Building a winning go-to-market strategy

Microsoft for Startups
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Benjamin Franklin’s adage about failing to plan is as true for building a startup as it is for every other aspect of life. Determining how best to market your business requires careful planning and a clearly defined go-to-market strategy.

You may have a fantastic product, but without great sales and marketing you might struggle to find customers. Conversely, there are mediocre products that have succeeded with great sales and marketing. With this in mind, it’s critical that you have a thoughtful and effective go-to-market (GTM) strategy in place before launching your product.

What is a GTM plan?

A comprehensive GTM plan should include the analysis of who your customer is, and then leverage that knowledge to define your offer. It should also work through how to sell your solution. You need to know where people are buying your product and the best way and the right channels to reach them there. You should also be considering how partners can help you scale and achieve long-term success.

Identify your target market

Research and customer discovery are vital to understanding the value you can provide and the potential gains a customer will get from working with you.

Who is your ideal customer? Think of your customer segment. Describe what sort of company is in each target market segment and what would be a significant value or service to them. It can often look like identifying their type of business, their revenue size and their culture. What appeals to them? How do they purchase their solution today?

Now you can start building a customer profile and identifying the types of jobs that are important to this audience. In other words, what would they hire your company for? What job will your solution accomplish for them? That job could be functional, social, or it could even be emotional. You want to identify the most significant challenges and pain points for your target audience and understand what they need your help with. This will be key when you are developing your value proposition and messaging.

Develop your value proposition

Research and customer discovery are vital to understanding the role you are looking to serve. You want to understand the value you can provide and the benefits and potential gains a customer will get from working with you.

Before you can convince a customer about the value of your offering you need to make sure you have asked and answered some of the hard questions yourself.

How many customers do you want to serve?

This will depend on whether you're selling to consumers or other businesses. You need to estimate the expected time required for each sale and how much it will cost.

Are you going to be scalable?

What are the obstacles that could prevent you from increasing the size of your business. Do you need to expand manufacturing? Does each sales opportunity have a service element that must be fulfilled? Will you need to offer post-sales support? Startups are often so focused on building that first product and making that first sale, they forget to build processes that will enable them to do it over and over again.

What is your pricing model?

This will help you determine whether you are selling a product with potential upsales or a subscription to an ongoing service with regular monthly or annual revenue and clealry defined resubscription milestones.

How will you distribute your product to customers?

Physical products need supply chains. Cloud services need storage and online support. Hybrid offerings may need both. You will need to know where your customers are and what challenges there may be in delivering a product or service to any specific geography.

These are just some of the questions that will impact how you build your product and ultimately how you develop your GTM plan.

Be customer obsessed

Being customer obsessed is about being curious, wanting to know your customer, then building products and messaging that finds them where they are. The process translates into a strong value proposition that will serve as the basis for your sales and marketing materials. The more effort you put in at the beginning, the better off you'll be in the long run.

You have done the hard work to identify your customers’ pain points. Now it’s time to articulate how your solution can help. Based on your research, you should let the customer dictate the terminology and language you use to define their problem. 

Understand the competitive landscape

It’s vital to communicate how your offering distinguishes itself from your competitors. Customers should quickly understand how your solution is different from the rest of the field. Your value proposition should be easy to articulate while at the same time establishing how your product is different from the rest of the field. Imagine explaining your solution to an elderly relative who isn’t very technical. Make sure your pitch is easy to remember and clearly communicates the benefits.

Get validation from your customers

Your customers are your best sounding board. Ask them for feedback: “Does this value proposition resonate with you?” Many startups find a cohort of early customers to validate their product, but fewer take the same level of care when developing their messaging.

Today’s buyer is better educated than ever before. Your customers will have researched you prior to taking a meeting so you need make sure your messaging works. Do your messages resonate with the persona of your target customer? You should tailor your messaging depending on whether you're talking to the:

  • Chief Marketing Officer 
  • Chief Technical Officer 
  • Chief Security Officer

Take the time to find out who is authorised to make the purchasing decision and make sure that your messaging addresses that role directly.

Set goals and allocate resources

I think all these goals should be clear and specific, realistic and measurable. They should also come with a timeline that makes sense. You might begin with a statement like, "By the end of this year, we will achieve X." That can help you think through your marketing goals. What do you need to do to achieve the targets you set for yourself? Knowing your customers and where they are will help you decide where to invest your marketing dollars. You might be selling into an industry that depends on key events. You will need to be at that event.

When you're thinking about marketing spend, it's imperative to consult with your sales team. Even when you're a small org and the CMO and CRO are the same person, you have to listen to the conversations with pipeline opportunities and use what you hear to refine your marketing focus.

Do not set your marketing strategy and forget it. Carry out periodic checks to ensure that you’re accomplishing what you need. I recommend establishing and working with a board of advisors. It's tempting to want to do everything by yourself, but building smart partnerships is key to growth.

Selecting a cloud provider

When it comes to selecting a cloud provider it’s not just about infrastructure and performance. Your provider should also provide value added services, and help you go to market. For instance, Microsoft can help you sell through three different channels.

  1. Direct to customers by publishing in our commercial marketplace with over four million monthly active users in 140 different countries
  2. Through our partner ecosystem connecting you to the licensed service providers and managed service providers that already sell Microsoft solutions
  3. Directly through our sellers into customers

Everyone dreams of success at scale. For many startups the path to success lies with product development, but the most successful startups understand that growth comes from achieving product market fit and matching that with great sales and marketing.

Conclusion

These steps are just the beginning when building a GTM strategy. For a more in-depth discussion on the topic, check out this full-length presentation from the Microsoft for Startups Latin American Founders Symposium.

Samantha Bowman is the Go-To-Market Programs Lead for Microsoft for Startups.

To learn more about Microsoft for Startup Founders Hub, currently available in limited preview, visit us here.