On this episode of Dear Strategy, we talk about the difference between a product strategy and a go-to-market plan, and why it’s important to have both of these key planning tools working together in harmony.
On this month’s podcast (Episode 130), I provided some tips on how to differentiate between a product strategy and a go-to-market plan. But before we dive into those differences, we first need to understand exactly what a product strategy is – or, more appropriately, what it is NOT.
When companies call me to deliver strategy workshops, it’s usually because they feel that their teams are not being “strategic” enough. I put that word in quotes because, when I ask what exactly that means, the response is almost always ambiguous. In other words, they know that their teams aren’t being strategic, but they’re not exactly sure what being “strategic” is supposed to look like.
What I tell those prospective clients is exactly what I’m going to tell you here today. That is, when you feel like someone isn’t being strategic enough, it’s because you don’t understand the reasoning behind their actions. That’s really all a strategy is – an overarching plan that provides context and meaning to a set of actions. Without any strategic context, your team’s actions will seem, at best, reactive and, at worst, completely random. But with a solid strategy to guide them, those same actions suddenly take on meaning and have a clear reason to exist. And that, by definition, will allow them to be more effective.
With that as our backdrop, we can now talk a little bit about what a product strategy should look like and, more importantly, what it should NOT look like. First, a product strategy is NOT a product roadmap. A roadmap tells people what actions you intend to take, but it does not tell people the reason you are taking those actions. It’s an important tool, but it is not a strategy.
“A roadmap tells people what actions you intend to take, but it does not tell people the reason you are taking those actions. It’s an important tool, but it is not a strategy.”
Similarly, a product strategy is NOT a marketing plan. A marketing plan provides direction on how you intend to promote your product in the marketplace. It is derived from your product strategy, but only covers a small portion of actions that you intend to take and, again, does not necessarily provide all of the reasoning behind those actions.
A go-to-market plan is, more or less, an expanded version of a marketing plan – providing direction not only on the promotional actions you intend to take, but also on the pricing, product, and placement actions that will be taken in the specific markets you chose to target. So, it covers more actions than a marketing plan, but it still doesn’t provide the complete picture as to why you’re doing whatever it is that you’re doing.
What all three of these tools (product roadmaps, marketing plans, and go-to-market plans) have in common is that they are all focused primarily on actions. But those actions still need context. They still need a reason to exist. And that’s what a product strategy is designed to provide.
On the podcast episode, I talk about three basic concepts that help to define the differences between, specifically, a product strategy and a go-to-market plan:
- A product strategy and a go-to-market plan are two distinctly different, yet very much coordinated planning tools. Whereas a go-to-market plan focuses on specific actions, a product strategy focuses on over-arching initiatives that will serve to guide those actions. And perhaps more importantly, a product strategy provides the analysis that led to choosing those initiatives. In this way, your product strategy can be thought of more as a product business plan. In other words, it is the overall plan that guides your product business.
- A go-to-market plan is a dynamic and continuous action plan that exists throughout a product’s entire lifecycle. Some people confuse go-to-market plans with product launch plans and, in so doing, believe that a go-to-market plan ceases to exist once a product has been launched. In reality, product launch plans are a type of marketing plan – focused mainly on the promotional activities that will be taken at the time of launch. Go-to-market plans are far more comprehensive, covering actions in all four of the marketing mix areas of product, price, promotion, and place. As such, your go-to-market plan will continue to exist and evolve (always in support of your product strategy) throughout every stage of your product’s life cycle. Another way to think about this is that you are constantly bringing your products to market, so you should naturally always have an up to date go-to-market plan that outlines specifically how you intend to do that at any stage of your product’s life.
- Your product strategy provides direction on your product’s over-arching business goals and initiatives, whereas your go-to-market plan provides specific details on your product’s target customers, value proposition, positioning, and marketing mix (product, price, promotion, and placement) actions. In this way, these two tools are complementary – meaning that one cannot, and should not, exist without the other. Your product strategy provides the reason, and your go-to-market plan provides the specific actions. Utilizing these two tools allows you to manage your business in layers – meaning that you can alter your action plan without constantly changing your strategy. That’s what “being strategic” means. And maintaining a bit of healthy separation between these two tools will allow you to be just that.
To dive deeper into these points, please tune into the podcast episode by clicking on the link below. You can also download our frameworks for product strategy and go-to-market planning using the following links:
Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 130
Are you interested in strategy workshops and skill-building classes for your product managers or business leaders? If so, please be sure to visit Strategy Generation Company by clicking the link below:
Bob Caporale is the founder of Strategy Generation Company, the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.
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