As a product manager, you have to wear multiple hats to deliver your product to the market and generate value for users and the business. One of these hats includes product marketing and planning go-to-market entry.
However, many product people tend to sweat a bit when discussing their go-to-market strategy. I myself struggled to understand what go-to-market was all about. A variety of definitions and explanations didn’t help at all.
After launching a few products, I discovered that go-to-market planning isn’t so much about sophisticated growth hacks and tactics, but instead is a process of consciously answering a few strategic questions. Once I learned this, it became a straightforward and joyful process.
In this article, you’ll learn the importance of a go-to-market strategy, as well as receive a template for working through the process on your own.
Before we jump into crafting a go-to-market strategy, let’s first tackle why you even need one.
Let me be clear: distribution is everything.
There are hundreds of extremely valuable products that didn’t succeed on the market just because they couldn’t reach their target audience. On the other hand, there’s also plenty of crappy products that are used by millions.
The difference? Distribution.
Product managers tend to overly focus on the value proposition and user experience. Although these are essential, it doesn’t matter how great your value offering is if no one knows it exists.
I’ve worked on products that were extremely successful, as well as ones that failed. The successful ones had clear answers to five questions.
The five questions that build a strong go-to-market strategy are:
Let’s explore each of these questions in-depth and then I’ll share an Excel template that should help simplify the whole process even further.
The very first step is to define who the product is actually for. If it’s for everyone, it’s for no one.
An ideal first segment should be:
Discovering an ideal target segment takes a lot of market research and experimentation. That’s why it’s crucial to start talking to your target customers as early as the prototype phase.
Be specific. Keep in mind that at this step you’re choosing the first segment you want to dominate, but it doesn’t limit you from expanding to other segments in the long run.
After choosing the target segment, find a way to niche down even further. Is there a specific, narrow sub-segment you can target first?
By niching down to a specific target segment you can tailor your messaging, pricing, and initial value proposition to maximize the chances of succeeding on the market. Once you truly dominate the niche, you can identify and expand to another niche until you dominate the whole target segment defined in the first step.
Don’t try to win the whole segment at once — odds are, there’s an established competition that’ll make it difficult for you. By doubling down on the needs of a particular niche, you can provide a more tailored and better experience than the biggest market players.
Win your target segment one niche at a time.
Given the amount of products that are launched every week, people tend to evaluate new products through the lenses of already-known product categories.
If you see a new app in the AppStore, you quickly form a mental association in your head, such as:
Positioning is all about consciously deciding what market category you want to play and how to position your product as the best in that particular category. At the end of the day, there’s a huge difference between positioning your product as “chat” or “email” or as a “to-do list” or “a habit builder.” These set different expectations and attract different types of customers.
The simplest way to discover the best positioning is to talk with your target niche and listen closely to what alternatives they compare you to. For example, if your product is frequently compared to Gmail or SuperHuman, you play in the “email” category. Now you have two options.
If you like this category, make sure the product meets established expectations for other products in that category. For example, an e-mail app without filters and footers won’t really cut it. Also, tailor your communication and messaging to attract users looking for an e-mail app and position yourself against other email solutions.
If you don’t like this category, try to understand why users compare your product to e-mail and iterate on your value proposition to have stronger resemblance to the category you’d like to play in.
Now that you know who you’re targeting and how you are going to communicate your product, it’s time to define how you’re going to reach that target audience with your message.
We have a full article dedicated to choosing the best growth channels for your product, so here I’ll just cover a high-level overview of the five most common channels and how to know if these are right for your product.
In simple terms, performance marketing is a fancy phrase for ads. Think Facebook ads, Google ads, LinkedIn ads, etc.
Signals of fit:
To win SEO, you need content — lots of it. You can generate it manually, automatically (e.g. new product pages for e-commerce platforms) or have your users do so (think, Medium itself).
Signals of fit:
Virality happens when users bring new users on their own. It can be done by invitations, public shares or experiential virality.
Signals of fit:
Direct sales are still one of the most effective ways to get users’ attention. It’s also the most expensive one.
Signals of fit:
Partnerships might be one of the fastest ways to gain traction and build a distribution advantage, but they’re also the trickiest and riskiest to set up.
Signals of fit:
Although the goal is to build a sustainable and scalable growth channel (step four), you also need to plan for the initial traction to kickstart the growth engine. Early days often require hustle when it comes to acquisition.
As a rule of thumb, you should have a strategy in place to quickly attract:
This initial boost will help you gather quick market feedback, help you establish some credibility, and serve as fuel for your growth channel.
Consider some of the following tactics to build initial traction:
Getting early users will be your top priority for the days following the launch.
To simplify the process of planning your go-to-market strategy, here’s a simple Excel template.
Keep in mind that although the template is straightforward and can be done within ten minutes or so, you need to make a solid investment in the user research to truly understand the best niche to target and how to reach them effectively.
Although there’s no single way to plan your go-to-market strategy, I believe most approaches end up answering more or less the same questions:
Don’t play a guessing game. Invest adequate time and effort into user research to truly understand the answer to those questions. Not only will it help you optimize your acquisition efforts, but it will also help you guide your further product development.
Featured image source: IconScout
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