Ecosystem Map: A Powerful Tool for Go-To-Market Strategy

Post updated on
February 3, 2024

In this article, I'll walk you through the steps of creating a market ecosystem map that you can then leverage in diverse ways for your business or new product.

From using it to sequence your product launch, to drive brand awareness for an existing company or validate your innovation with the most influencing players in your market ecosystem, this unique angle of looking at market behaviors and relationships, will take your strategy to the next level.

What is an ecosystem map?

Every industry and market has an ecosystem of players with diverse market power, though each market segment has different players.

Your business ecosystem includes people and organizations between your business or product and your prospective customers. The players within that ecosystem influence your market position and the buying process.

Ecosystem map

What are the benefits of using ecosystem mapping for go-to-market strategy?

We are not the only ones saying it! Our research matches our observations in client projects. Here are some 3rd party stats we've found about the impact of ecosystem mapping:

What is the difference between stakeholder maps and ecosystem mapping?

These two types of maps allow businesses to visualize different aspects of their operational environment.

Stakeholder Map

A stakeholder map is a graphical representation of all the people, groups, or organizations that have a direct stake or interest in your business or product.

This can include customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders, government bodies, and local communities.

Conducting stakeholder mapping enables a company to understand better who is affected by its decisions, helping to prioritize communication and engagement efforts.

Ecosystem Map

On the other hand, an ecosystem map is a broader tool that represents the interconnected network of entities involved in shaping the market forces and influencing perceptions (market positions).

This includes the stakeholders and players like industry associations, consultants, thought leaders, industry analysts, educational institutions or complimentary suppliers.

By mapping your market or business ecosystem, your company can comprehensively view your market landscape and identify opportunities and threats.

While both mapping tools are critical for strategic planning, their focus varies.

A stakeholder map centers more on the organization's relationships and interactions. In contrast, an ecosystem map is more focused on understanding the market structure, including interdependencies, competition, and cooperation in the market ecosystem.

Our ecosystem mapping framework includes stakeholders and other ecosystem players to gain a complete and broad vision of players and organizations that influence market positions and buyers' decisions.

How can an ecosystem map improve a go-to-market strategy?

From a Go-to-Market (GTM) strategy perspective, mapping your ecosystem of market players brings to light new paths to the customers that may not be apparent at first glance and feedback to inform product strategy and product positioning decisions.

Building an ecosystem map and strategy enables businesses and entrepreneurs to visualize their market environment comprehensively, factoring in competition, potential collaborators, customers, and channels.

It helps you understand where you stand in relation to the players and forces that shape a market, marking out partnership and alliance opportunities to serve your customers better and influence buying decisions.

Ecosystem mapping brings out potential channels to be leveraged, potential threats and opportunities, and areas where you could win a competitive advantage.

Furthermore, a good understanding of your potential alliances and partner ecosystem can help you improve your offerings to serve better your customers' needs and fill-in gaps in the market.

Ecosystem strategy is not just about partners, but about establishing alliances in every layer of your market that can shape your prospective customers's mind so they see the see the market the same way you see it, highlighting your differentiators and advantages.

Let's dig into the detail of how ecosystem mapping can help your go-to-market strategy!

1. Ecosystem mapping helps to identify potential allies for a go-to-market strategy

Performing ecosystem mapping lets you identify key players in your company's business ecosystem that directly or indirectly affect your go-to-market strategy.

These include but are not limited to current customers, employees, complimentary suppliers, competition, channel partners, educational institutions, standardization organizations, industry associations, thought leaders, consultants, luminaries, press, media, publications, and potential customers.

By solidly understanding each of the players in this business ecosystem, you'll discover relationships, identify go-to-market gaps, and find potential partners you may not have considered before.

2. Understanding and exploiting ecosystem interdependencies

Ecosystem mapping enables you to gain insights into the interdependencies among ecosystem participants. Understanding how customers' behaviors impact your suppliers or how changes in your technologies affect your channel partners can give you an edge.

It provides opportunities for collaboration, co-marketing, co-offering, or co-innovation with players within the partner ecosystem, thereby improving your go-to-market efficiency.

3. Spotting trends and opportunities: market analysis and validation  

Creating a business ecosystem map goes beyond just identifying potential partnerships.

When executed effectively, it can also serve as a strategic market analysis and validation tool. By interviewing key players in your business ecosystem map, you'll learn patterns, trends, opportunities, risks, or threats that will guide your go-to-market strategy.

We consistently use partner ecosystem strategy to analyze markets with qualitative interviews and help our customers make more informed decisions by gaining insights on critical go-to-market aspects like:

  • Understanding current market perceptions about the different market players (market positions), including differentiators, weaknesses, and advantages.
  • Understanding the most urgent problems and pains to solve for buyers.
  • Understanding the segmentation structure of the market.
  • Understanding market forces and powers.
  • Understanding behaviors, objections, and risk perceptions of prospective buyers.
  • Understanding who is willing to support a given company or product drives awareness in the market. Most importantly, the reasons why or why not.
  • Understanding the dynamics of competition.

The process of talking to your business ecosystem exposes you to a vast array of market information. You'll be able to see where there is a demand for specific products or services; competitors present in those areas, or even gaps that your product could fill. These insights can help steer your strategy in an informed and confident way.

For instance, you might discover a new type of buyer underserved by your current ecosystem or find unmet needs within your existing customer segments.

By spotting these opportunities early on, you can validate your product's potential before launching it into the market. This prevents the risk of introducing a product that may not have a market, saving resources and strengthening the position of your offering.

Apart from spotting opportunities, interviewing your ecosystem players makes it possible to conduct an effective market analysis by studying the evolving interactions of all ecosystem entities with data about behaviors, competition, and dynamics.

This data allows entrepreneurs and business leaders to predict market shifts, changes in customer preferences, and emerging trends. Those insights can then be used to refine go-to-market strategies and stay ahead of the competition.

In summary, market analysis and validation become a less daunting by systematically analyzing the patterns, trends, and opportunities within your ecosystem map.

You can make data-driven decisions that increase the likelihood of a successful product launch or a repositioning process.

4. Serving better your customer's needs

By crafting a comprehensive business ecosystem map, you're ultimately placing the needs and demands of your customers at the forefront of your strategic approach.

This is intimately tied to the concept of Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD). This perspective stipulates that companies should focus not on their product but on how it fulfills specific customer requirements.

Your map helps you to see who else is serving your customer's needs and how they are doing it. By scrutinizing this, you can unveil potential gaps in the market and opportunities to provide a uniquely superior product or service.

Maybe your potential partner has capabilities that complement your own, or they could help you meet a customer need more successfully.

Microsoft is a great example; its partner ecosystem does not only act as a channel but also as integrators that adapt Microsoft's products to the end-user workflows, needs, and behaviors. Without expert partners, solutions like Azure can not be embedded in a company without a team of Azure experts. Thus, partners act as a channel and a service supplier that the buyers require to complete the purchase and successfully adopt Azure's technology.

5. Creating a more resilient positioning strategy

In fast-paced markets like high-tech, the only constant is change.

Resilience becomes a critical element of a successful positioning strategy for sustained growth. Without resilience, a sudden shift in the market dynamics or buying patterns can make your go-to-market strategy ineffective or obsolete.

Positioning Strategy starts by understanding what the market already believes, their perceptions, and their buying patterns.

Here is where the power of partner ecosystem strategy shines.

This system allows you to create a more resilient positioning strategy by getting insights from the players who are constantly in touch with the market and have a wider reach than you have.

By creating a system that maintains partner ecosystem relationships, you'll have a way to constantly analyze your market, assess your positioning and your go-to-market, and align to the current market beliefs, buying motivations, behaviors, trends, and market shifts.

At the same time, this relationship system helps you feed the market with crucial positioning messages and proof to shape market perceptions and highlight your advantages and differentiators.

Positioning strategy activation example

6. Helping high-tech products Cross The Chasm  

The term "Marketing Chasm" is a high-tech marketing model created by our Sr. Partner Warren Schirtzinger (popularized by Geoff Moore in the book Crossing The Chasm) that suggests a gap between the early adopters of a breakthrough technology product and the early majority of the market.

This chasm often represents a challenge for high-tech products to move from the early market to the mainstream market—a threat to achieving sustainable growth.

As stated in our version of the whole product model, crossing the chasm is about reducing the risk perception of products and companies to convince the risk-averse mainstream buyers.

By finding the risk-reduction gaps with our whole product model and then finding ecosystem partners to help fill those risk-reduction gaps, discontinuous innovations are one step closer to crossing the chasm.

What are the steps to create an ecosystem map for go-to-market strategy?

Creating an effective ecosystem map that can power your go-to-market strategy involves meticulous work to understand, analyze, and visually represent your business's complex environments.

But don't fret! We've compiled a step-by-step guide to make this process simpler for you. 

1. Map your market ecosystem layers: types of players influencing market perceptions and buying decisions

The first step is to b research or brainstorm the types of players and organizations influencing your market.

Use the next diagram as a guide to create your market layers in the correct order, bottom to top.

Bear in mind that different segments and market stages have different layers.

Ecosystem map

2. Find key influencing players by each market layer

About 10% of players in any given market included the other 90%. Find the top 3 to 5 most influential individuals or organizations for each ecosystem layer. That way, you can use their influence to shape how the market perceives you.

Leverage your network, research industry events, associations, and LinkedIn, or use audience research tools like Sparktoro.

SparkToro for ecosystem mapping

3. Research and create a goal for each player

When approaching partner ecosystem strategy, you want to leverage as many players as possible to boost your awareness.

Different types of players can help your strategy in different ways. Here are some examples of the kinds of relationships and goals you can establish:

  • Strategic alliances with businesses that offer complementary services or products, effectively expanding your product line and reaching new customer bases.
  • Industry analysis to be published in research papers as a player to follow.
  • Thought leaders, luminaries, and opinion leaders in your industry can help boost your brand's visibility and credibility by showcasing your brand or collaborating with you.
  • Journalists can help you get in front of business or tech press to drive brand awareness and authority in your field.
  • Channel partners, such as distributors, resellers, or service providers, can help you reach your customers more effectively.
  • Complimentary supplier partnerships can also be beneficial, leveraging each other's technology for improved functionality, interoperability, and innovation.

4. Establish a relationship, build ecosystem partners and allies

Reach the key players you've discovered. Don't do it to sell.

Do it with a genuine reason to learn from their perspective about your market, industry, innovation, or product. Ask for a brief call or send them questions.

Try not to take too much of their time. They are busy people, and it's tough to get their time unless you have a remarkable innovation they want to know about.

If you follow our ecosystem map template, the path to establishing relationships is from bottom to top. That way, you can use each endorsement or talk with lower-tier layers to drive credibility in your messages for the higher layers. The path of references is from bottom to top, as well as the path for launching a product, validating, and creating a communications and positioning strategy.

5. Other things to bear in mind for your ecosystem strategy:

  • Create specific content for each layer. Different layers in your market want to consume different types of content. They also want to learn different things about you.
  • Assign an owner to the relationship. You can have different teams managing the different layers of your ecosystem map. For example:
  • Sales team managing customer relationships.
  • PR team talking to journalists.
  • Product marketing team managing industry analyst and thought leaders relationships.
  • The partnerships team can manage relationships with consultants, suppliers, channel partners, and strategic alliances.
  • Ask for feedback on your positioning or product from the players. Leverage that feedback to inform your positioning and go-to-market strategy decisions. Fix their concerns and get back to you with your fixes.
  • Secure testimonials or endorsements by each player. Use them in your communications to support your positioning messages.
  • Keep relationships warm. As you develop the relationship, you may want to co-author papers/posts, co-speak at events, go live with them, and contribute to industry reports...

The following ecosystem map is an example of layers and players in the incident management software ecosystem in the USA:

Ecosystem map example

What if there are not many or no market players?

If there are no thought leaders, industry analysts, journalists, or competitors in your space, that's a new category creation.

In that case, you have an excellent opportunity to create the ecosystem and build your market.

Ecosystem building basically means market building. By creating the ecosystem while gaining a powerful customer base, you'll gain first mover advantage and become a category creator.

How to leverage ecosystem mapping to launch a product successfully?

Watch this quick video with a real-world ecosystem map example to launch a B2B high-tech product:

Download our ecosystem map template

Now that we've uncovered the importance of ecosystem mapping to improve your go-to-market strategy, use our market ecosystem map template to build yours. It's a Miro Board so you can get your team into an online working session to brainstorm it.

Author Photo
Jose Bermejo, Founder & Managing Partner

Thanks for reading my thoughts! I bring 16 years of experience selling and marketing B2B tech products. I define myself as a thinker on the impact of human behavior on innovation adoption, marketing strategy, go-to-market, and business leadership in B2B high-tech. Armed with this knowledge, I help B2B high-tech leaders accelerate traction by aligning their strategy with what buyers want as coach, speaker, and workshop leader.

Let's connect