Product-market fit is the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand. It is widely considered to be the first step to building a successful venture, whether a new startup, a new business unit or product within an established company.
Only 4% of startups make it past the seed funding stage, and from there, only 70% go on to generate consistent revenue, according to the How To Win podcast. The most common reason is simply a failure to find enough customers. Those percentages are even lower when you factor in failed product launches at established companies. Product-market fit eludes so many.
So what are the secrets to achieving product-market fit? And how do you know when you've got it?
Consultants will tell you that it takes time for a new website to rank highly with Google SEO. Yet I was able to get some of my new website's pages to rank #1 within a few weeks, without any paid ads.
I have done program management, business development and marketing for 20 years, but I'm no SEO expert. But since I had some success just experimenting with SEO part-time, I thought to share my findings.
Launching a new business? Whether you're newly self-employed or planning to be the next Amazon, the principles for a startup founder are the same.
One of the biggest challenges of a new startup is generating marketing qualified leads (MQLs). A startup is a race: you are burning through limited funding, and every day you need to go all-out before funding runs out. Along the way, you are demonstrating progress to leadership and investors, and there's no better way to keep their confidence than pointing to a pipeline of fresh daily leads.
So how do you get MQLs for your startup ASAP?
Talking to customers to uncover unmet needs is the most critical part of product strategy. The key to growth is a deep understanding of your target customers. Simply relying on internal ideas is not enough, nor is it enough to just look at google analytics and product usage data. You actually have to talk to the market.
Read my article The Complete Guide to Customer Interviews That Drive Product-Market Fit. When you get to the customer interview, take heed of these crucial guidelines!
Product leaders know they need to tailor their roadmap to customer demand. They base these decisions on market intelligence from the usual sources:
These sources are important, but are often indirect and lagging information, not to mention other biases. For those that just want to appease their boss, this may be enough. What you release next may or may not be successful, but at least you can show that you based your roadmap on sources. But for those that really care about a product that sells and users love, you need to balance this with more direct and predictive sources of intelligence.
Talking to customers to uncover unmet needs is one of the most exciting parts of product management. It's being a detective! Hunting down members of your target audience for meetings, and, once there, asking them the right questions to get to the root of what they really care about.
But most PMs find it difficult to book customer interviews on a regular basis. And even when you do have a customer interview - how do you go about it? What questions do you ask?
This article is a step-by-step guide to landing, planning and executing customer interviews in a way that directly connects with product-market fit and growth, and hopefully takes the stress out of it and makes it fun!
A marketing and sales funnel has multiple stages:
Who are the people that can't live without your product? Why is that product a must-have for them? And what is the difference between these must-have users compared to other users for whom it's just a nice-to-have? These questions are at the root of scaling growth. Find your must-have users.
Yet, when planning target markets, it’s human nature to want to go broad. There is a feeling of safety and comfort. “Why, my product has hundreds of uses, for everyone! Let me list the ways…” But one of the great paradoxes of growth is that, in general, the more broadly you define target markets, the less business you actually take in. It literally pays to get more targeted.
Now that you've read the The Complete Guide to Customer Research Interviews, you know that gathering intelligence from customer interviews, market analysis, online research, win/loss analysis, is critical to developing a strategy that drives product-market fit and growth. But once you have accumulated all your customer and market insights, what do you actually do with it? Here are 5 immediate steps to infuse your strategy with intelligence in practice.
"How would you feel if you couldn't use the product anymore?" According to growth hacking pioneer Sean Ellis, this is the question to ask to determine your level of product-market fit. In response, you are looking for at least 40% of your customer base who say they would be "very disappointed". This represents user passion.
Read any article on product/market fit and it will say "Talk to customers and focus on their problems. It took us 2 years but we found our product/market fit and sold for $X!". One thing? Simple! Talk to customers.
But there's a startling lack of practical guides on how to actually talk to customers to elicit and qualify pain points. And there are so many false pains that you can latch on to in customer conversation if you don't know what you're doing (which may explain why that article invariably says "it took us 2 years to find what customers wanted"). Let's look at the reasons why actually getting to a real customer pain point is so hard, and how to do it right.
"Know your audience". "Understand the buyer." "Be customer-centric." The key to lead generation and growth has been in MBA 101 textbooks since the dawn of time.
These 101 textbooks also say to capture the relevant information about your target buyer in the forma of a persona. But the vast majority of teams don't actually create personas, or use them in the right way.
Product leaders are inundated with data. SaaS product and website analytics can slice and dice every aspect of the customer journey. I can see that 22% of my customers between the ages of 30 and 40 spent over 3.2 seconds looking at the new graphic on my website. I know that 16% of freemium users converted to paid in the last month since we added 3 new features.
Quantitative measures like this can point to areas of interest that require investigation and experimentation, but they won't tell you why these are of interest. Qualitative data, ie. talking to people, gives you the why. Qualitative data tells you what was motivating the user when they spent 3.2 seconds looking at your graphic, what problem they were trying to solve. You need both, quantitative and qualitative.
As a product leader, you need customer intelligence to plan your strategy. But the customer data you collect from sales is biased. The data you get from market analysts is indirect. Even the data you collect yourself from customer interviews can be artificial, as customers are all too willing to be positive and tell you what you want to hear.
But there is one undeniable source of raw unfiltered customer intelligence that is too often overlooked - the Customer Success team. The Customer Success team gets customers when they are at their most passionate, emotional, even angry. Where there's emotion, there's usually a real pain point. It's rare to find that sort of honesty elsewhere.