Successfully launching a product is hard. As research from Nielsen indicates, roughly 80%-85% of new products fail, and even for products that end up being successful, the margin between failure and success is paper-thin.
What often makes the difference, as companies with the best performing products have come to find, is having a defined go-to-market strategy. With a thoughtful and comprehensive go-to-market plan, companies are able to objectively examine their product-market fit and identify the best routes for pushing their product from new entrant to market staple.
Overcoming the challenges when introducing a new product or service into the market can prove insurmountable. The good news is we can learn from other companies that faced similar obstacles and succeeded.
Who are these companies? why did they succeed? and what was special about their go-to-market strategies? How has this produced a significant impact in terms of their results and market share in their industries today?
Components of Viable Go-To-Market Strategies
To properly understand why certain strategies prove remarkable or effective, it is important to first identify what a viable go-to-market (GTM) plan looks like.
A GTM plan is essentially a step-by-step plan that details how a company intends to bring its product to market. The purpose of the plan is directed towards achieving strategic alignment between the solution the company is offering and the market it intends to convert.
While each GTM plan will vary depending on the specific product the company wishes to launch, there are specific components every plan should have. Stefan Groschupf, the current CEO of SalesHero and founder of Datameer, boils these down to four key points:
- Product-market fit: What problem(s) does your product solve, and how?
- Target audience: Who are those experiencing this problem? What are their specific pain points and how do you make these go away? How much will they pay for a solution?
- Competition and demand: Is there a sufficient addressable market for the product? Who else is offering solutions in that space and what are you doing differently?
- Distribution: How do you intend to market, sell, and make money from your product?
Notably, these four key points address every critical juncture of a product launch, from origination to final sale.
To be clear, a GTM strategy is not exclusive to just physical products. It has proven valuable for launching a new service, an entirely new business, or even a new branch of an existing company. Therefore, please note that every reference to the term “product” in this article includes these other uses as well.
With that said, let us dive into our examination of GTM strategies that achieved these critical components and found significant market success.
The 6 Best Go-To-Market Strategies I've Ever Seen
Companies can always draw inspiration from what their peers have done in successfully taking a product from ideation to market. One preliminary observation that will quickly become apparent from the discussion that follows is that the companies with the most successful products identified a central anchor of their GTM strategy and focused on this. These are the 6 best go-to-market strategy examples I've ever seen.
Double Down on Customer Experience
When Stewart Butterfield and his team hit upon the idea to share their revolutionary internal communications platform with the world, they knew they had something big. The problem for them, however, was how to translate the superior benefits of a convenient, always-available communication system to email-weary users.
The solution? To strategically position themselves as the go-to for a simple, integrated, team communication tool that does away with confusing email threads. And so “the email killer” was born.
They identified that internal communication was a huge problem for many companies, even if they didn’t know it. Although email was the most common means of team engagement, it quickly became a problem for growing teams. As a result, the company focused on selling Slack as a fun, easy-to-use, highly convenient solution that keeps communication straightforward.
As Butterfield shared in a memo to his team just before their official product launch, “People buy “software” to address a need they already know they have or perform some specific task they need to perform. However, if we are selling “a reduction in the cost of communication” or “zero effort knowledge management” or “making better decisions, faster” or “all your team communication, instantly searchable, available wherever you go” or “75% less email” or some other valuable result of adopting Slack, we will find many more buyers.”
Over the years, the company has continually doubled down on customer experience and referrals, including by creating a Customer Development Team that listens to users and implements solutions accordingly. The results have been fantastic so far, including a meteoric rise in value from $0 to $4 billion in just four years, 3.5x growth in daily active users over a single year without a marketing team, and an eventual sale to Salesforce for $27 billion.
Focus on Community Impact
Huawei faced several challenges when it first began to plot its entry into the Indian market. For one, being a Chinese brand, Huawei already faced an uphill battle in marketing its products in India due to the historically frosty relations between China and India. In addition, the perception within the country of Chinese mobile phone brands as low-quality, dirt-cheap devices that only catered to the lower spectrum of the market limited the size of its addressable market.
Therefore, Huawei needed a product strategy that would not only help their products appeal to a wider class of customers, but also conquer the negative associations with China.
They chose to navigate these challenges by implementing a GTM strategy that focused on changing the perception of their products from the roots. They began by building local R&D centers in India and hired locals in a prominent recruitment drive that showcased their commitment to the local community. They also contributed to the “Make in India” initiative, a manufacturing/focused drive to add more industrial capabilities to the Indian economy.
Huawei also partnered with a leading local television channel to sponsor a competition where the company’s products were established as aspirational. With high-end specifications and a price point to boot, the company established marquee products that could compete favorably with Samsung and Apple in the mid to high-end market.
While pursuing a broader market base, they were also careful not to leave the low-end market behind. The company established the “Honor” brand to provide competition to other companies in the mid to low-end sector, including Xiaomi Redmi and OnePlus. And the market opportunity is huge, seeing as India is the second-largest phone subscriber market in the world, second only to China.
Over time, these strategies helped the company change the perception of its products. Now, India has become Huawei’s largest research base outside China and its R&D investments in the country keep accelerating. The company reported 60% growth in its India business within the first quarter of 2017, well over the global average of 43%. The Honor brand alone enjoyed sales growth of 500% over the course of 2018.
Lead with your Superiority
Apple has been one of the biggest names in tech for a long time now, and a key part of that dominance is down to the core GTM strategy of the company. Put simply, Apple does not sell phones, laptops, watches, or tablet computers - it sells a lifestyle, and the company goes to great lengths to ensure its customers know this.
Apple styles itself as a company that operates on the cutting edge of technological advancement. The company messaging revolves around the innovation and intelligence in its solutions, as well as the exclusivity that customers get when they purchase Apple products. This is central to its GTM strategy.
While, traditionally, companies communicate what they do, how they do it, and then why, Apple flips this instead and starts with their “Why”. They use a system called “The Golden Circle” to powerfully establish their purpose as a company, how they do this by making products that are on the cutting edge of available technology, and then drilling down into the specific product they intend to push.
Here’s an example of this strategy in play during the launch of Apple’s iPhone in 2008: “As the mobile phone industry struggles to come to grips with Apple's iPhone, the biggest mistake it could make is to see the device purely as a phone.” As the Guardian reports, “Apple “articulated a persuasive vision of the iPhone as a 'platform' — i.e. a general-purpose computing and communication device.” “The key feature of the Apple device is that it is a powerful handheld computer which runs Unix and has a nice user interface — and which also happens to make voice calls. Of these properties, the last is the least interesting.”
The result of this strategy has been an almost fanatical engagement with the company’s products. Right at the start, Apple immediately cornered 28% of the US smartphone market and that number has grown to approximately 46% today.
The company complements its unique messaging with a mix of direct to consumer (DTC) and third party channel distribution, allowing Apple to exercise significant control over their customers’ buying experience.
Sell a Vision
Although Tesla didn’t build the first electric car or the first functional battery in the industry, the company is today seen as a trailblazer in electric automobiles. Again, as with the other companies discussed here, Tesla’s rise to the top of the US car market was largely due to its remarkable GTM strategy.
When the company was first launched, they were aiming to build from the ashes of General Motors’ EV 1, the world’s first (nearly) viable electric car. Their initial vision was to show the world that it could build an electric car that was not only equal to gasoline-fueled vehicles in terms of utility, but also superior in performance.
But, where you would expect the company to concentrate on starting small with a market-ready prototype that can quickly achieve mainstream adoption, Tesla flipped the script instead. Tesla focused on four major aspects in its GTM strategy:
- Target affluent buyers right off the bat. This elevated their car to a position of exclusivity, and also freed the company to produce its absolute best from the start. The company’s first vehicle, the Roadster, cost $109,000.
- Create a spectacularly unique experience for buyers, from how they order their vehicles, to customizations, over-the-top upgrades, fully digital controls, performance, and more.
- Adopt a DTC sales strategy, allowing them absolute control over the buyer experience and also removing the cost of middlemen dealers, thereby allowing them to provide their vehicles at a relatively lower cost.
- Vertical integration, including taking control over the production of its batteries, electric powertrain components, automation technology, and more. Compared to the company’s direct rivals which must outsource up to 80% of their manufacturing, this presents significant advantages in terms of innovation and economies of scale.
Today, Tesla has become an automotive powerhouse. In January 2020, the company made history when it became the most valuable American automaker ever with a market capitalization of $86.5 billion. That same year, the company’s valuation rose to $442.7 billion, more than the size of several rivals, including General Motors, BMW, Toyota, and Ford.
Show People Why They Need You
TaxJar provides tax management software to businesses and organizations. When the company first launched, the goal was to position itself as a technology company that provides tax solutions anyone can use. But it faced two significant challenges. First, tax is a notoriously opaque topic that most business owners would rather avoid. Second, and as a result of this, they were more likely to outsource their tax management, even for tasks that could be conducted in-house, such as sales tax tracking.
In plotting its entry into the market, the company found that most of the available content on taxation was boring and difficult to understand. So they set out their product strategy based on a simple plan- to support their prospects with valuable, engaging, readable information about tax and then convert them.
The company started with content about sales tax, and this was met with a highly positive reaction from its prospects. As more business owners started to find the content useful, the company was able to build authority and trust, allowing them to move prospects into the buying stage.
They didn’t stop at the content they provided though. They ensured that their tax solutions were molded in the same engaging, simple manner, thereby ensuring a consistent experience for users across the board. Today, TaxJar has been rewarded for its approach, with more than 20,000 businesses and developers actively using its platform.
Pivot to Meet the Market
Sometimes, a company’s initial GTM strategy may not work. You may target the wrong market, incorporate unnecessary features, or entirely miss with your sales strategy. But what do you do when you discover your GTM strategy may not have been the best fit? You can pivot to meet the market, as Socrata did.
Socrata was initially established as a data aggregation platform where anyone could capture and present data in an engaging manner. However, the company soon discovered that its platform was gaining traction amongst governments as a reliable open data platform.
To capture this unintentional market, the company quickly redesigned its product to incorporate more features that specifically cater to governments and their agencies, including security and availability. They focused their marketing and reoriented their GTM strategies around this new market. The result? Today, Socrata has a towering reputation as a global leader in cloud-based solutions for data-centered governments.
GTM Strategy Through Value Proposition?
As these GTM strategies show, there is no single plan that guarantees the success of a new product or service. Successful strategies are often as varied in their content as they are in the products they successfully pushed to market. But what they all have in common is that they identified specific value propositions that underlay the products they wanted to push, and then built plans that supported and enhanced those propositions.