This article is based on Erik’s brilliant interview with Holly Watson on the GTM-FM podcast. Put on your headphones and check it out here!
Leading a cross-functional go-to-market strategy is no walk in the park. Between coordinating various teams and managing a spectrum of personalities and experience levels, it’s a multifaceted challenge.
But fear not – I’m here to guide you through it. In this article, I’ll be sharing tried-and-true tips and strategies that have served me well in leading successful go-to-market launches.
Here's what we'll cover:
- How to foster cross-functional alignment
- How to lay out roles and responsibilities
- How to navigate differences in experience and opinion
- Top tips for navigating a cross-functional product launch
Now, let's start by focusing on the cornerstone of a smooth launch: building alignment among your team members.
How to foster cross-functional alignment
The key to leading a go-to-market strategy lies in building alignment, which, spoiler alert, isn’t about everyone nodding in agreement around the conference table (or the Zoom call). Let’s dig into what "alignment" really means in this context, and how it’s the golden thread that ties a cross-functional go-to-market team together.
The term "alignment" gets thrown around a lot. It's a good word, but unfortunately, many departments enter into a cross-functional project thinking that "alignment" means "agreement." To me, "agreement" is defined as everyone being on the same page – everybody saying, "That’s my opinion, too."
But the secret of a good cross-functional team isn't everyone being in absolute agreement before they move forward. Instead, it's about achieving consensus. It's about making decisions that perhaps one person disagrees with, or where one person may have wanted a half measure while the rest of the team wanted a full measure.
Entering this team and working on this project doesn't mean you're all aiming to be on exactly the same page. Everyone brings their own biases, ego, and belief systems to the table, and that's okay. The mantra here is: "We're a team, and we need to unite on this." If most people in the room point to a path forward, then consensus, not total agreement, will guide you.
To me, alignment is less about a binary "yes or no" decision. It’s about reaching a consensus where people feel that the right decision was made, with all voices heard, and the call being made by a responsible decision-maker or through a collective vote.
Here’s the thing: clear expectations are a must from the get-go. You have to let folks know you're not looking for universal agreement on every decision. What you want is for people to feel comfortable with those who are making the calls – a challenging, but essential, balance to strike. In today's world, where communication often unfolds on Zoom, without the subtle cues of in-person chats, this is even truer.
So, it's crucial to lay it out plainly at the start:
"Look, we’re not expecting everyone to have the exact same opinion. We're not forming a cult here. We're striving to complete a project, and we need everyone rowing in the same direction. Your voice will be heard, but it may not dictate the final project scope."
That’s how you build alignment. It sets the stage for everyone to work together. Even if they don't agree with specific decisions, they know they have a stake, a role, and a responsibility to help drive the project over the finish line.
How to lay out go-to-market roles and responsibilities
It’s essential to begin involving your go-to-market stakeholders early in the process. During your go-to-market kickoff meeting, it's crucial to present, or better yet, define what everyone's roles actually are.
I find the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix extremely helpful in this process. Here’s how to use it. For any given task or portion of the project, it’s vital to identify:
- Who is responsible? Whose head is going to be on the block for this portion of the project?
- Who is accountable? Who will be executing these tasks?
- Who needs to be consulted? Whose insights are needed to move this task forward?
- And who should be informed? Who needs to be aware of what’s happening, even if they won't have much influence?
Timing is everything. It’s vital to establish everyone’s roles during the kickoff phase. You can then use this matrix as a reference point throughout the project’s lifespan. It’s not uncommon to need to revisit these roles and responsibilities as the project progresses. You may find yourself going back to the RACI matrix to clarify, “Wait, what is this person’s actual role in this project? And what did they agree to?”
Starting early, defining roles clearly, and moving forward with that structure as your guide is, in my experience, the path to a smoother, more successful project.
How to navigate differences in experience and opinion
When you're crafting a go-to-market strategy, you're bringing together an incredibly diverse group of people. Picture a room filled with people from all corners of the business: product, marketing, sales, engineering, you name it.
And guess what? Not everyone in that room is going to have the same level of experience. Some folks might be seasoned veterans, having been through launches galore, while others might be navigating their very first one. It's a mixed bag of experience levels and familiarity with the process, which makes for an interesting, albeit challenging, dynamic as you plan and execute.
As a product marketer, I recognize that my role touches more launches than other members of the organization, which adds a unique layer of expertise to my perspective. So, the question then is, do we run the same kickoff and use the same mechanisms to inform everyone, despite their varying levels of knowledge and hands-on experience with go-to-market launches?
Sometimes, this calls for an extra meeting, especially when it becomes apparent that somebody is unfamiliar with how go-to-market processes typically operate. It’s a great idea to approach these less experienced stakeholders – whether it's after a larger meeting or in a more casual setting – to explain your processes, share past experiences, and establish trust.
But it’s not just your inexperienced colleagues you’ve got to think about. I've also had to hold candid conversations with skeptics in the room, assuring them of the path we’re on and calming them down after contentious moments in meetings. These kinds of politics can often come to the surface as you’re laying out a cross-functional go-to-market plan.
To alleviate some of this tension, I find it extremely helpful to steer the focus towards outcomes.
What’s the collective goal here?
- Whether it's increasing market share,
- fostering customer retention,
- or spurring adoption among existing customers.
Everyone in the room has a vested interest in one or more of these outcomes.
It’s about going to each stakeholder and affirming:
“I want to achieve what you want to achieve. While I may be looking at all the outcomes, I know you’re particularly interested in this one. How can I ensure your concerns are addressed and your specific objectives are kept in mind?”
Identifying potential challengers early on, understanding their motivations, and addressing those proactively before any issues become significant roadblocks is critical. This helps to preemptively smooth out any potential snags along the way and promotes a collaborative and successful project environment.
Top tips for navigating a cross-functional product launch
Let’s wrap things up. The three actionable tips that’ll empower you to take the reins of your cross-functional go-to-market launches, steering your diverse team towards success with clarity and confidence are:
- Chill out.
- Identify your allies.
- Document everything.
Let’s dive a little deeper.
Tip #1: Chill out
When you’re running a product launch, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. So, here's something to keep in mind: unless you work for a pharmaceutical company, the project you're working on is probably not going to cure cancer. It's crucial to level set about the actual importance of the project at hand.
Yes, it is undoubtedly important to the company and your career, and there are stakes involved, but let's keep a healthy perspective.
I've had so many conversations with junior colleagues who were in a tizzy about something that wasn’t going as smoothly as they’d hoped. In these instances, it's essential to pause and say:
"Hold on, timeout. What are we doing here? We're not programming pacemakers or sending water to developing countries. We're in the business of selling software, so let’s just bring the temperature down a little."
Remember that while deadlines and deliverables are important, it’s not the end of the world if you miss them by a day or a week. If you work for a company that values employee experience and promotes work-life balance, expecting a product marketer to work 60-70 hours a week to get a project out the door seems contrary to that belief system.
My top piece of advice, then, is to maintain some perspective. Your project is important, certainly, but it’s not the most significant endeavor on the planet. It shouldn't prevent you from having dinner with your family or enjoying a leisurely Saturday morning.
In the grand scheme of things, you need to take into account what you're trying to accomplish and balance that with the life you are aiming to lead. Unless you're in the business of curing diseases, recognize the scope and impact of what you're doing and adjust your stress levels accordingly.
Tip #2: Identify your allies
In a cross-functional team, which could range from five to fifteen people or more, you’re likely to already have certain allies in the room.
This isn't about creating factions or engaging in behind-the-scenes politicking; it's about knowing who you connect with on a deeper level. It could be a product manager you have a great rapport with, a marketing colleague who you’re in sync with, or a salesperson you’ve shared a casual beer with and found that you're on the same wavelength.
As you walk into that go-to-market kickoff meeting, have an awareness of who is already likely to be comfortable with your management style and approach. These people are likely to be your allies in subsequent conversations and will be quick to support you when it's time to build consensus.
Just one extra person standing up and agreeing with your point can make a crucial difference in moving a project forward.
Tip #3: Document everything
My final piece of advice is to write everything down.
Always have an accessible, online-based project plan that everyone can refer to, so nobody feels blindsided. Monitor how often team members are reviewing this document.
At the end of every single meeting, send an email summarizing the specific action items, clearly indicating who is responsible for each one. Then, at the start of the next meeting, review the status of those action items assigned earlier.
This accountability is crucial. When you assign an action item, it should be clear why a specific person has been given that responsibility, whether they volunteered or it naturally aligns with their role. You then need to hold people to account for those responsibilities in subsequent meetings. Check whether tasks have been completed, if they’re on track, or whether they need additional support to overcome roadblocks.
So, in summary, my top three tips are to maintain a healthy perspective on the scale and significance of the project, identify and work with your allies within the team, and hold everyone accountable through clear, accessible documentation and regular check-ins.
These strategies are foundational in navigating the complexities of a go-to-market strategy and ensuring that the whole team is aligned and moving cohesively towards a successful launch.