There’s no perfect way to go to market, and following a blueprint for others doesn’t always mean you can replicate their success. But you can be prepared and ready to adapt quickly as you get ready to launch your product for the first time.
Our GTM framework recognizes that in order to survive, your marketing must evolve to meet new and unexpected challenges along the journey. At the same time, there are crucial points every company must address to ensure a competitive start.
Step 1: Pin Down the Essentials
Depending on what stage your company is in, you may know a lot or very little about your market and what works for you. Take note of your gaps in knowledge so you can close them later. Here are a few areas you’ll want to start with:
- The market and product category you’re entering
- The current demand for your product
- The competition and how well they’re doing
- The resources you have now or expect to have soon
- The major decisions you still need to make
- Whether or not you’re asking for funding
Step 2: Do the Math
Probably the biggest area where early-stage companies lie to themselves is in the numbers. There are some hard truths about market sizing and pricing that you have to face if you want to stand confidently in front of investors, your team, or even yourself and claim you can do this. Build some financial models then adjust them for your best- and worst-case scenarios so you’re not caught by surprise after you launch.
Size your market honestly
We all want to tap into a $100 billion market, but investors will appreciate pragmatism when it comes to total addressable market (TAM). The IRS and Census Bureau have tons of information on market size in the US, nicely illustrated here in Tableau for the B2B markets by Compile. Take time to find the right numbers—if they don’t add up, it’s better to find out and make adjustments before you’re already burning through runway.
Properly estimate your customer acquisition costs (CAC)
There are a few common mistakes startups make when estimating CAC. Especially at the beginning, you’ll need to include your upfront costs like a website or marketing automation tools, a relevant percentage of employee salaries and overhead, plus the direct acquisition costs of paying customers in your estimates. And sorry, you can’t count free or trial users in CAC—that goes in your cost per acquisition (CPA).
Ask potential customers how much you’re worth
Don’t just rely on your gut or a few advisors. Ask potential customers what they they’d pay for your product. For consumer brands that might mean surveying people who match the customer segments you plan to market to. For those in B2B, talk to companies that fit your ideal customer profiles. Get a feel for their priorities, pain points, and their initial reactions to your pitch before you make any pricing decisions.
Step 3: Show Product-Market Fit Early
This isn’t the early 2000s, and startups rarely get funded for just an idea anymore. Even seed rounds are increasingly hard to get if you can’t show product-market fit. While large companies can afford to funnel portions of their budget into experimental projects, you’ll need to set aside time to develop a working prototype for a small group of customers, then start spending on marketing or talking to VCs.
This doesn’t mean you can’t raise rounds from an angel or pre-seed money early on, but keep in mind that you’ll likely have to bank on personal relationships to get funding for that first MVP. Of course, there are exceptions!
Define your value props against the competition
Part of proving product-market fit is pointing to existing competitors and explaining how you’re different (and hopefully better). These value props will help you come up with the right messaging later, and frame the conversation when talking to prospects or investors.
Test your MVP on subset of your customer base
Rather than invite anyone on your prospect list to join early and help test your product, why not choose a specific segment to address? You can tailor your first version to this target audience for better feedback and adoption, then add features that appeal to different segments later.
Step 4: Define Your Customer Journeys
The “customer journey” has been defined a few different ways, don’t get too caught up in what it should look like for you. You can see that this example from Smashing Mag and Forrester’s four key stages look a little different, but they both track what someone is likely to be doing from the point at which they discover a need for something up until they become a paying customer.
Grab your team and get creative. Walk through the buying process from the customer’s point of view. Think broadly about what each type of customer might search for, ask about, where they’ll be, who they trust. Map out this journey visually and you’ll have a good starting point for the next step—putting things in motion.
Step 5: Nail the Execution
You’ve decided on the who and the what. This part is all about the when, where, and how. At the end of this step you should be able to stand in front of investors firing questions at you and prove that you've thought through all the practicalities. But you're not just doing this for investors—you and your team need to have absolute clarity on how to execute your GTM plan if you want to make it to the finish line. Sketch out a timeline and be realistic about how much time you will need to put everything in place.
Whether it’s developers or manufacturers you need, it’s time to tackle basic questions about your product strategy, like:
Will you need to hire engineers or product people?
What will you outsource and what will you do on your own?
What regulations will you need to comply with?
How will you test your product?
What does your roadmap look like?
Your roadmap will change drastically as you find your perfect product-market fit and get feedback from customers, a plan for the coming year will help you focus and show you’ve thought about scaling your product to meet increased demand.
Sales and fulfillment
In its early days, your sales team may be lean or nonexistent. That’s ok—you can still choose which channels to sell through and have plan for meeting increased demand. Using your customer journey map, decide on how you’ll sell at each stage and what resources your team will need.
This could mean developing a process for prospecting and direct sales. Software companies often also have partner or reseller programs that help them scale without heavy ad & marketing spend. Companies physically shipping products will need to have their entire supply chain strategy covered before launch or risk losing big portions of their customer base to poorly planned logistics.
Whatever strategies you choose, budget for the tools your team needs to sell. This can include CRM and automation tools, engineering support for technical sales calls, and the creation of sales-focused landing pages or campaigns.
Some marketing is crucial in the beginning, like building a great website or having a presence on revenue-driving social platforms. But we often see startups spend on marketing when they should be focusing on product. Find a good baseline for marketing spend, plan your launch campaign in detail, and know which tactics you want to test. Then you can ramp up marketing as your budget grows.
Here's a list of marketing tactics to start with:
- Build a website that's capable of tracking conversions and important events, like making a purchase, signing up for a trial, or subscribing to a mailing list.
- Pick the social channels that are crucial to your brand image and focus exclusively on them.
- Plan your launch campaign well, including paid ads and PR if you can.
- Have process in place for emailing and onboarding new prospects and customers
If you try to plan your marketing campaigns too far out, you may end up creating content that doesn't resonate with your audience. Focus on setting up a system rather than getting taglines and hashtags to perfection.
Some companies will rely more heavily on support than others, but it’s good to establish a system upfront. If you’re a B2C brand shipping tons of product, get a team together to handle inevitable delays and wrong orders via email, social, and your commerce app. A B2B company launching in beta or a service company dealing with clients directly might have fewer, more technical inquiries to handle—they’ll need a good helpdesk and a more senior point of contact for customer issues.
Step 6: Get Your Messaging Straight
Messaging ties your whole GTM strategy together. Create a core messaging doc your whole team can refer back to when selling, building campaigns, and pitching your product. We use a simple spreadsheet in Google docs that includes short and long positioning statements plus adaptations for each customer segment and core product feature—our clients can always refer back to it as a starting point for new content.
Step 7: Know Your Key Metrics
If you ignore analytics in the beginning, you’ll have no way of knowing whether your carefully-planned GTM strategy is working. There’s no excuse for skimping on core metrics, with all of the free and affordable tools out there, so identify your KPIs for each of the above-mentioned areas and set up a system to track them. Don’t rely on vanity metrics like followers or new signups—include metrics on revenue, churn, and acquisition costs.
Final Thoughts: Never Stop Evolving
Successful early stage companies aren’t afraid to move fast and evolve freely. Think about your GTM strategy as a hypothesis, and make changes when you realize something isn’t working. As you make your way down the long road to launch, you'll feel like your team is going through marketing boot-camp, constantly leaping over unexpected hurdles. But the end result will be a smarter, stronger strategy backed by metrics that is ready to take your product to the next level.