Looking to update or build a new go-to-market strategy? Often, business leaders approach strategic planning as a brainstorming process based upon a review of historical performance data combined with their best guesses about the future. Unfortunately, this process skips the important steps of researching the market to form a knowledge base for the strategy. Here are steps you can take to ensure your next go-to-market strategy will be built upon a solid foundation and will deliver the results you hope to achieve.
Understanding the Market
Keeping your finger on the pulse of the market is critical to establishing and managing your go-to-market strategy. The market includes the industry as a whole and your competitors. I find that business leaders often have a good grasp of the industry in which they operate and can name their primary competitors. However, they often don’t take the time to monitor industry trends and incorporate them into the execution of their strategic plans. Nor do they have a good understanding of how to clearly differentiate themselves from the competition.
Tracking the Industry
Membership in industry associations is an effective way to stay abreast of key trends, future industry projections, changing government regulations, and forthcoming legislation that may have an impact on your business. These associations are well worth the annual fees required to access the information they gather and share with members.
Business publications are also good sources of industry information. Subscribe to blogs, newsletters, newspapers, or magazines that offer information relevant to your business. And don’t forget to meet regularly with business partners such as suppliers and distributors who can offer insights and perspectives that are different from yours.
Monitoring your competitors is essential work for every business. While knowing what products and services they offer (with at least an idea of the pricing they charge) is a given, understanding how they position themselves in the marketplace is the real key to competitive intelligence. Your company needs to be able to stand out from the crowd, to demonstrate to customers how you solve their problem better than any available alternative. Track your competitors by visiting their websites and social media channels, reading their blogs, and watching for traditional media coverage of their activities. Suppliers and distributors can also provide information that may not be publicly available.
Both tracking the industry and gathering competitive intelligence should be ongoing activities. I recommend assigning responsibility for these tasks to specific individuals within the organization who will maintain up-to-date documentation that can be reported and accessed regularly.
The Voice of the Customer
I can’t stress strongly enough the importance of the customer’s voice in building a successful go-to-market strategy. Decisions about product or service offering, pricing, distribution channels, and promotional tactics are far too often dictated by what’s most operationally expedient for the company rather than what will best meet the customer’s need. Genuinely understanding your customers is the best way to ensure you design a strategy to deliver true customer value and meet your strategic goals.
To build an in-depth understanding of why your customer buys from you, how you can retain their business, and how you can successfully find more customers, I recommend hiring an experienced third party to conduct a customer study. By using qualitative methods, such as individual interviews or focus groups, the researcher will use open-ended questions to explore a wide range of topics with your customers. More importantly, qualitative methods allow the researcher to ask follow-up questions and find the answers to why customers behave the way they do. The responses will reveal rich insights to inform your strategy. I recommend conducting a qualitative customer study every 3-5 years and supporting it with annual quantitative studies, such as customer surveys, in intervening years to ensure you maintain a customer focus.
Researching the market requires an investment of both time and money. And it requires discipline to conduct it on a regular basis. But without this investment, business leaders create wishful plans rather than informed go-to-market strategies that will deliver results.
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