A go-to-market plan is a plan for the first 3-12 months of any new business or new product launch. Simply put, it’s the high level financial and business planning tool that keeps your eye on the things you need to do to successfully launch your new product or business.
It is not the “launch plan” that you see online consultants pitching you in Instagram. That is focused entirely on marketing and social media. While this is a component of a Go to Market (GTM), it’s only a fraction of the things you need to consider when launching a new product or a new business.
A GTM is used in the startup consulting world as a map of the high-level functions that each business must do to stay on track for their launch. Startups have “runways” – money over time that they must use to successfully create enough revenue to not crash and burn. Much like a plane needs enough runway (time) and acceleration (money) to get to the moment of lift, a startup needs enough funding, action and revenue to reach its moment of lift. If they do not, the business might crash and burn (much like a plane with a too-short runway.)
[Fun fact, a very large plane made a landing at a very small airport in Northern Michigan. Seems the pilot mis-took the 3,000-foot runway once designed for B52 bomber jets (still in use as a cargo jet retrofit facility) for a small private plane airport. They got on the ground – but the plane had to be DISASSEMBLED as they didn’t have enough runway to take off.]
Your business or product launch needs that same consideration across four key areas: Finance, Product, Personnel and Marketing.
What capital do you have devoted to your go-to-market launch? What do you need? Are you trying to sustain your business without revenue for a period of time? Or are you using your own cash to bootstrap an initiative, or have you taken a loan out?
Your financial runway is the amount of time you have to use your cash before you run out.
This is everything from R&D, design, programming, manufacturing, distribution channels that go into developing a product. If your product is physical, say, a sewing pattern, you will have initial design, prototype, testing, tweaking, pattern grading, packaging, printing and distribution to your retailers. If your product is virtual, say, a book or curriculum, or an online course, you also have course design, scripting, practice, testing, recording, post-recording finishing, uploading and distribution platform.
Who is helping you on your journey? Most of us require the use of help – whether it’s a virtual assistant, a part-time staffer, student intern, full time staff or even consultants – your team is involved here, and if you’re ramping up, who is on your team is crucial. Assembling a right-sized team and not getting distracted with new and shiny consultants is critical. We see a lot of clients make the mistake of having too many voices in their heads in the form of consultants. Pick someone you trust. Do your research, know what’s out there, but plan on staying the course. Too many entrepreneurs hire too quickly and lay off too slowly.
What most people think of when they think of a launch, the marketing launch is more than just the design, or social strategy you’ll need to launch your new product. It’s planning for customer discovery (do customers even WANT what we’re offering? What will they pay for it? What are they expecting from us?), it’s mapping out revenue opportunity over time, and it’s (eventually) planning social media, digital marketing and online strategy for that product launch.
Where you’re going to get stuck and how to get out of it:
If you’re the creative type:
Where some startups and new-product-launches get stuck is invariably focusing on the external launch of the product, not all of the setup that finance, personnel, product that needs to happen. Many entrepreneurs who come from a creative world (writing, design, advertising, sales) they focus too much on what they THINK the customer wants, how to package it up and make it pretty. For sure their consultants are interested in this too. To keep yourself grounded, be sure you ASK customers what they want from the product, work diligently through the finance, product phases before you embark on what it’s going to look like. To satisfy your creative urges in the mean time, sketch or envision your product in your head or on paper so you can map out the future while keeping a reign in on the present tasks.
If you’re the process type:
Some entrepreneurs get mired deep in product, wanting to make it ever more perfect. Work towards your minimum viable product based entirely on customer discovery. If your customer wants X and you deliver Y, no matter how good Y is, they may not buy it or upgrade to it. If you spend time developing the perfect product, other companies are going to have a first-move advantage in market share if they launch theirs first. Don’t launch a bad product, but DO launch a good product that has room to grow and expand. If you can trim down the offerings to launch it in phases (for instance, size ranges or product add-ons) you can gauge how well the product is doing before investing an outsize amount of time (or money) to do it.
If you’re the numbers/logic type:
You’re going to beat that spreadsheet to death! Don’t do that! Plan out a reasonable financial scenario, with a bit of cushion and expect that the numbers will fall one side to the other (often in the same launch.) Have an exit strategy / point if the numbers do not pan out when you think they will – but be sure you’ve devoted the right energy to customer discovery, product development, marketing as well. Numbers are often rooted in what we learn from customers (product price point, product features and specifications) so spending time mapping out the product roadmap is key for logical thinkers. You will have a much more solid basis in reality for the numbers if you do this.
Map it all out in a spreadsheet
We used this GTM spreadsheet for a 4-month startup coaching camp in an emerging market economy in Eastern Europe. It was so successful, the project director sent it out to all of the other 17 teams in the mentoring group so they could do their own. And the teams, with some varying degrees of effort, used these to map out their own high-level plans.
The plan is mapped out in weeks, and you set a high level goal for each week that you must accomplish to move ahead. Goals can be tied to others (e.g. you have to have customer discovery before you develop product features.)
As you build each one of these week by week plans, think about the capacity you (and your team) have to meet these goals. If you’re using someone else’s money (a loan, seed money, grant money) to fund this, take a careful look at how long your runway is and provide a conservative map of how you can manage that.
Develop a way to be accountable
If it’s telling your spouse, a friend or employees you expect to have X done in Y timeframe, you’ll be much more likely to be accountable to your work. In startup coaching, each team has to make progress on their GTM each week in order to continue being funded after the programs are done. If they have a hiccup due to market factors or something unseen (like COVID), they can still get back on track with a product pivot. But if they don’t put in the work in critical areas like customer discovery or financial planning, they could develop products that no one needs at price points they don’t want to buy them at.
If you’re working with a startup coach, mentor, or a mastermind group, you can be accountable to your groups to get these things done. Trusted advisors, board members also are people to be accountable to.
A go to market plan is a crucial step in the process of launching a new product – or a new business.