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Thursday, September 4, 2014

De-mystifying Go-to-Market Strategy for Product Managers

I've been a product manager for about 15 years, mostly in big shops with mature marketing organizations. Although it's clearly not fair, I've developed an aversion in that time to the seemingly non-stop  flow of buzzwords that the marketing field seems to generate. It was probably about 10 years or so that the term "go-to-market" was thrust on my radar by a senior manager in our product group. While I had certainly heard it before, I had discounted it as just more marketing babble (I realize many marketers have their own feelings about product management babble). Anyway, I asked what it meant and received an answer so nebulous that I wasn't sure if I was just too simple to grasp it or if my "jargon meter" was right on. Since then, I've come to embrace the critical role a go-to-market strategy (or simply "go-to-market") plays in ensuring product success. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that a poorly conceived go-to-market may be the most consistent reason products fail, especially those from software startups.

Let's start with what I consider a reasonably good definition from Wikipedia: a go-to-market "refers to the set of integrated tactics which a company will use to connect with its customers/business and the organizational processes it develops (such as pricing and contracting) to guide customer interactions from initial contact through fulfillment." My cursory research uncovered all kinds of definitions, at times so broad that I couldn't distinguish a go-to-market strategy from what I've always considered a marketing strategy. In my opinion, a marketing strategy and a go-to-market  are related but different, the go-to-market describing how the target markets in the marketing strategy will be made aware of your offering and how they will get their hands on it. A marketing strategy is much broader, including researching market size, creating advertising etc.

Put simply, a go-to-market determines how people are going to find out that you have something they would benefit from buying and how they'll get it. There seems to be consistent blind-spot in human perception that I'll call the "Field of Dreams Syndrome", i.e., if I build it, "they"  will come. Very painful experience across multiple facets of commerce has demonstrated clearly that this is the case a very, very small percentage of the time. Oddly enough, I think this syndrome is related to an adage as old as time about love being blind. We often become so enamored of our own ideas and (our perceived) cleverness that we simply cannot imagine that others won't feel the same.

Perhaps a more intuitive way to understand go-to-market is to consider a fate that has befallen countless internet startups: They dream up a great idea, pull a few bucks together to develop it and then upon launching it realize that they have no idea how the customers they've dreamed of will discover their amazing site or app. Their "baby" is lost in a sea of other sites/apps and the "viral adoption" they hoped would happen is, in reality, a one-in-a-million proposition. A poor go-to-market can handicap any type of business. I know someone who developed a software solution that aimed to make it much easier for private doctors to run their practice. Although getting the solution built was no walk in the park, it turned out that the real challenge was getting in front of enough doctors to drive sufficient revenue to keep the lights on. It's remarkable and unfortunately very common for folks to focus on the problem their solving and the solution their providing while giving almost no though as to how people will find out about the value their solution provides and how they can get their hands on it.

Go-to-market is also highly relevant to existing products and is often revisited for each release. Just because you have established mechanisms for raising awareness and delivering your solution to customers doesn't mean they're optimal. For example, if your company's sales organization is struggling to get in front of decision makers in a given market segment, finding a partner that has developed close relationships to these people might increase sales.

Now that we know what a go-to-market is, how do you go about creating one? What's in it? As you might expect, there are multiple answers to these questions. In an upcoming post, I'll talk about defining a go-to-market, particularly as it relates to the participation of product managers (who, by the way, are NOT typically accountable for defining it).

In researching this topic, I found the first few slides of this presentation particularly concise and informative. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words...

Next Post: Hitting the ground running as a new PM

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