Putting People at the Heart of Your Go-to-Market Approach

As you think about your go-to-market approach, where do the people (aka the buyers, prospects, and potential clients) fit in? Consequently, one way to think about your go-to-market strategy is by putting the people first.

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Correspondingly, marketing veteran Mark Kilens calls that a people-first go-to-market strategy. He shares an overview of the approach in this episode of “Marketing, Demystified.” 

We discuss:

  1. What is a people-first go-to-market strategy?
  2. Why is it important to focus on people in your go-to-market strategy?
  3. What are the challenges of implementing a people-first go-to-market strategy?
  4. How do you identify your target audience?
  5. How do you measure the success of your people-first go-to-market strategy?
  6. What advice would you give to businesses considering implementing a people-first go-to-market strategy?

At the most basic level, every business, whether it’s implementing a go-to-market or more of an expansion marketing strategy, needs to focus heavily on the people. After all, what’s a business without customers (aka people)? Not much. Who else would be buying from the company? That’s why it’s so important to approach any sales and marketing approach – including growth marketing or account-based marketing – from a human-centric approach that keeps the prospect’s needs and wants top of mind.

The Need for a People-First Go-to-Market Approach

Jenn kicks off the conversation by asking Mark to define a people-first go-to-market approach. Mark explains that many current strategies start with a company-centric focus on channels and distribution, but a people-first go-to-market approach focuses on the people you’re trying to reach.

Six Undeniable Truths Driving the Need for Change

According to Mark, there are six “undeniable truths” that are catalyzing the need for companies to shift to a people-first strategy:

The Explosion of Content

It used to be easy to rank high in search results with a bit of content, but now an overwhelming amount of content is being produced globally.

Channel Saturation

Marketing channels are increasingly saturated, expensive, and offer less opportunity for differentiation.

Privacy Legislation

Regulations like GDPR and CCPA pressure businesses, especially marketing teams.

The Pandemic

COVID-19 affected work habits and buying behaviors and fundamentally changed many ingrained habits.

The Rise of AI

There has been an explosion and convergence of AI, raising questions about trust.

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Interest Rates

Stimulus spending during COVID-19 led to rising inflation and interest rates, impacting businesses.

These macro forces mean businesses can no longer rely solely on spamming their audiences. They need to focus on quality over quantity and building genuine relationships.

Understand your customers better with this journey mapping workshop

The Role of Trust

According to Mark, the most important thing brands must do is build trust. In light of the proliferation of content and AI, people are increasingly going to networks and individuals they trust for recommendations rather than relying solely on brands.

Mark argues that while AI will have many positives, it often distracts brands from getting closer to customers. Software has also distracted many brands from their core purpose of serving people.

The People’s First Principles

Mark and the ClubPF community collaborated to create six core principles for a people-first approach:

P – Partner – Be collaborative and supportive
E – Empathy – Be kind and thoughtful
O – Originality – Be your authentic self
P – Presence – Be in the moment
L – Learning – Be the student and teacher
E – Experience – Be memorable

These principles aim to guide thinking, behavior, communication, and decision-making. Mark advocates that leaders co-create principles like these with their teams rather than handing them down from above.

Adopting a People-First Approach

Mark and Jenn discuss the challenges of actually implementing a people-first strategy. Mark notes that the needed skillsets are not typically taught in school, so a general lack of education and awareness exists. However, he argues that embracing change and new approaches is critical in a constantly changing business landscape.

Jenn notes that many companies struggle specifically with creating useful, consumable content focused on what customers care about rather than what the company does.

Mark emphasizes that more important than content is developing a clear point of view and story that serves as a “red thread” throughout all content. This needs to be based on understanding target customers and what is affecting them.

Key Elements of a People-First Model

Mark introduces a people-first go-to-market model built around three types of “channels”:


Creating demand by engaging target audiences in external communities you don’t own


Building an owned community that converts demand into leads and opportunities


Converting leads into deeply engaged customer partnerships

He notes that companies need to develop content, events, and products tailored to these channels. They also need to identify strategic partnerships to activate these channels successfully.

The goal is to move from a company-centric “funnel” approach to a flywheel motion between these three channels.

Tracking Success

In terms of metrics, Mark outlines critical indicators for each channel:

  • Community-Led – Engagement, followers, leads
  • Member-Led – Membership sign-ups, lead velocity
  • Customer-Led – Customers, retention, advocacy

He notes that only strategies with explicit data models behind them can truly be considered “x-led” growth. Word of mouth, ecosystem development, and brand humanity are also important outcomes to track.

Getting Started with People-First

For those interested in making the leap to a people-first approach, Mark suggests the following:

  • Examine your current metrics – are they improving or declining?
  • Learn from the many people discussing this approach on LinkedIn and elsewhere.
  • Join communities like ClubPF to connect with practitioners.
  • Start trying it yourself and teaching others about it.

The critical first step is believing in the need for a new approach focused on building relationships versus transactions. Given the undeniable marketplace truths, adopting a people-first go-to-market strategy can help future-proof brands for the changing landscape.

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