Selling is a lot like interpretive dance or improv comedy — a free-flowing art form that requires tact and charisma.
When you’re unveiling a new product, the last thing you want is to waste time and resources bringing a product to market where or when it’s unnecessary. To avoid this, it’s important to craft a carefully thought out plan.
Because without planning, it’s impossible to know if you’re chasing the wrong audience, you’re too early or too late to the market, or the market is already too saturated with similar solutions. But, before we go any further, what is a go-to-market strategy?
What Is a Go-to-Market (GTM) Strategy?
A go-to-market (GTM) strategy is the way in which a company brings a product to market. It generally includes a business plan outlining the target audience, marketing plan, and sales strategy. Each product and market are different, therefore each GTM strategy should be thoroughly thought out, mapping a market problem and solution a product offers.
So, here’s my step-by-step guide to building your own go-to-market strategy using the strategies I’ve implemented to build multiple companies throughout the years.
I’ve also outlined how you can iterate and optimize as your company evolves, and you’ll find helpful examples of how we’ve broken these steps down at my most recent company, SalesHero.
How to Build a Go-to-Market Strategy
- Identify the buying center and personas.
- Craft a value matrix to help identify messaging.
- Test your messaging.
- Optimize your ads based on the results of your tests before implementing them on a wide scale.
- Understand your buyer’s journey.
- Choose one (or more) of the four most common sales strategies.
- Build brand awareness and demand generation with inbound and/or outbound methods.
- Create content to get inbound leads.
- Find ways to optimize your pipeline and increase conversion rates.
- Analyze and shorten the sales cycle.
- Reduce customer acquisition cost.
- Strategize ways to tap into your existing customer base.
1. Identify the buying center and personas.
As cliché as it might seem, the first thing to do when preparing your product for market is to consider your customer.
On average, there are 6.8 decision makers for every sale who have a say in whether a product is purchased. These people make up what is called the “buying center.”
The roughly seven roles are as follows (though it’s important to note some job titles might occupy more than one role):
- Initiator: Starts the buying process or shows initial interest
- User: Uses your product regularly
- Influencer: Convinces others the product is needed
- Decision maker: Gives final approval for the purchase
- Buyer: Owns the budget
- Approver: Final approver who pushes the initiative on a larger scale (typically someone in the C-suite)
- Gatekeeper: Blocker in getting a product implemented or approved
These roles vary based on the product, industry, and vertical you’re selling to. Get your team together and brainstorm the various job titles that could be impacted by your solution.
Research each role to get a general sense of what they do, their goals, and their pain points. It’s critical to learn who these people are, what motivates them, and what their problems are, as they will be the ones to put your product on the map.
Using SalesHero as an example, the buying center breaks down like this:
2. Craft a value matrix to help identify messaging.
After mapping your buying center personas, it’s time to map out your value matrix.
A value matrix is a breakdown of each buying center persona, their business problems, how your product is valuable in solving those problems, and a relevant marketing message tying the problem and solution together.
Create a chart with each persona in one column. Below each persona, list the pain points they face on a daily basis. If your product can solve or ease any of these problems, include them in a row below.
Lastly, the message needs to capture the pain point and value in a meaningful way. The best way to achieve this is to agitate the pain point. People will take a painkiller to cure a headache but are much less likely to take a daily vitamin to prevent the pain in the first place. The value your product brings should solve the pain, not act as a vitamin.
Here’s an example of a complete value matrix:
3. Test your messaging.
Once your value matrix is in place, it’s time to test your messaging. Start advertising on marketing platforms using the messages you’ve just created for various audience members.
You’ll have three variables to test: the channel you advertise on, the audience you target, and the message you share.
When deciding where to test, first consider where you audience is. Possible paid digital ad channels might be LinkedIn, Google Ads, Facebook, and Twitter. Test the various channels and continue advertising on those showing high conversions. And stop investing in channels where you see low conversions.
4. Optimize your ads based on the results of your tests before implementing them on a wide scale.
Next, optimize your audience. Some ad platforms have highly targeted audience settings for advertisers. For example, LinkedIn offers options for job title, job function, company size, and geographic location. Test different options to see who is more likely to click or convert.
For example, we noticed high clicks in certain industries, so we began targeting and using our ad budget to focus on those handful of industries on LinkedIn. The key here is spending money where you’ll get the biggest return on investment.
And you’ll be testing your message to see which versions resonate most with your audience. The engagement and conversion rates of your ads will indicate which value proposition and pain points work best.
Once you’ve collected this data, you can base your larger campaigns off these successful insights.
5. Understand your buyer’s journey.
With your personas and value matrix built, dive deeper to understand the journey a potential customer will take, both from the buyer’s perspective and from the perspective of your company.
From your customer’s perspective, the buying process is linear. More or less, it will go like this:
- The buyer realizes they have a business problem and research the topic
- The buyer shortlists potential solutions
- That list is narrowed down by talking to sales teams from the solution provider and by testing product use cases until a decision is made
The buyer’s journey — from the perspective of the business — is a funnel in which there is a lot of general interest at the top which gradually narrows down as opportunities fall out of the pipeline. This journey can be divided into three sections:
The top of the funnel is the awareness stage. Content at this stage grabs a potential customer’s attention. This can be in the form of a blog, whitepaper, or video. A lead gets here by clicking on an ad, social media post, or a search engine result, however these behaviors do not indicate that this lead is ready to make a purchase yet.
The middle of the funnel is the consideration stage. This is when a prospect has demonstrated they have a problem your product can solve. They show this through digital behavior like downloading an ebook or joining a webinar.
The bottom of the funnel is the decision stage. At this time the prospect has likely asked for a quote or a trial period and are nearing a decision on whether or not to purchase.
While each company divides the lead generation and qualification process differently, marketing is typically in charge of ToFu and MoFu as they need to generate interest and awareness and educate the relevant audience on a product’s value through messaging and content (more on that later).
Once a lead falls into the decision stage, the sales team takes over and the lead enter the sales funnel. This is where a lead considers purchasing your product.
The stages of the sales cycle are as follows (Note: The sales funnel has also recently been reinvented as a more modern Flywheel):
- Contact: Communication between the lead and sales rep begins.
- Qualification: The sales rep learns more about the company and their lead’s problems and asks questions to see if they meet the basic requirements to purchase the product (BANT is a popular sales qualification method but there are several others sales methodologies that are used to qualify).
- Business case: The prospect tests the product through a free trial or POC to see if it can solve their needs.
- Evaluation: The decision makers in the organization weigh the cost of the product to the results they achieved during the business case.
- Negotiation: Both sales rep and decision makers discuss pricing details and feature needs.
- Close: A deal is agreed upon and your prospect turns into a customer.
- Renewal: Your customer renews their contract or subscription.
6. Choose one (or more) of the four most common sales strategies.
You’ve done all the required foundational work, now it’s time to pick a strategy that will push your product into the market. No one method will work for every product or market, so it’s important to consider the complexity, scalability, and cost of yours.
There are generally four go-to-market sales strategies — each one catering to a different product and business model.
The Self-Service model
The self-service model is when a customer makes a purchase on their own. We typically see this model with B2C purchases in which a customer can find and buy a product via a website, like Netflix or Amazon.
This works best for simple products with a low cost point and high volume of sales. It’s difficult to build, but, when successful, it sees a short sales cycle, zero cost to hire salespeople, and is highly profitable.
While you won’t need a sales team, you will need a marketing team to drive traffic and conversions to your site. The core marketing team would likely include growth marketing, performance marketing, and content marketing experts, though there will likely be other team members as well.
The Inside Sales Business Model
The inside sales business model is when a prospect needs to be nurtured by a sales rep to convert into a deal. This type of model works best with a product of medium complexity and price.
The sales cycle ranges between a few weeks and a few months. Here, you’ll invest in a sales team — but inside sales reps are less expensive than field reps.
With a high volume of sales, this model can be profitable and is fairly easy to build and scale as you hire more team members. The sales team in this model is typically comprised of a sales manager that supervises a handful of reps.
The Field Sales Business Model
The field sales business model is when you have a full sales organization that closes large enterprise deals. These are typically complex products with high price points, which also means there’s typically a low volume of deals with a long sales cycle.
The sales team in this model is often very costly as the field reps are experienced, high-salary employees. This model is easy to build, but harder to scale, because it takes time and money to hire and train a full sales organization.
Members include a sales manager, field reps, sales engineers, a sales development representative (SDR) team, and sales operations.
The Channel Model
Lastly, in the channel model, an outside agency or partner sells your product for you. This is hard to build, as the people can be difficult to recruit and educate on the benefits of your product. They are also often less motivated to sell than your own sales team would be.
However, this is a cheap model, because you don’t need to pay a sales team of your own. It works best with a product that matches with the partner’s interest. For example, if you sell phone cases, you might want to find partners selling related products, like Best Buy or Apple.
You can mix and match these strategies based on industry or customer size (i.e., number of licenses or seats). For startups, it’s healthy to scale over time rather than investing in an expensive sales team too early.
7. Build brand awareness and demand generation with inbound and/or outbound methods.
With inbound, prospects discover your brand through marketing efforts and reach out to you or show signs of interest organically. Some examples of organic inbound traffic channels could be social media, content, or paid ads leading to a landing page.
Outbound demand generation is when a salesperson contacts a lead through cold outreach tactics. They might to this by reaching out to a contact list, sending warm emails, phoning leads, or gathering leads at industry conferences.
Once interest has been generated through these methods, sales conversations begin, and the leads are led to more educational content and then into the sales funnel.
8. Create content to get inbound leads.
Inbound leads are generally easier to convert and cheaper to acquire than outbound leads. This is because inbound leads are already partially educated on the business problem you solve, aware of your product, and usually more interested in buying your product.
Content marketing is the key to generating that inbound interest, as content will drive traffic to your site.
Your content marketing team will drive this inbound traffic by finding and targeting keywords that your potential customers would search for and then creating and posting related content on your website.
At the core of content marketing is search engine optimization (SEO), which is the way a search engine ranks the content on the internet once a query is entered into the search bar. This will be a main source for your organic web traffic.
What goes into content marketing? It’s a cycle of keyword research, creation, and measurement.
- Keyword research: Identify keywords related to your product, analyze the volume (how often that keyword is searched) and difficulty of ranking for that keyword (i.e., how competitive that keyword is) and see who is already ranking for those keywords.
- Content research: Brainstorm content topics that include that keyword. See what articles already exist around these topics and begin to plan your content calendar.
- Content creation: Put those ideas into motion and have a writer create articles on those topics.
- Design: Add relevant images, infographics, videos, and other multimedia to your content so it’s more visual and engaging.
- Promote: Spread your content and drive traffic to your website by sharing the links via social media or emails to your customer database.
- Build links: Reach out to other publishers and ask them to link to your content to gain even more traffic with link building tactics. This gives you site authority, which helps improve your SEO rankings.
- Conversion rate: Track and measure the engagement and conversion rates of your content. Keep doing what works and drop what doesn’t. From there, begin the content creation cycle again.
Your content team should develop content that aligns with the various stages of the buyer’s journey (our earlier mentioned ToFu, MoFu, BoFu).
ToFu content is lighter educational content, MoFu is deeper, more applied learning, and BoFu is ready to buy and implement. To use SalesHero as an example, the content at each level of the funnel would look like this:
- ToFu – “What is sales AI?”
- MoFu – “How sales AI can increase productivity”
- BoFu – “Using sales AI to extract dark data”
9. Find ways to optimize your pipeline and increase conversion rates.
Growth requires more than simply picking a sales strategy and building a demand generation process. You must optimize.
You’ll also want to track how many opportunities come into the sales funnel: your pipeline volume.
Then track how many closed/won deals come out of the bottom of the funnel. Comparing the volume of the pipeline opportunities to the number of won deals will get you your overall conversion rate.
It’s even more important to optimize the conversion rate between stages. As opportunities move through the pipeline, they’ll go through various qualification processes (i.e. basic qualifications, current solutions in use, technical evaluation, and closing), and you’ll want to track at which stage the opportunities fall out and why.
You’ll need to measure this for your overall funnel and per sales rep. This information tells you where each rep needs to improve and potentially receive more training. Work to personalize your sales coaching efforts to shorten the sales cycle of each rep. Compare time and conversion rate to see who’s better and faster in particular stages.
Track how many opportunities each rep converts and at what stage in the process they drop out. The sooner an unqualified opportunity falls out of the funnel, the better, because less time, energy, and resources are spent on that particular lead.
10. Analyze and shorten the sales cycle.
Finally, track how long your sales cycle is. This is the amount of time it takes for an opportunity to enter the sales funnel and change to a closed/won deal. The goal is to shorten the conversion between every stage. This can be done by identifying common objections (and iterating ways to remove them before they happen), doing ongoing lead nurturing, and continue iterating ways to find the best fit customers.
11. Reduce customer acquisition cost.
As a business owner, you’ll also need to optimize your customer acquisition cost. This will be very expensive at first, but as time goes on, you’ll need to reduce this cost by optimizing your processes, or you’ll be losing more money than you make.
Customer acquisition is how much it costs to gain a new customer or deal per $1. The lower the customer acquisition cost, the lower the impact your marketing efforts have on your PNL, and the higher the profit you get per customer.
12. Strategize ways to tap into your existing customer base.
A common adage in the industry is that it costs 7 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to do business with an existing customer. That’s because, if you’re providing a great buying experience, existing customers already know, like, and trust you.
The best opportunity for companies to earn more and gain revenue is through renewals, cross-selling, and upselling. The average cost for a company to renew a product is $0.13, while upsells cost a company $0.28.
Many people think of sales as a black box. But with analytics and new sales AI technologies cropping up, business leaders can optimize their processes to accelerate business.
Building a successful company is not reserved for those entrepreneurs who’ve been blessed with special skills.
Chances are, you’ve already built your product, and building a company is a very similar process. You must be strategic and continue to improve throughout the process.
Take time and continue to iterate, and you too can build a company.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Your income statement might be the most relevant document to consider when gauging the health of your business, the efficacy of the sales strategies you’re employing, and the state of your company’s future. That’s why it’s vital to understand the items that come up on one, what they mean, and how to find and record them.
At the beginning of 2020, the average adult in the U.S spent over three and a half hours on their smartphone each day, with half of that time spent engaging on social media networks. Though we don’t yet have the data to support it, for many people those values have likely increased as the year has gone on.
The way we interact with people is changing, both in our personal and professional lives. When we send text messages to friends and emails to colleagues, we expect a quick reply. And whether we’re instant messaging a co-worker or chatting with customer support on our favorite website, we often get a response instantly.
Wouldn’t it be great if your sales team could connect with prospects in a similar way?
No matter which stage of the sales lifecycle they’re in, 82% of consumers rate an “immediate” response as important or very important if they have a sales question. Live chat software allows salespeople to interact with website visitors as they’re exploring content or researching products.
I sat staring at the Dun & Bradstreet printout. It listed information for all the prospects in my California territory including the company name, revenue figures, address, telephone number and — of course — the decision maker’s name and title.
After all, that’s what they beat into our heads during the intensive five-week training program I’d just completed: Go for the decision-maker.
The training program, called “Professional Selling Skills,” took a then-new consultative approach to sales. The seminar instructed us on all things related to the “sales process” and its associated stages — such as qualifying prospects, defining needs, understanding buying patterns, overcoming objectives, presentations, developing listening skills, establishing value-added quantification in relationship to ROI, effective follow-up — the list goes on.
A lot has changed since then — or has it? It’s much easier now to find out what you need to know about a prospect or a client. But although sales terminology might have changed, the basic principles of the selling process haven’t changed that much.
While every business is different, most follow a progression with comparable sales stages. I think of it as a continuum that starts with a sales development process and ends with revenue generation. And it’s true for new business acquisition as well as expansion of existing business.
The typical sales process in the simplest terms goes something like this:
- Do target audience research.
- Create awareness and generate leads.
- Make contact, arrange a meeting, and/or conduct a presentation.
- Submit a proposal and win the business.
A successful consultative sales process hinges on two things — establishing credibility and building trust. Once those two things are running smoothly, revenue gets generated.
Keep one important thing in mind. It’s all about the buyer — what they want and when they want it. The key is making sure your selling efforts are in sync with their buying signals and stages. While there are only two fundamentals to this sales process, there are far more interrelated and supporting components that need to work for a successful result to occur.
Here they are.
The 7 Steps of the Sales Process
For the sake of example, we’re going to follow the sales process of a rep from an educational curriculum and scheduling software company.
This is the stage where qualitative, quantitative, demographic, and psychographic research are analyzed to gain insight into prospect behavior and buying patterns.
It’s where prospect identification, confirmation, and lead generation come in. Inbound marketing, social media, and content marketing efforts — in addition to other available resources like email scheduling tools — help generate qualified leads, greatly reduce cold calling, and shorten the sales cycle considerably.
Let’s say our educational curriculum and scheduling software company operates a popular blog. It publishes an article about the merits of using cloud storage for student information. The article features a call to action that links to a content offer — a webinar on how colleges can use technology to adapt to disruptions to conventional school years.
A high-level administrator from a community college in Northern California reads the article, clicks on the call to action, and provides their contact information in exchange for access to the webinar.
Our rep takes that information and sets up a discovery call with this administrator. On the call, the rep asks relevant, thoughtful questions to get valuable insight into whether this prospect is a good fit in terms of the school’s size, problems, budget, and other key traits.
Let’s say our salesperson asks all the right questions and gets the answers they need. Now, the prospect is a qualified lead, and they can move on through the sales process.
This sales process stage encompasses a variety of diverse sales skills, such as meeting preparation, creating interest, anticipating and overcoming objections, presenting, consulting, audience engagement techniques, closing gestures, follow-up, and more — a lot more.
And preparation isn’t just a one-time thing — it’s ongoing. Some of the other preparation components encompass understanding the competitive landscape and challenges faced by your prospects, confirming that your products and services will address those challenges and do it in a cost-effective, needs-based manner, and establishing quantifiable value.
If you can’t do all of these things, you’re not truly prepared.
In our example, our salesperson would take the time to understand the challenges a school of that size faces, the budget it might have allocated for scheduling software, how it compares to other community colleges in Northern California in terms of enrollment and endowment, and several other factors that would provide context for the school’s unique challenges.
That way, our salesperson can best establish how their product can fit its needs and help them overcome the overarching issues and concerns it faces.
Assuming you’ve done all your homework in the first two stages of the process, you may be fortunate enough to book a meeting. The stage following the meeting and/or presentation will be determined by how well you have nailed down the prior two steps and how well you perform your demo — and yes, it is a performance.
So you better know what you’re talking about and rehearse it to the point that you could do it in your sleep while still seeming “spontaneous.” It’s an art form. It’s also an important part of building credibility and establishing trust.
In our example, the rep had better know the ins and outs of the college’s student body, the total number of faculty, the specific courses it’s known for, the size of the campus itself, the number of classrooms, and any other information or factors that could possibly be affected or improved by leveraging the rep’s software.
Once you’ve made it past the first three stages successfully, you might have earned the opportunity to present a proposal. This is where your agreed-upon client needs-based analysis and quantified value benefits need to be clearly laid out and justified. If they aren’t, don’t even bother submitting a proposal.
Our rep would need to take all of the information from the presentation stage and be able to apply it. They would have to definitivelydemonstrate what the software would do for the college — supported by legitimate figures. If the software’s ability to streamline scheduling would make the college more efficient, they would have to show exactly what that means in quantifiable terms.
Okay, so I made that one up to keep with the “-ation” motif. Really, this sales process stage is about obligation. If you’re lucky enough to be awarded the business — which can often come down to timing and luck — it becomes your obligation to make certain you’ll deliver on what you proposed, and what the client agreed to.
Here, the onus of excellent service and performance shifts partially from the rep to the product itself. In our example, the school better see the results it was promised. The scheduling process has to get considerably easier as a result of using the software. Otherwise, the rep’s entire effort would just be some digital snake oil pitch.
An integral part of the process is keeping both internal and external contacts involved and in the loop. Use your CRM system — that’s what it’s for. But above all, make sure you keep the client updated and do it regularly. If you did well, tell them. If you encountered an issue, tell them about it and explain how it was corrected. They’ll respect you in both instances.
This is an often-overlooked and underutilized stage of the process — despite containing hidden revenue-generating opportunities. How do I know? Because I’ve seen it happen … and not happen. By neglecting to reinforce value, organizations miss opportunities to justify the client’s decision, and lose out on referrals and upsell business.
Many years have passed since I sat staring at that D&B printout, and it took me a while to define, understand, and fully appreciate the stages in my sales process. You need to figure yours out based on your sales style and training experience.
The names you give to the stages might be different. But more than likely, the steps and supporting components will be similar.
And while I may not know what your specific stages are, I do know that once you understand and do the things necessary to establish credibility and earn trust, you’ll increase the odds of achieving your primary objective — generating revenue.
As a salesperson, you need to have the utmost confidence and belief in the product or service you’re selling. If you don’t believe in your product, it’s likely the prospect won’t believe in it either.
A few years ago, I became obsessed with Bowmar Nutrition protein powder.
After finding them on Instagram, I really appreciated one of the company’s main missions: to create the best quality protein powder that you can have with hot drinks, cold drinks, or even use to bake a cookie recipe.
Let’s be honest, just because it looks like someone is working hard, that doesn’t mean they are actually being effective. Along the same lines, your colleagues can be productive and effective at driving sales even when you all aren’t physically working together in the same office space.