As a business adviser, I often see entrepreneurs practicing what Tom Peters calls the “ready-fire-aim” go-to-market strategy to their detriment. Yet even I have been known to recommend that approach, in cases where you have a highly innovative product, speed is of the essence, and no clear existing market is available. In fact, you probably won’t get it right the first time anyway.
Certainly I believe the traditional ready-aim-fire strategy approach works best in most cases, and that should be your default. There is no substitute for talking to customers, analyzing your competition, and honing your solution to meet a target market segment. As a counter, here are some situations where it definitely makes sense to short-circuit the traditional approach:
The market won’t wait for your planning cycle. The real solution in this case is to shorten your planning cycle, but sometimes unusual situations, such as the current global pandemic, make this impractical. The ready-fire-aim approach makes sense here, but it should be combined with metrics to learn from feedback, and make pivots as required.
In general, I see that the strategic cycle for most companies gets longer and longer as they mature, which kills any ability to stay competitive. I recommend a living strategic plan, updated on a regular basis, so that the total plan cycle gets shorter over time.
Cost of a solution execution experiment is low. When serious new technology is involved, and it’s not clear how it will be perceived and used, a highly focused execution cycle may be your best planning cycle. To keep the cost low, I always recommend the “minimum viable product (MVP)” approach, and a short duration for analyzing results.
More and more companies are settling on the incremental and experimentation approach to new products, business models, and processes. They find the costs, the structured approach, and the solution experimentation myths don’t hold in today’s market.
Opportunity and competitor data are not available. Be careful with this one, because no opportunity or competitor data is usually a clear indication that there is no market for your solution. Yet we all get surprised every day by new trends and changing cultures that defy conventional market logic. Be prepared for some misfires, and high risk.
We all tend to remember those great product successes that evolved from no apparent market opportunity, including Rubik’s Cube, Star Wars, or even Apple’s iPhone, but remember that these are rare, and you shouldn’t bet your business on a gut feel.
Your team seems stuck in the getting ready stage. If you have a development organization which is never ready to ship, and insist on continually adding new features, or doing more testing, the ready-aim-fire approach will not likely happen. Firing at some market will at least give you the feedback necessary to direct appropriate development.
My experience as a software executive with IBM is that smart engineers always have a few more key features that they need to add to the product before it is ready for sale, just because they can, as well as a large amount of additional quality and usability testing.
You already have a large and loyal customer base. Some customers are so loyal that they will follow you anywhere. Why waste time planning when you already know the conclusion? Even with this situation, it pays to keep a close tab on customer whims and feedback, as the newer generations of consumers are fickle, and can dump you quickly.
There is a powerful advocate or cause driving demand. In this age of outspoken experts and “influencers: on social media, your new fashion or cooking solutions can likely skip the traditional market planning cycle. Similarly, if your solution satisfies a government-driven demand, such as healthcare, speed to market is more critical.
Despite the possibilities that you may hit your target without aiming, I always have to remind entrepreneurs of the probability that you will shoot yourself in the foot instead. Thus I believe it behooves every one of you to build a go-to-market strategy, even before you build a solution. A solution without a market is an embarrassing frustration that every business owner can avoid.
*** First published on Inc.com on 12/30/2020 ***
Martin Zwilling is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. See more details at www.startupprofessionals.com
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