In this post I want to go over and organise a tonne of thoughts I have swirling around in my mind about the term Go-to-Market, what it actually means and what a great Go-to-Market and a bad Go-to-Market looks like.
By playing the famous Ben Horowitz good/bad frame, I hope that anyone who is also confused in this term will find some true clarity in what this means and what it looks like when you’ve done it well.
I know that for years I was most definitely not the only person who used the term, but deep down inside didn’t fully understand what it meant or what it looks like when done good.
Sometimes it seemed obvious by definition. I used to google go to market, read it and go - yeah my company has nailed that - but Flex never got to meaningful traction so I can’t possibly accept in hindsight that we had anything close to nailed go to market.
Funnily enough when I started thinking i should write a good go to market bad go to market post somehow a go to market ‘guru’ ended up in my twitter feed. This guy looked legit. I asked him what his best gtm execution was and worst was and he linked 2 vlogs he had produced on the topic and told me that a good gtm is a system and bad gtm is when you step outside of that system.
Those 2 videos, were terrible. Especially seeing as I opened them expecting to watch a clear discussion of go to market. They were fully about building a sales funnel + a set of great motion graphics and some snazzy marketing speak.
I know I’m throwing shade, but it’s only fair to keep this person anonymous. I hope to the people who buy his $3000 course that they find enough value. I will give him credit, the videos definitely gave me energy, this guy knows how to sell. It really reminded me of Tai Lopez (featured below - apologies in advance for wasting your time)
And back to it. Good go to market, bad go to market.
When we went through techstars in 2018, I found myself sitting in a small room with ~6 other founders and 2 seasoned entrepreneurs. One of which had founded, scaled and sold a location based marketplace the other was the COO at a national premium cannibis brand.
These guys are titans and I am so unbelievably thankful for their time (I have told them both privately as such). They ran a round table Q&A session on Go-to-Market. Now here’s the kicker. I sat there for an hour. I took meticulous notes. I interacted with every answer. I asked countless questions.
But I still left feeling that:
Later that week I was having coffee with my coach and now great friend Joseph and the topic came up. I said I didn’t know what a GTM was. If it is what everyone says it is Flex has one. But I didn’t understand how it could be so, so… we didn’t have one?
It was kinda like Schrödinger's go to market. We both had one and didn’t have one and no one would know until they looked inside the box.
What followed was a well needed slap on the side of the head. Okay I joke. No slap. But Joseph pulled out his phone, googled go to market plan and emailed the top link to me.
Still have a shred of respect for me? The jokes on you.
That Go-to-Market blog post was surprisingly simple and straight forward. There is a list of headers and sub-headers set up as questions. Fill them out and at the end you’ll have a Go-to-Market plan.
Filling it in was definitely cheating as we had already gone to market and so there were items I could answer and then immediately pat myself on the back as we had already executed upon them.
But overall what the task did was help me organise my thoughts and assumptions onto a coherent plan/document that if held true would take us to success.
2 things happened to that document when I finished:
Funnily enough Schrödinger's Go-to-Market was resolved months later when my cofounder brought up got-market and I said oh we have one of those written down.
What happened after?
Well the short of it is that we didn’t build the right product for the market, spent all the money and I left.
So it would be pretty fair to say that we had a bad Go-to-Market.
I do realise I haven’t even shared it with you so you don’t know what it looks like - I would actually like to say that it was a tepid go to market. Both bad and good at the same time.
Fully Schrödinger's go to market.
I say this because in the years following I have now worked on & advised countless companies who have had much much worse and much much better GTMs and so I know that some of what we did was great and some of what we did was terrible.
What the hell is a Go-to-Market?
Before I write this section I have to say 2 key things.
(I know i know i should get on with it already).
(1) the definition of GTM changes by person. I kind of think someone coined the phrase and everyone is misusing it or has a different understanding of it (like schrodingers cat) and so if you like mine - great. Share this post with others. Feel free to act all wise as you patronise people with my definition of a go to market.
(2) There is no room for ego going forward. Seriously. The nuance here is that you need to be introspective enough to know that most of your assumptions are wrong and only by holding them up to the sun are they going to be worth anything.
The idea that someone could read a blog and write a flawless GTM in an afternoon (what I did) is rubbish. I have no time to argue with you on that. If that’s what you believe stop reading and go away.
A Go To Market strategy is a plan to bring something new to market in the most successful fashion possible. It is made up of proven assumptions, clearly thought out strategic decisions and correctly researched facts. That something can be a new product, a new feature, a new business even a new location (the list goes on).
A Go-to-Market strategy should take someone who has no experience with the new thing from zero to hero where they can ask the question “Oh you quit you’re job, what are you working on now?” read the GTM and follow up with “holy cow you know what you’re doing, how can I invest”.
Okay that is a dramatisation, but it should instil elite clarity in someones mind on what you’re doing. You should be able to hand it to your new hire on day one and they can immediately start rowing in the right direction.
One more metaphor.
Think of a Go-to-Market as meeting someone who has never heard of HIV handing them a hospital pamphlet and after reading they are content and completely rational as to what HIV is, the risks, the realities and how to talk about it and there is zero risk that what they know is wrong/at odds with what you know.
In case you are at all like me and still unsure on a few things, I believe this could be caused by information overload and so I will attempt to further demystify some of the surrounding areas to a GTM strategy.
Is this a marketing strategy?
No this is not, a marketing strategy is encompassed inside of the GTM.
Is the lean canvas a go to market strategy?
Not in my opinion. The lean canvas is an exercise to work though. A well executed lean canvas WILL substantially contribute to your GTM
Is a GTM just a defined target market?
Nope that is a piece of your GTM.
Once it is set, is it fixed?
No. Sorry to make things messier - a GTM strategy will vary for what you’re bringing to market but for a new technology company it will and most likely should be a living document as you iterated through possible solutions and markets. However - that does not mean that you should abandon the GTM. If you have a GTM strategy written down and that is the current approach you’re testing - that document is so powerful.
Isn’t a GTM for brand managers at big companies, how is it compatible with startups?
GTMs are widely used in slow moving organisations with stacks of FMCG brands, I will give you that. However that doesn’t exclude startups from using it. Once you take this information out of a founders head and put it on public paper it will allow you to validate/invalidate quicker and give the whole team ownership of the success of the new thing.
Is a GTM similar to a Product Spec?
In my opinion yes. This is subjective (hence my opinion) but the product specs I write include a lot of market and marketing information in them. They are product heavy (obviously) so I wouldn’t confidently say they are interchangeable. However on small side project teams, I find a more fleshed out product spec can also create a shared understanding of what you’re working on and why.
Should we write a GTM before we have product market fit?
I take the position of yes. But do so knowing that it will need to change. The GTM you write will clean and organise all of your thoughts.
Is the GTM is for marketing to do?
I believe either the CMO, CEO or product person should lead the formation and update of the GTM plan. It needs to be collaborative though. Things written down need to be agreed on. Team members pulling in different directions will not work.
What does this look like?
Good GTMs are written down in a document. A good GTM has been reviewed by others including when it is iteratively updated. These others are your team members, advisors, investors and customers when it’s a good GTM.
A good GTM is openly shared in your team and is accessible by anyone in the organisation. Tough strategic and marketing decisions should include references to your written GTM strategy when it is good.
Bad GTMs live almost exclusively inside of your head. You are too scared to share you bad GTM with anyone outside of your co-founders and even then it is just to tell them what you’re doing. No input allowed. A bad GTM isn’t referred back to when you have decisions to make that may effect the foundations of your product, strategy or marketing.
Good GTMs are kept updated especially when something in the document is proven wrong or ineffective. They only include specific, focussed, validated or re-validatible answers and statements. They do not sit at odds with other documents or strategic plans in your organisation. Good GTMs weave all other positioning and forward moving plans & strategies together.
Bad GTMs are full of non specific answers like - Target market = “all humans with thumbs”. Really bad GTMs are at odds with all of your other work i.e. marketing strategy, product specs, elevator pitch & investor positioning.
Extremely bad GTMs ask for an NDA before you can see them.
Good GTMs distinctly get your new thing to market and do not worry about sustaining its existence and trajectory. They don’t depend on everything being constant and should consider what would happen when all assumptions move.
Bad GTMs encompass years of forward planning including how you’re going to sell the company to Microsoft in 10 years time. Bad GTM’s lash out at whoever questions them. They can also exist while never really actually existing. Bad GTMs get “skipped” because you need to hustle, ship and dominate.
Bad GTMs are only for established entrepreneurs, because as we know - like a mad man running at a brick wall with a mop, this isn’t going to end well.
Good GTMs deeply DEEPLY feel RIGHT in your gut. They have been sterilised in the light of day by people who feel like their questions have been coherently answered rather than defended against.
Bad GTMs won’t get you there. Good GTMs will give you a fighting chance.
You didn’t think I was going to tell you line by line what to put in it did you? Oh no no there are 1000 blogs on the internet to tell you that. They vary by size, challenge and stage of company. I usually start here with this 2 min plan.
Like all go to market plans. I am holding this one up to the light of day. Let the sun burn holes in the writing. Please do direct your feedback, comments and hate mail in the comments below or directly to me on twitter.
One more thing - if you’re reading this, and feel like you have no one to show your Go-to-Market, but want to bring it in to the light… loop me in. I will try my hardest to find time to help.
For better or for worse you can follow me over at twitter as I continue to document my journey.