Go-To-Market Expert, Michael Phelan on Architecting GTM Strategies (interview)

by Michael Phelan March 13th, 2018

Although you often hear about go-to-market (GTM) strategies associated with manufacturers and product-focused companies, GTM plans can also be linked to professional services. For instance, back in 1971, Southwest Airlines used a massive GTM strategy to reposition itself as the low-fare airline. The strategy worked because Southwest simplified its product in several important ways, including:

Flying point-to-point routes.

Offering only one class of travel.

Doing away with free refreshments and passenger lounges.

Having a fleet consisting solely of Boeing 737s, which simplified maintenance, scheduling and training.

Maintaining a 10-minute average turnaround at the gate.

Utilizing smaller, secondary airports, which are cheaper and faster than the main hubs.

Selling directly to customers.

With low prices, the planes were usually full and, with costs pared down, the system worked like clockwork. Essentially, Southwest discovered how to automate the airline industry just as Ford had automated car-making. The result? Southwest, almost single-handedly, created a mass market for air travel.

GTM plans address how to execute on a specific growth strategy, and because they’re so laser-focused, many companies don’t have in-house GTM strategists. But having the right plan can absolutely make or break the successful launch of a new product or service. So, what’s a business in transition to do?

We recently caught up with Michael Phelan, founder of Go-To-Market Pros, about his GTM expertise, specifically aiming to get his expert take on how B2B companies can leverage GTM strategies to drive meaningful business results.

Q | Tell us about your background as a go-to-market strategist. How does your consultancy approach business needs differently than a big consulting firm?

I’ve held positions such as VP of Sales, CMO, and Business Unit Head for Staples, Reebok, Student Advantage, Polaroid and PlumChoice. Six years ago, I founded Go-to-Market Pros to help companies develop and execute smarter GTM strategies and plans.

Most consulting companies take a hands-off approach, delivering complex decks or reports with no action or execution. My firm not only works with a client’s team to figure out a strategy, but we become a true partner. We come in-house and deliver increased revenue by working closely alongside businesses’ sales and marketing teams. In many cases, I take on a frontline role in driving revenue too. This includes securing key prospect meetings and helping to manage sales all the way through. I set the strategy and execute on the plan until the internal team is trained and confident enough to take it on themselves.

Q | Tell us about a project you’ve worked on surrounding market strategy and planning. What was the impact of your work?

I was brought into Iron Mountain to develop and execute a strategy to bring them into the SMB Market. This project included customer and competitor research, positioning, demand generation, new products and services, content marketing and a streamlined online purchasing process. While I cannot share the exact financials due to client confidentiality, the program substantially exceeded all business goals and my sponsor was promoted.

Q | Why is it important for companies to pay attention to their go-to-market strategy?

Over 60 percent of companies have no documented demand generation plan. Fewer than that have a meaningful GTM plan. While few clients have ever written a GTM plan, of the plans that are out there, most of them are weak and internally biased. The status quo is looking pretty sad. Without a customer-centric, research-based plan that leverages proven best practices in sales and marketing, companies simply cannot be successful or expect to increase revenues in today’s competitive market.

Q | What kinds of challenges do you see in your line of work? What’s being done to address these challenges?

In the world of demand generation — arguably the most important function of marketing — there are two types of marketers: “Program Design Managers” (creative) and “Program Execution Managers” (operational). As marketing automation platforms became a standard operating practice at most B2B companies, many have struggled to adjust their hiring strategies.

What I’m seeing is companies tending to over-hire and over-pay for marketing automation or operational talent at the expense of creative talent. This hiring mistake results in way too many “Making-the-Train-Run-On-Time Marketers,” i.e., marketing types who excel in process and operations, but lack creativity.

While operational experts are great with tactics and execution, they also tend to be inexperienced in strategy and GTM planning. Spending little time in the field with customers, and focusing mainly on internal workings, they often lose sight of what makes their products or services uniquely valuable.

In addition, operationally-oriented professionals can unintentionally kill creative ideas by burying “Program Design Managers” in waves of complex process and minutia. What’s the net net? Marketing innovation declines, while operational marketing efficiency increases. And for many companies, this means losing their edge in the market. When a company can’t hold the attention of B2B buyers, sales slow and the entire business foundation starts to crumble.

Q | What do the best GTM strategies look like?

The best GTM strategies and plans result from strong customer and prospect engagement, as well as understanding. Most companies do not have sufficient discovery meetings with their prospects. I advise clients on a unique approach to help them better engage with their prospects. When you design a GTM strategy and plan around leads who have been properly vetted and prospects who are actively engaged in a dialog to solve their most pressing problems, everyone wins. This approach has proven highly effective for my clients. It cuts through the sales and marketing clutter and generates results.

Q | Are there specific industries where sales and marketing strategies are playing a larger role now than in the past? What kinds of new trends are you noticing?

Yes, actually, this is true for all business. However, if I were to pick one area where best-in-class sales and marketing programs are critical for future survival, I would say retail department stores. I am currently heading up a global panel on the “Future of Retail.” This panel aims to define a viable future for brick-and-mortar department stores.

One of the hottest trends in this space right now is the creation of “Personalized In-Store Shopper Experiences.” Strategies include offering in-store shoppers a “Personal Designer,” who presents complete, custom-selected outfits for shoppers based on their individual shopper profiles, which shoppers fill out online before heading to the store. These complete outfits are then prepared for shoppers in a private, upgraded changing area.

You may even experience additional perks such as a “Magic Mirror,” allowing you to virtually see additional outfits superimposed on your personal, digital hologram. At Tiffany & Co., you may even experience all this while sipping champagne and enjoying chocolate-covered strawberries. Retailers, such as Saks 5th Avenue, are already running pilot programs offering this type of high-end service.

Q | As related to automation and technology, what does the future look like for sales and marketing strategy in business?

In the past few years, certain aspects of marketing have become automated. I see the next wave of automation hitting sales, especially the lower end of sales. A lot of basic sales activity can now be automated. This includes scheduling meetings, sending introductory sales emails, following up on demo requests, responding to basic product and service questions, sending basic or standard quotes and more. Sales professionals will have to move up the buyer value chain and offer an enhanced level of personalized service and customer-centric value to stay competitive in the market.

Q | What is the best advice you’ve ever been given as a go-to-market strategist?

Not every question you receive from a CEO should be answered openly, with full information, and without reserve. For example, some CEOs will press consultants for competitive, inside information and, on the flipside, they worry that you will share their information with competitors.

Do not be afraid to say: “That is confidential information and I cannot share it with you. In the same way, you can rest assured that I will not share competitive information with your competitors. I am here to help you develop and execute a GTM strategy and plan and not to replicate what your competitors are doing.” CEOs will respect you for being transparent. Do not cave to any pressure to tell them everything you know. Maintain your integrity instead. Your reputation is on the line.

Q | If you had to give out one piece of advice to organizations looking to build on their GTM strategies, what would it be?

Start by knowing your customers better than anyone else, then learn as much as you can about your competitors. Focus your efforts on solving important customer problems and spend as much time as possible in the field with your customers and clients. Always remember that corporate buyers are people, not data cells in an excel spreadsheet or on Salesforce.com. Never forget the huge impact of emotional buying — yes, even in the B2B market — and always maintain customer empathy. Relating to your customers on an emotional level will help you and your team to be better sales and marketing professionals.

Takeaways and Parting Thoughts

A standard marketing plan may not be sufficient when it comes to launching or re-launching a specific product. The right expert can provide your business with the tools you need to execute on that strategy. Introducing a product or service to the market without a plan is like throwing darts in the dark. You might get lucky, but the odds are not in your favor.

Your cart