Market Research

Is There a Right Time to Design Your Go-to-Market Strategy?

September 6, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is OpenView founder Scott Maxwell’s fourth post in a multi-part series about go-to-market strategy design. Read his previous posts to learn the key to market claritywhy focus is everything, and how you can apply the tools of design to your market strategy.

If you think about the best strategies — the ones that have allowed nations to win wars, small businesses to develop into multi-billion dollar corporations, and sports teams to win elusive championships — you will realize that those strategies were never static. Instead, they were highly adaptable, evolving over time to adjust to changing circumstances, capabilities, and objectives.

For example, the strategy that George Washington deployed to help the United States win the American Revolution was very obviously different than the one that George Patton used in World War II. And why wouldn’t it be? Our country was facing a very different enemy in a very different geography, and the resources that Patton had at his disposal were far superior. Failing to adjust battle strategy for those changes would have been pure lunacy.

In business, go-to-market strategy is no different.

As a company grows — moving from the startup to the expansion stage (and then, hopefully, into a big corporation) — its environment invariably changes, too. It begins to attack new markets. It faces new competitors. It adapts its product to meet changing customer needs. And its access to certain resources expands. As a result, the business’s strategy must adapt to those developments, as well.

So, when entrepreneurs ask me when they should begin thinking about designing and executing a go-to-market strategy, my answer is simple: Why haven’t you been doing that all along?

Timing is Everything: Why It’s Never Too Early to Begin Strategizing

While it is true that formal go-to-market strategy development in the startup phase can be difficult because of that stage’s unpredictable and iterative nature, that doesn’t mean that having a strategy of some kind is unnecessary or impossible.

In fact, the reality is that every company — regardless of size, stage, or structure — must develop a go-to-market strategy that dictates how, when, and why it does things. The sophistication of that strategy will simply evolve over time.

For instance, if you are an early-stage company, your strategy might simply be to tease out from the market which sales and marketing tactics work, and which broad pain points matter most to your buyers. If you are an expansion-stage company, on the other hand, your strategy may require more sophistication — for example, pinpointing more specific customer segments to focus on, the buyers and their buying journey, and who influences on buyer behavior then optimizing your sales and marketing practices to dominate them. And if you are a behemoth corporation, your strategy might revolve around the actions that need to be taken to kill off or purchase new entrants in your markets.

Regardless of where your business falls on that spectrum, however, go-to-market strategy is critical. Without a plan that defines the goals you want to accomplish and how you plan to accomplish those goals, it’s going to be very difficult to drive fast, efficient growth.

When Should an Expansion-Stage Business Re-Evaluate its Go-to-Market Strategy?

Going back to the argument that strategy is, by nature, metamorphic, it is important that expansion-stage companies understand when they should begin re-evaluating and restructuring their go-to-market strategies to adjust to evolving goals and market conditions.

In my experience, there are three standard factors that should prompt growing companies to start that process:

  1. When the business has a well-developed product and wants to begin dominating a specific market niche.
  2. When you are able to identify a large enough pool of buyers within that niche to sell your product to.
  3. When you want to increase your growth in a more organized, predictable, and scalable fashion.

If your business has reached any — or all — of those milestones, it is probably time to consider re-evaluating your strategy and tactics to accommodate those new objectives.

If you don’t reconsider your go-to-market strategy periodically, you will lose your competitive advantage (if you had one in the first place). And that certainly won’t help you win much of anything.

Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.