Solution: Fitbit doesn’t solely market the abilities of its products—it also harnesses the psychological and social elements of fitness. Many people do lose weight or tone muscle as a result of using a Fitbit product, but the real payoff comes in achievements and social media connections.
Like social media platforms, Fitbit allows you to find and “friend” contacts. When you hit a certain number of miles or steps on Fitbit, the app automatically posts your achievement to the masses. More recently, Fitbit has plunged into gamifying fitness, encouraging contests and challenges among friends. This fosters natural competition and creates a deep sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) among non-users.
Result: By partnering with celebrities, Fitbit also became known as the go-to fitness monitor of the stars. Capitalizing on the promise of the “Hollywood Body,” Fitbit raked in numerous users hoping to achieve new fitness goals. Fitbit continues to lead the market today.
Go-to-market strategy template
Use the editable sections in this template to conceptualize a new product idea, document your research, and prepare a launch strategy. You can also check off the boxes of the built-in checklist to keep track of your outreach decisions. Inside, you’ll find a template for determining:
- Plan and timeline overview
- Consumer pain points
- Idea generation
- And more
Plan your product launch
Any business can benefit from following a basic GTM strategy—it ensures you’re creating a marketable product that people will purchase, maximizing profits for your business.
Once your product is ready for the public, use Zendesk Sell to pitch to new and existing customers. Using its industry-leading features, you can create custom experiences for each prospect and gain visibility into your sales pipeline.
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