3 success factors to operationalize your Go-to-Market strategy
After your Go-to-Market (GtM) strategy is designed and the planning is complete, it is time to move into execution. Implementation is when a strategy finally impacts the bottom line, which is why it is so vital to get the implementation right. Because Go-to-Market strategies are among the more transformational and comprehensive changes at a company, their execution is more complex, nuanced, and impactful, further increasing the stakes in implementation.
There are three major questions to answer when implementing a commercialization strategy: What is the governance? What is the rhythm? When do you scale? When companies answer these questions well, their GtM implementations are more successful. When they pass over these questions or answer them inadequately, their GtM implementations are more likely to fail.
Governance & accountability
What is the governance and accountability? Who is in charge? What is the division of labor? Who holds what decision rights (e.g., decide, influence, escalate)? Passing over these questions or not answering them satisfactorily are two major reasons most Go-to-Market implementations fail.
These are not difficult questions to answer, but they are easy to pass over. In our experience, sometimes the executive sponsor of commercialization effort does not clarify its governance because he / she assumes the effort will govern itself. Other times, we have seen executives develop a very clear idea of governance and accountability but not communicate it clearly or document it for future reference.
Governance is important because it enables momentum, and the lack of governance inhibits momentum. Without a clear division of labor for decisions and actions, gaps and overlaps are created. With a gap, no one does the work, halting progress. With an overlap, multiple people think they should do the work, halting progress while governance is sorted out.
Accountability is equally important, because work without deadlines and consequences is de-prioritized behind work with deadlines and consequences. We have seen Go-to-Market implementations grind to a halt and fail to achieve the CEO’s objectives because everyone was excited to add to the offering and to grow into new channels, but no one had a deadline, promotion, or incentive dependent on adding to the offering or growing into new channels. Everyone had deadlines, promotions, and incentives dependent on other work, so that other work was completed on time and to standard while the commercialization work was de-prioritized.
When do you scale? There are two broad options: launch-and-learn or test-and-scale. In a launch-and-learn model, scaling happens first as the commercialization comes online across the enterprise at once. Learning then occurs after rollout and across the enterprise. This type of GtM implementation makes sense in a low-risk, high-resilience situation.
In a test-and-scale model, the innovations come online in pockets and pilots. Pilot learnings inspire changes to the plan, and the finalized plan is rolled out in waves. The test-and-scale model makes sense for implementing a commercialization strategy when external and internal resilience is low. It also makes sense when resilience is high but risk is also high.
Figure 1: How and when to scale a Go-to-Market implementation
Risk – The two types of risk are external / strategic and internal / operational. Both types of risk are generally higher where there is more ambiguity, and hence a wider scope for, and magnitude of, error. Strategic risk looks at the response from external actors such as customers and channel partners. Launching a new product category to meet an unrealized demand carries more strategic ambiguity than launching the nth flavor decades into the life of an established popular brand.
Operational risk looks at the response from internal actors such as departments, staff, and infrastructure. Transformational Go-to-Market implementations, e.g., IoT at a manufacturer, carry greater operational risk, because they are changing behaviors, incentives, processes, and capabilities. On the other hand, commercializing next year’s model, which has minimal updates from last year’s model, carries less operational risk, because the scope for, and magnitude of, error is lower.
Resilience – Resilience refers to the ability to bounce back after internal or external risks materialize. In our example above, a manufacturer was launching a new product category to meet an unrealized demand. External resilience is determined by the response from customers, investors, vendors, partners, etc. If the rollout and performance did not go according to plan, can the brand bounce back in the eyes of customers? Can the stock bounce back in the eyes of investors? Can the company bounce back in the eyes of vendors, labor markets, innovation partners, and other stakeholders?
Internal resilience depends on an organization’s culture. Will the organization accept a failure, so long as the learnings are internalized? Or will failure lower the organization’s assessment of management and diminish its appetite for future innovations and change? In a high-resilience organization, failures do less damage, because the chatter around the water cooler focuses on what was learned from the failure and how things will be done differently next time. In a low-resilience organization, failures do more damage, because the chatter around the water cooler focuses on how the firm does not need to innovate or change, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In either scaling framework, what is the cadence of activities over the course of the implementation? We have used the following 4-step process successfully in past commercialization engagements.
1) Act on the plan
2) Measure the actions’ results
3) Share and discuss the results
4) Adjust the plan
Take a sports analogy for illustration. In American football, the coach decides to run an option. First, implementation begins with the snap, i.e., act on the plan. Second, the team looks at the scoreboard and the chains to see how many yards they earned, i.e., measure the action’s results. Third, the team huddles to celebrate earning more years than they expected, i.e., share and discuss the results. Finally, the coach decides to run the option again, but going left instead of going right, i.e., adjust the plan.
This 4-step process works at varying magnitudes: from the overall strategic initiative to a single sales script or marketing email. Depending on the situation, steps will overlap, steps can be sequenced differently, and steps can be bypassed. There are other processes, and there are many variations to this process, but this one is simple and effective.
Successful Go-to-Market implementations have three characteristics in common: clear governance & accountability, an appropriate scaling model, and a rhythm that fits the situation. Unsuccessful commercialization efforts have three things in common: unclear governance & accountability, an inappropriate scaling model, and a rhythm that doesn’t fit the situation.