Creating a go-to-market glossary

One of the biggest challenges in any organization is internal communication, especially across different departments. My personal philosophy is to embrace transparency, a common value seen in many technology companies today. However, open lines of communication and transparency don’t solve a core issue that I see at a lot of the companies I work with — that is, the words you actually use to describe the concepts within the organization, and what they mean for the business. When you are talking about critical business concepts tied to revenue, saying “leads” or “opportunities” or even something seemingly basic like “customer” can lead to confusion and misaligned expectations if those terms are not well defined and aligned across the various departments. I see this challenge particularly in aligning sales and marketing teams trying to achieve ambitious growth goals.

To that end, I have found there is a lot of value in sitting down to write out what I call a “go to market glossary.” It’s a straightforward concept but I’ve hardly seen any organizations taking the time to do this. What it entails is writing out (preferably in a Google doc or Quip to make it collaborative) all of the most important terms that describe the various parts of your marketing, sales, and customer processes, and defining them in as clear language as possible. I’ve advised different sales and marketing organizations on this and they often start off by saying, oh yeah we all know what a lead is, but when they have to actually write down the definition, they come up with fairly divergent descriptions.

How does one go about the exercise of creating a go-to-market glossary? It’s simple, but can take some time depending on the complexity of your organization. The first step in creating a go-to-market glossary is going step by step through your funnel, and ensure that the various funnel stages, and their components are described to the level of detail required so that all can understand. This should ideally be a joint exercise between marketing, sales, and customer success, although in my view marketing should serve as project leader/owner. So in that spirit, assuming the business is a typical SaaS B2B company, you’d start by defining leads, accounts, meetings, opportunities, deals, customers. Make sure you are thinking about this conceptually, now just how things work in your CRM. For instance when describing an opportunity, you might say “An opportunity represents a salesperson’s judgement of a non-zero chance in the future that a potential or existing customer will purchase one or more product subscriptions and agrees to note this in their pipeline.”

You can see how I didn’t write about fields in Salesforce or marketing automation in that definition, but you can elaborate to include the more technical details if desired. However I think it’s important to at least begin with the more philosophical view before diving into the tactical definitions of how things work in your systems. The fact is that individuals bring their own preconceived notions of how things should work based on past experience and intuition, and without being clear about the words you use and what the mean, the chances of misalignment grow.

Other types of terminology you should consider adding to your go-to-market glossary: definitions of verticals, internal departments / functions, other types of customer segmentation you use (like the difference between, SMB, mid market and Enterprise customers), common internal acronyms and industry vernacular specific to your companies business. In your first version don’t worry too much about getting everything included, as you can always add more to it later if need be. Better done than perfect applies here.

Besides the benefit of aligning internal departments, your newly drafted go-to-market glossary will also serve as a very valuable resource for new hires. I suggest adding it in as a key document to any new hire presentations or training you might provide, and distribute the link to all current employees as well, of course asking for feedback and suggestions if additional areas should be added. Like any living document, you will need to pay attention to keeping it up to date and adding new terms as needed.