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Go-to-market is a process that includes both strategic and tactical aspects of effective marketing to create a strategy for delivering and supporting a product or service to the marketplace. Preparation for the air vacation is actually the beginning of the trip, because when you start planning, it gives you a thrill of anticipation. Nokia and Samsung are archetypes of today’s turbulent marketplace—not just in mobile phones.
All this research pointed to the same conclusion: A robust, integrated go-to-market system is one central difference today between companies that succeed and companies that fail, between those that grow and those that scramble merely to stay in place.
The companies that have sustained their performance over 10 years—that 9 percent—manage to grow despite any turbulence. The link between advocacy and growth is apparent in the other direction as well: The loyalty leader in nearly every industry grows at a rate greater than twice the industry average. Our research and experience have turned up remarkable similarities in the go-to-market systems that produce sustainable, profitable growth. Leaders monitor competitors closely and connect their findings with what they learn from their own customers.
All this input enables Intuit to pursue—and prioritize— continuous improvements in product development, sales, marketing, pricing and distribution. A company with a strong go-to-market system can treat potentially disruptive technologies such as social media as opportunities rather than as threats. The steady flow of feedback also helps the high performers adapt their go-to-market system to accommodate industry disruptions, competitor acquisitions and their own moves into adjacent markets. Selling organizations often stumble as they try to reach diffuse, ill-defined customer segments through channels that are poorly suited to the job. One company that has successfully integrated its go-to-market system in this manner is Scania, the Sweden-based truck manufacturer. Frontline employees are central to every high-performing go-to-market system, the linchpin that makes it all work. These three principles—Stay in Sync, Focus on a Few and Tie It All Together—are easy to articulate but tough to get right.
An integrated go-to-market system comprises dozens of capabilities that, together, build a bridge between a company’s strategy and the exceptional customer experiences that are the ultimate driver of customer advocacy and loyalty. Any top-performing go-to-market system depends on the engagement and passion of frontline employees, which should be ground in their full understanding of your strategy.
Does your front line know which target customers and sales opportunities to pursue and which ones they shouldn’t waste their time on? Does your front line consistently and effectively position your company’s value proposition against competitors, based on the most recent competitive intelligence? Can you identify the interactions between frontline employees and customers that have the greatest impact on customer advocacy?
Do you have closed-loop learning processes in place to get customer feedback to your front line within 24 to 48 hours?
Leading banks are taking a "mobile first" approach, shifting routine transactions from branches to digital self-service tools. A look at the challenges private equity investors face following a decade of volatility and change, and what it will take to succeed in 2016. Addressing a few key questions will change your perspective and raise your odds of success.
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In the following Go-To-Market Checklist you can find out what steps to take to deploy your brand on a new market. Consumers and businesspeople alike were growing increasingly dependent on the useful little devices. Suddenly the old phones—no touchscreen, no built-in music player, no easy-to-use ecosystem of apps and services—seemed like grainy black-and-white TVs up against a sleek color model. It plunged into smartphones, harnessing a market-sensing and development system that quickly turned out innovative devices. Conventional explanations—better technology, deeper pockets, better-known brands—aren’t sufficient.
To test our observations, we surveyed 225 marketing and sales executives in some 60 different companies, including leaders and laggards in both B2B and B2C markets. In the rest of this article, we will describe the essential elements of this system and show how companies create and reinforce these elements. If you study this group closely, you learn an interesting fact: Nearly all of them have a different relationship with their customers. It is the missing link between a company’s strategy—its decisions about where to compete and how to win—and the exceptional customer experiences that are the ultimate path to success.
Companies with world-class capabilities in this area almost always adhere to just three fundamental principles, which we think of as Stay in Sync, Focus on a Few and Tie It All Together.
A world-class go-to-market system helps a company synchronize its operations with the ever-changing marketplace, enabling it to make good, quick decisions about issues like these. For instance, it incorporated a live support community in its popular TurboTax program and streamlined Quicken’s user interface. JetBlue Airways, for instance, actively monitors chatter on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Hess Corporation, a global energy company that began in oil, recognized the need to expand beyond its core business over time. One is the ability to design crystal-clear requirements for product and service offerings geared precisely for target customers. Now one of the world’s largest investment management firms, Vanguard has built its entire business on a few highly differentiated capabilities. A clear understanding of target-customer needs helps go-to-market leaders organize their sales resources and select the channel mix best suited to reach these customers. To an extent unmatched by the competition, it puts the customer experience at the heart of its strategy, from product design to the aftermarket value chain. The front line represents a company’s value proposition and brand promise in the eyes of the customer.


1 factor separating leaders from laggards— which means, in effect, that if you don’t get the frontline part right, you are failing to get the system right. For example, the design capabilities of a top performer like Intuit, the financial software company, range from customer segmentation and intelligence to the definition of the company’s sales and support model. Ask yourself these questions to determine whether your system is hitting on all cylinders, needs a quick tune-up or is due for an overhaul. Increase productivity of your small business or office by better organizing your employees' tasks and time. Two of the business’s stars were industry leader Nokia, with 35 percent market share, and up-and-comer Samsung, with 12 percent. It was one of the first to adopt Google’s Android operating system, an effective rival to Apple’s technology. But these functions at many companies are like fiefdoms, isolated from changes in the marketplace, from their own company’s strategic priorities, even from each other.
It is based on a handful of key capabilities, each one world-class and superior to competitors. We conducted in-depth analyses of 50 other companies in businesses ranging from IT services and pharmaceuticals to insurance and retail. We will also offer a list of diagnostic questions about your front line—questions that will enable you to determine whether your go-to-market system is in need of a tune-up or a complete overhaul. A Bain survey of 2,300 global companies revealed that the typical management team promises to increase revenue at twice the market average and earnings at four times the market. They blur competitive boundaries, undermine established business models and shorten product lifecycles. Far more than other companies, their customers are loyal, passionate advocates—the kind of buyer who loves doing business with a company.
A company that masters the art of delivering exceptional customer experiences earns loyalty and advocacy among its customer base. Such a system enables a company to identify attractive target customers and design value propositions tailored to those customers’ needs and to the company’s strengths. In Bain & Company’s survey, executives from high-performing companies were far likelier than those from lagging companies to cite their organization’s ability to adapt to changing market conditions and strategic priorities as a distinct competitive advantage (see Figure 1). The financial software company Intuit, for example, gathers Net Promoter data from a sample of its customers after every interaction with the company. It learned that it had to work more closely with retailers and so created category captains to help retailers understand how to sell each kind of product. During the “Snowmageddon” of December 2010, the airline’s real-time Twitter service recovery force effectively converted stranded passengers from detractors to promoters by quickly rebooking them on new flights—and the efforts were witnessed by JetBlue’s 1.6 million Twitter followers.
Serving commercial and industrial customers, the company’s Energy Marketing business unit first focused its efforts on gas, achieving leading positions in many markets. That includes delivering what the customers want and nothing more that could distract from the value.
Its target customers are investors who value low-cost investment vehicles and who want to remain with one investment company for an extended period of time.
Since these leaders anticipate customer needs better than rivals, they can deploy their sales resources to the highest-value areas within each customer segment, selling channel and geography. Leaders foster integration and clear decision making throughout the organization and across all channels. It communicates directly with truck drivers, commits to resolving easy-to-fix problems within days and uses the full range of feedback channels from drivers and other end users in its product development processes. Think of the friendly, helpful staff in a Four Seasons hotel, the legendary account executives at IBM or the genial flight attendants and gate personnel who work for Southwest Airlines. A company that fails to create an effective go-to-market system is likely to wind up like Nokia in 2007, struggling mightily to confront a challenge it hadn’t adequately anticipated. Its delivery capabilities run the gamut from product and service management to post-sales support.
Though it introduced new smartphones based on a proprietary operating system and pursued partnerships with companies such as Universal Music Group, its moves were insufficient and too late: By the end of 2010, its share of the overall wireless handset market had fallen some six percentage points.
A strategic move, such as an acquisition or expansion into a new market, can backfire with little warning.
The real difference is that nearly all the successful companies, the ones that have moved quickly and nimbly to adapt to the new environment, have created distinctive go-to-market systems.
Above all, it is integrated, with seamless coordination between design and delivery functions. We also interviewed dozens of our own partners to determine whether our findings rang true in markets around the globe. Loyal customers, in turn, buy more products, stick around longer, cost less to serve and sing the company’s praises to friends and colleagues. It also enables the company to deliver these offerings to the marketplace and to continually refine them based on fast, accurate customer feedback (see below “Design and deliver”).
Every company today must respond rapidly to whatever turbulence is roiling its industry, and it must make good decisions about the inevitable trade-offs. It has created an Inner Circle of 6,000 users to generate and rank-order suggestions for improvement. The result: annual revenue growth averaging 13 percent over the past 10 years, fueled partly by a massive share gain in the retail channel (50 percent to 90 percent for TurboTax alone). JetBlue estimates that service recovery over Twitter is more productive than recovery delivered over other channels and that it can handle five customer-related tweets for every one call handled through a call center. The team then began expanding into a third commodity, electric power, as the regulatory environment allowed— for example, moving into Pennsylvania following that state’s 2009 deregulation of the electricity market. Leaders of high-performing businesses understand that, like championship sports franchises, the best teams don’t necessarily have stars at every position.
When the environment is changing rapidly, marketers face the temptation to play it safe, to develop products and services that try to be all things to all people.
Its products—including both index and actively managed funds—carry expense ratios that are a fraction of industry averages. Pharmaceutical manufacturer AstraZeneca, for example, used its superior market-intelligence capabilities to develop a new Internet-based sales portal called AZ Touchpoints.


Many companies fail to deliver their value propositions effectively across multiple channels.
On the shop floor, cross-functional collaboration and working groups help employees understand the value of their delivery to the next stage in the work flow, shortening time to market for new products and services. It’s the commitment and enthusiasm of those individuals that help these companies realize their goal of providing a great customer experience.
People accustomed to the cloistered confines of their own silo may find it hard to break down the walls and let in the sunlight of cross-functional collaboration. Only recently have new CEO Stephen Elop and his team begun positioning the company for renewed growth.
It also anticipated the market-share battles to come, moving quickly to provide carriers with the products they needed and expanding its distribution channels.
Many companies in this unpredictable world have wound up like the Nokia of a few years ago, unable to maintain momentum as the ground shifted under their feet.
They have built adaptability and repeatability into the neural wiring of their daily operations.
There’s a disconnect between what the sales channel understands and what it is asked to sell. The litmus test for all these traits—the linchpin that makes it all work in front of the customer—is a front line that deeply understands the strategy, executes it flawlessly and brings passion and excitement to the task.
Just 9 percent of these companies actually averaged annual revenue and profit growth of at least 5.5 percent (while earning their cost of capital) over the 11-year period from 2000 to 2010.
The average Net Promoter® score of the growers is 30, compared with just 13 for other companies. It actively solicits B2B customer feedback through online forums, surveys and beta testing.
Energy marketing revenues have grown 9.5 percent yearly since 2004, with annual margin growth of 15 percent in an industry where annual demand growth was only around 2 percent during that period.
So they pursue world-class performance only in the handful of capabilities that are most critical to success.
Vanguard provides highly responsive service to its customers, and it structures both its product line and its pricing policies to reward long-term relationships.
Sales reps can now dedicate more time to building relationships with physicians, using data gathered at touchpoints to inform their sales approaches. Their sales and marketing efforts wind up trapped in silos or stymied by slow decision making. Internal rules of conduct, codified in a document titled “How Scania is Managed” and embraced by managers, line employees and Scania affiliates, describe the decision-making structure and key processes that govern the company.
Intuit asks employees to spend 10 percent of their time in unstructured activities to improve the customer experience, and it has created an online brainstorming tool to facilitate idea sharing across the company.
Samsung, Hilti, Vanguard and the other leaders have catapulted themselves to the top ranks of their industries—not on the basis of deeper pockets or some dazzling new technology, but simply on the basis of going to market better than everybody else. Despite the disruption—or maybe because of it—Samsung gained nearly six points of market share between 2006 and 2010. A much smaller number—including the mutual fund company Vanguard, the European toolmaker Hilti, and Samsung—have adapted quickly to the changes, moved forward successfully and taken their growth to new heights. They can make decisions quickly without bumping into walls created by functional silos, enabling them to respond effectively to marketplace changes. In this kind of turbulence, even a business’s own strategic moves, such as launching a new product or moving into a new market, can overload its go-to-market system, sabotaging its plans for growth. How much should we invest to meet new consumer preferences, such as for organic or environmentally sustainable products? In addition to fueling growth, the ability to capitalize on market changes while continuing to meet different customer needs enabled the Energy Marketing unit to achieve the leadership position in customer loyalty and advocacy in markets it serves. The ability of leading companies to identify where they must excel to seize a competitive edge over their rivals emerged clearly in the Bain survey findings (see Figure 2). Vanguard expects employees to drive process and service improvements, and captures the ideas through its “voice of the crew” feedback mechanism. They can incorporate an acquisition or launch a new product smoothly and successfully because they are built to do so.
SAP, the big software company, tried a few years ago to move aggressively into the software-as-a-service space.
Hilti’s direct salesforce of 13,000 representatives, unique in its industry, visits construction sites and solicits feedback from customers that then drives product innovation. The Bain executive survey found that the leaders integrate design and delivery capabilities, tailoring each offering and marketing message to its channel while maintaining a cohesive approach overall (see Figure 3). In many selling situations, the frontline salesforce literally embodies the organization’s go-to-market strategy.
But the product design faced some challenges, and the company didn’t sufficiently adapt its go-to-market system—for instance, it failed to add effective channels for reaching small-to-midsize companies. Innovation, in turn, has helped the company sustain a consistent 6 percent growth for more than 50 years.
Hilti’s field representatives not only study the customer’s needs and propose new products that will meet those needs, they also stay involved after the sale, working closely with customers. They know exactly who is responsible for pricing tactics, product launches, market intelligence and every other aspect of the system—and since decision roles are transparent, everyone in the organization knows it as well. With the recent purchase of SuccessFactors, a leader in cloud-based software, SAP has invested in building its companywide cloud capabilities. The new platform will help SAP expand its cloud offerings and leverage its extensive go-to-market reach, this time targeting large and midsize enterprises.



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