4 Steps for Building Go to Market Strategy for your Startup

Today, entrepreneurship calls to mind the image of a tech savvy twenty something working in his basement or college dorm room furiously coding the next big disruptive thing.  But the real story behind who is actually creating new businesses for themselves tells a different story.  One that suggests, for instance, that the average age of the entrepreneur is approximately 40.  Middle aged men and women who start companies based upon their experience and their desire to accelerate their earnings.  Businesses which span not only tech, a relatively small portion of small businesses in the United States , but touch just about every sector imaginable.  Regardless of industry that the startup is focused upon, or the age of the founder, success in any entrepreneurial effort is predicated on an intersection of two of three key factors.  (1) Product or service excellence (2) an existing network of potential clients/customers (i.e. the entrepreneur already has customers lined up) (3) a well developed and executed go to market strategy.

Building and executing a well organized and sustainable go to market strategy is perhaps the most difficult for the entrepreneur to master.  Not because the task is necessarily difficult or beyond their abilities but because the effort takes a tremendous amount of time.  Time that most entrepreneurs would rather spend improving their product or seeking new customers. A failure to master go to market strategy planning, however, is a common diagnosis for the terminally ill startup.

Consider this video clip of very successful technology startup investors Josh Kopelman and Chris Dixon offering up insight to a young hopeful entrepreneur.

The first question asked of the founder is “What does your company do?”, after the founder talks for a bit at 1:15 Kopelmen interjects with a very succinct and on target estimation of what he believes to be the answer.  Kopelmen next goes on to suggest that one of the issues the founder must address is determining the application for the product that his company has built.  It is a fascinating discussion and one that is very illustrative of the point of this post, marketing is perhaps the most critical element to the long term success for any entrepreneur.   If the product is great and you have earlier buyers, well that is a good start.  But long term sustainability demands strategy and focus.

The 4 steps to help entrepreneurs build go to market strategy

Identify the problem and solution
Assuming that the product or service is well defined and developed the first step in a go to market strategy for the entrepreneur must be to develop the story that quickly, easily and concisely communicates the value to the solution the product or service provides.  This is accomplished by painstakingly pouring over all the elements of the product to address two things.  (1) What is the problem that the product / service addresses and (2) what is the solution provided by the product or service.    While seemingly a simple task this can literally take days to refine.  But it is an exercise well worth the time because the result is not only the foundational message of the offering (what does your company do), but builds the foundation for being able to communicate this message.

Clearly define buyers:  Entrepreneurs are in business to be in business, and as such they seek to sell their product or service.  To do so they must know understand, with tremendous detail, exactly who their buyer is.  Another task that is seemingly simple, especially if they already have customers lined up, when properly executed the result will frequently identify not just a single buyer but a myriad of potential buyers who would pay for the proposed solution to the identified problem.   These identified would be buyers must be first prioritized and then summarized into a buying persona.   Personas are nothing new but far too few startups actually take time to create stereotypes of their buyers which will allow the startup to quickly identify them and to speak in the solution language that these buyers are predisposed to hear.

 Build the story of value:  Regardless of the product or service no one parts with their money unless they see value.  The entrepreneur must take time to develop not just a value proposition, a good practice to be sure, but create a story that paints a picture that naturally underscores exactly where this value lies.   Consider this piece from Salesforce.com that shows exactly the power of their social monitoring tools.  Notice that the buyer is clearly the customer service community and that the value inherent in the story is undeniable.

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