Article | 18 min read

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 goods—without chaos or confusion.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Published February 16, 2022
Last updated August 25, 2022

Launching a new product is 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. That’s why, whether you’re an enterprise behemoth or a new startup, you need a go-to-market strategy.

If you have no idea what that is, 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?

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 realistic timeline and specific steps to achieve your ambitious goals. It includes tactics related to pricing, sales, buyer personas, distribution, and branding.

Ideally, GTM strategies are also repeatable—with small adjustments, of course. Your products may change over time, but your general audience, teams, and target demographics should stay in the same ballpark as your business grows.

Why your business needs a go-to-market strategy

Building a roadmap for a product launch is critical to success.

According to the Harvard Business School, over 30,000 new products are launched every year, and about 95 percent of them fail. This high failure rate is extremely daunting. But data shows that marketers who proactively plan projects are 356 percent more likely to report success. Not only that, but a documented strategy improves success rates by another 313 percent.

Data shows that marketers who proactively plan projects are 356% more likely to report success.

Creating and documenting your plan will help ensure that you don’t miss any steps and that you avoid costly errors. With the right GTM strategy, you can increase your chances of success and establish a foundation for future product launches.

Types of go-to-market strategy

There are four commonly used go-to-market strategies:

  1. Inbound
    Inbound GTM strategies primarily focus on attracting the right customers at the right time through inbound marketing tactics—SEO, social media, conversational marketing, and so on. With this strategy, you’re relying on the credibility of your brand to generate interest in your product.

    An inbound strategy is fantastic because if done successfully, it doesn’t require a lot of upkeep in the long term. Brand credibility is easy to maintain with consistency, and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel for every product launch.

  2. Sales enablement
    Sales enablement GTM strategies take the attention away from the customer and put it on the sales team. This is a great strategy if you’re a newer company or if you’re launching a product with a lot of competition. Customers aren’t going to come to you if they already see solutions to their problems on the market. Instead, you need trained and talented sales reps who are ready to guide customers through the pipeline with strong positioning statements.

    The one drawback to sales enablement is that your sales team needs to master engagement timing and know when to push and when to nurture. New products require a bit more oomph from sellers, but too much can chase customers away. If sales enablement is your GTM goal, make sure you’re equipped with the proper engagement platforms to assist your team.

  3. ABM
    Typically used by channel sales companies, ABM (account-based marketing) GTM strategies specifically target high-profile clients. Rather than gearing a product toward the general populace, these companies develop a product with high-value customers in mind. There’s nothing wrong with this strategy, but you need to know your biggest clients pretty well to make it work.
  4. Demand generation
    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

All GTM strategies are based on the three Cs:

  1. Customers: What problems do your customers have?
  2. Company: How does your company aim to solve those problems?
  3. Competition: What is the competition doing to solve those problems, and how is your company different?

These Cs inform every decision you make while developing your GTM strategy. You can break down each C with a Who, What, When, Where, and Why for a more detailed approach.

For example, let’s examine the Customer category for an office supply store that conducts B2B and B2C sales. Say the store is launching a back-to-work bundle for people who started working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic but are now returning to the office.

Who: B2C customers who previously worked in an office and are now being asked to return after two years of working from home. And B2B customers who need to revamp an office space that hasn’t been used in two years.

What: The back-to-work bundle is a customizable and discounted set of products. It includes basic desk supplies (pencils, pens, stapler, etc.), a desk planner, a whiteboard or pushpin board, a desk organizer, file folders, and a large selection of decor. Customers can choose up to three products.

When: Customers can preorder the bundle starting two months before its release. The official launch/ship date is March 15, 2023.

Where: The bundle is available nationwide. Standard shipping costs apply for B2C customers, while bulk shipping is available for B2B customers.

Why: Workers already spent an unexpected amount of money creating home offices and shouldn’t be expected to set themselves up again, especially if their office has moved to a new building. In a show of solidarity, we want to provide our customers with an affordable, customizable option that can be shipped directly to their office.

With this knowledge, you’re ready to figure out how to approach and build your strategy.

How to build a go-to-market strategy

When you craft your GTM plan, you must consider four things:

  1. Target market: Whom are you selling to? Geographically? Demographically? What problems are they experiencing?
  2. Product-market fit: Is your product new? What problem does it solve? Who is your competition?
  3. Pricing: What are people willing to pay for your product? How much do you need to charge to offset your production costs?
  4. Distribution: What resources do you have in place to distribute your product to consumers? How fast is your production, and how much product can you sell/pre-sell to keep up with your production line?

Within those four elements, you’ll also want to make sure you’re following these 10 best practices for creating a strong GTM plan:

Pick your KPIs before the launch

You can’t assess the success of your strategy if you don’t know exactly what you’re measuring. 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 KPI suggestions:

  • 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

Set realistic goals

Setting goals is a great way to motivate your team. But if you don’t have the resources to create the number of products you want to sell, you’re going to be disappointed. Even if you need to start smaller than you’d like, make sure it’s possible to hit the goals you set with your current resource allocations.

Additionally, watch your inventory. New products can occasionally fly off the shelves, but if you’re not prepared to handle that level of sales volume, you’ll end up with a slew of disappointed customers.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

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 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.

Establish clear deadlines for each step of the launch

Nothing feels worse than announcing a product launch for May and then still being stuck in brainstorming meetings in April. Setting deadlines keeps your team on track and ensures your product gets released when it’s supposed to. Just make sure all of your departments’ deadlines align so that sales, inventory, marketing, and finance are all on the same page for launch day.

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.

Treat your new product like any other product in your sales forecasting

A common mistake is to assume a new product will be a revenue-generating gamechanger. When you do that, you end up spending 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.

Improve your sales cycle before the launch

If you know your sales team is working on implementing cycle changes and new sales strategies, make sure those improvements are done before you start your 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. One step at a time.

Know what value you want from your product

New products are expensive to create and launch with no guarantee of sales. Before you start your new product journey, look at what you want your company to gain from that product. Why are you launching? Have customers requested updates on older products? Are you looking to increase quality? Are you looking to offer a cheaper solution? Are you going head-to-head on a competitor product? Know where your new product falls in your company’s value chain so that you make sure it’s doing its job.

Update your lead funnel

It doesn’t matter how honed your target audiences or buyer personas are: new products all have their 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 also worth updating your prospecting strategies and even creating an alternate sales pipeline.

Test your products and your market strategy in a mini launch

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 you 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.

Go-to-market strategy for startups

Startups come with their own additional GTM strategy rules. When creating a GTM strategy, startups must concentrate on figuring out where they sit in the market. The highest five-year survival rate for a new business is 51.3 percent—in other words, about half of startups will fail within their first five years. This means launch strategies are life or death for startup companies.

If this is your first product launch and your first GTM strategy, start small. You’re not going to wedge out the Fortune 500 companies with your initial product, but you can make a name for yourself in the smaller markets and slowly work your way up. Take advantage of the fact that you’re a new business, and find specific markets that you can reach through affordable social media campaigns and personalized sales.

Go-to-market strategy for SaaS companies

SaaS sales teams benefit from following a basic GTM strategy, but they must also take into account that software products evolve at a faster rate than tangible products. So when SaaS companies release a new product or product update, they need to focus even more on the purpose of the product. Aside from solving customer problems, a good SaaS product needs to have several additional capabilities.

SaaS customers don’t want to deal with a million programs. Products that offer multiple features and integrate with other tools are more likely to make an impact than products that add yet another icon to the home screen.

Go-to-market strategy examples

Starbucks

Let’s start with a company we’re all familiar with—even huge businesses need to use clever GTM strategies when expanding into new markets.

Starbucks first expanded to China in 1999. While they now serve over 6.4 million Chinese customers a week, there was major concern twenty 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.

As a result, 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.

In the end, the company settled on opening their first Chinese stores in busy, metropolitan areas where more wealthy citizens and heavier tourist traffic would bolster their brand credibility and market feasibility. They also altered their 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 their new audience and appealing to what they already loved.

Huawei

Huawei is a telecommunications equipment company (like Apple or Samsung) based in China. In 2000, they started looking at expanding into India despite numerous market hurdles—the most pressing being the political and economic tensions between the two countries.

The company needed to address three key roadblocks:

  • The telecommunications market in India was already large and populated.
  • At the time, much of India considered Chinese products to be inferior in quality.
  • To succeed, they would need to establish general trust and relationships as a Chinese company.

The first thing Huawei did was create service centers and R&D facilities in India that provided local jobs, sourced local components, and ensured product quality was determined by Indian employees. This 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.

The second Huawei triumph was advertising their 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.

Establishing this trust led Huawei to great success, and today India is Huawei’s second-largest research base outside of China.

Slack

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. In fact, according to founder Steward Butterfield, the first mini launch went so poorly that the company scrapped the product and started anew.

In August 2013, Slack launched a second preview where users needed to request an invite to join. They had 8,000 users within 24 hours and 15,000 within two weeks. The word-of-mouth reputation grew, and the narrative centered around their willingness to listen to consumers and adapt their product to user feedback.

Combined with Slack’s low costs 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 startup companies. Today, Slack continues to thrive by offering a free version of their software so that no one is excluded from the Slack experience.

Mailchimp

Mailchimp is now one of the most popular email automation tools, especially for small businesses, but they entered the market with baby steps. 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 received around the world were classified as spam, the partners decided to develop a smarter method of email marketing.

But in a world with so much spam, it was difficult to convince users to give Mailchimp a try. As a result, all Mailchimp services remained free for the first several years of the product launch. After years of 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.

Mailchimp was one of the first products to hone in on email marketing and the power of contact management. As a result, investors pushed them again and again to target enterprise levels. They didn’t. Mailchimp soared to over 12 million users because they kept their 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

Thinx creates reusable underwear for people with periods, replacing the need for disposable pads and tampons. 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 public consciousness.

At the same time, many consumers were concerned about the environmental impact of using disposable pads and tampons, especially plastic tampon applicators.

Thinx provided a solution to both problems. Not only did reusable Thinx underwear save money at the drugstore, but it also eliminated the need for disposable menstrual products. Additionally, Thinx provided this option to both pad and tampon users. In comparison, similar products like menstrual cups were only appealing to tampon or other insert-based product users.

By focusing on inclusivity, sustainability, and socioeconomic change, Thinx quickly rose to the top of the market.

Fitbit

Fitbit is a fitness-tracking watch that connects to an app on your smart device. After a bumpy start in manufacturing, they now dominate the fitness market as the most downloaded fitness app on the Apple App Store—even against key competitors like Nike.

Fitbit as a product is not unique, especially today. Apple watches and other smart fitness devices also track steps and exercise, but Fitbit continues to lead the market. The key to their success lies in their GTM strategy.

Fitbit doesn’t solely market the abilities of their products—they have also harnessed the psychological and social elements of fitness. Many 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 other 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) amongst non-users.

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 masses of users hoping to achieve new fitness dreams.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Use a CRM to propel your product to the market

A powerful sales and marketing CRM, like Zendesk Sell, is crucial to your GTM success.

With Zendesk Sell, your entire team can track customer histories and sales funnels, which allows them to create specific marketing materials for different types of customers. You can also segment your audience for a more personalized approach. Remember, if you’re dealing with repeat customers, you’ve already solved their initial problems. You now need to focus on solving new problems they didn’t know they had.

Zendesk Sell also integrates with hundreds of other software tools and includes everything you’ll need in a CRM—from customer data collection to automation to KPI tracking.

Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today. Our CRM makes customer communication and marketing seamless, so you can spend less time scrambling and more time strategizing.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

Improve your sales process

A good sales process is the foundation of any successful sales organization. Learn how to improve your sales process and close more deals.

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