Ask many business professionals if they have a plan for bringing a product or service to market, chances are good they’ll reply, “Yes, we’ve spent considerable time developing our business plan, so we’re ready to go to market.”
Not so fast.
What’s happening here is not uncommon – many businesspeople confuse a business plan with a go-to-market strategy. The fact of the matter is they are actually two different but related things.
A business plan is a more comprehensive document, guiding you through each stage of starting and managing your business. A business plan acts as a roadmap for how to structure, run, and grow your new business. It’s a way to think through the key elements of your entire business.
Business plans can help you get funding, bring on new business partners, and guide your growth.
A go-to-market strategy is a more tactical document that focuses specifically on how you’re going to utilize inside and outside resources to reach and deliver unique value to customers and gain a competitive advantage.
Of course, go-to-market strategies will be different for different industries, markets, and organizations. Manufacturers and retailers have specific products for specific markets and demographics and a solid go-to-market strategy is crucial for successful product launches. But professional services firms need go-to-market strategies, too.
Go-to-market strategies are different for professional services
B2B services professionals, just because you’re not selling widgets doesn’t mean you don’t need a good go-to-market strategy. In fact, there can even be significant differences in your strategies because there are significant differences between and even within professional services – think of the difference between corporate law and divorce law.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at five key steps that will help you to develop an effective go-to-market strategy for a professional services firm:
- Define your target markets so that you know exactly who you will need to address
Yes, define your target markets first, before you finalize the services you’re going to offer. After all, shouldn’t you understand the market you’ll be addressing and what challenges it faces first so you can have a better idea of exactly what service or services you should be offering?
Market size, geographic location, and existing client base are all examples of important considerations for selecting markets. Secondary research on market size, growth and dynamics can also be very helpful.
- Profile your target client to better understand their challenges and determine what expertise you provide to overcome them
Now you can go ahead and dig a little deeper into your target market. Within any fairly broad market there can be a wide range of potential clients, all with slightly different needs. Which segment can you best serve with your firm’s particular expertise? What are the personal and professional characteristics of the ideal prospects? These are your target clients.
Keep in mind that not everyone within your target market is a prospect, even though they all may need your services. Instead, focus on the ones that are the best fit for your firm and your expertise. This will give you a competitive edge that will be hard for competitors to overcome.
- Position your brand in the marketplace as the best option for your target audience.
Strong brand positioning is the cornerstone of a good go-to-marketing strategy. It explains your brand and its uniqueness. It creates compelling reasons for buying and using your services. And you start by asking yourself the question “how do we want our firm to be seen compared to our competitors? Are we the innovator, thought leader, low price alternative? What exactly are we?”
Your specific brand positioning will determine your specific go-to-market strategy. Your strategy should align with the perception you’re trying to create. For example, if you’re going to sell low price, don’t try to tout superior client service.
- Define your service offerings in terms that address the unique needs of the niche market in which you’ve chosen to focus
NOW is the time to figure out exactly what services you’re going to offer. If you’ve done your homework as defined in the first three steps, the services you should be offering will now reveal themselves based on your newly-acquired understanding of your target market and prospects.
What services uniquely appeal to the niche you have decided to focus on? How do these offerings reinforce your brand positioning? For example, if you’re positioning yourself as innovative, are your services truly innovative? Really?
If you’re positioning yourself as a low-cost alternative, do you have high-value, low-cost services that are not available elsewhere within your market? Be advised – selling on price can be the kiss of death, relegating your firm to the lowest rung of the market ladder as the competition forces you to keep your margins razor thin, with little or no hope of being able to raise your prices.
- Develop an appropriate marketing strategy that speaks the language of your target market and client
Your marketing approach should align with your target clients’ preferences just as your service offerings should align with your brand positioning. At this point in your strategy development you should have a clear picture of your prospects’ “pains” – the issues affecting them that they need to address. These pains will inform your marketing campaign and messages so that your prospects will understand that you have the specific cure for what ails them. A marketing campaign that speaks their language and specifically addresses their pains will be far more effective in reaching and motivating them than a generic, me-too sales message.
The five steps we’ve outlined here are the keys to developing an efficient, effective go-to-market strategy for professional services. For any plan to be successful, though, it must be flexible and current. As your market, industry conditions, and business change, be ready and willing to revise your go-to-market strategy to meet any new challenges.
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