Long-run product market fit means you have to shape your market [video]

I’ve argued for years the need to find an unsolved problem and then to become uncommonly good at solving it. But what comes first: the product, the market, or the marketing of that product to that market?

Mark Andreessen is the co-founder of Mosaic and Netscape and other businesses, very successful venture capitalist, now on the board of Facebook and HP and eBay. Super smart guy. Andreeseen said that product/market fit, a term that is attributed to him, he said that that’s being in a really good market and meeting the needs of that market. Not exactly those words, but that idea. If that’s product/market fit, Sean Ellis, a growth hacking guy, says that you shouldn’t even think about hiring sales and marketing until you’ve got product/market fit, and more importantly, until 40% of your market says they’ll be devastated if it didn’t have your product, so really, really deep product/market fit.

As a marketing guy, am I troubled, am I put out by the fact that these two guys are saying that you first need to get your product and your market fit right before your marketing? Am I troubled about that? Not in the least. I violently agree. Too often we are asked to take a poor product to a good market, or a good product to a poor market. You need a willing market and a great solution. But, is that static?

Recently, and primarily in our Australian market, we have two businesses. Largely, one’s a small Australian business and one is a little larger and is global. In the Australian market we’ve been making significant use of ad words and it’s been quite successful for us, selling a very complex solution into an immature market, but it still worked. Took us awhile to get there. What we’ve learned from that is that a lot of the inquiries that come in, though, are for companies for whom there isn’t a good product/market fit, and we just can’t fix that. If the market’s willing and the product’s good and you’re not getting fair rent, we can play a role in fixing that, but if the market’s not there or the product’s not there or they don’t fit, there’s not a lot that we as marketers can do to change that. But we can change something really, really important.

What the market believes it needs has been informed by some other conversation than yours. If you’re selling into a need that’s already established, somebody else shaped that need. That’s okay in the short run, but if somebody else shaped the current need, you can shape the future need and make that your product/market fit is complete, ongoing, and that somebody else’s product doesn’t fit that market anymore. That’s a great role for marketing. Let me explain a bit more.

As I said, if the market already has a need, then somebody else has shaped that, but you can change that. Let me use a sporting metaphor for a moment. Frequently, particularly in what most of the world calls football but Americans and Australians call soccer, the skill is not to kick the ball to where the player is, but to kick the ball to where you want the player to be. There’s a couple of pieces in that. One is knowing where you want the player to be, and the other is, of course, getting to that point. If that holds true, then it holds true in marketing as well, I believe, and that is that we should be leading the market to a point, not just meeting current market needs.

Thought leadership is leading thought. If you’re leading thought, then you actually have to lead. You’ve got to work out where this thing is going. If you’re an expert in solving a particular problem, where’s that problem going? Where are solutions to that problem going? What are the new ways that you need to uncover to solve that problem? You need to be at the front of that curve.

Two points: You need to be at front of that curve from a product perspective, so you figure out where the ball needs to go in the future, where the market needs to be in the future, and of course you’re shaping your products to match where you think that market’s going to end up. But you also need to be getting the market to that point. There’s no point kicking the ball to where you want the player to be and the player not being there. You need the market to be there when the product’s there. Product/market fit means not just passively honoring what the market wants, but shaping both the product and the market. Changing what the market believes is a good product/market fit. That’s thought leadership.

This week’s tool tip is a tool called Buffer. We’ve been using Buffer app for quite awhile. It’s a posting scheduler. There are several. Hootsuite does a great job as well; we’ve been using Buffer and quite like it. There’s one feature of Buffer that I’ve been using quite a bit lately that I want to talk about, and that’s the power scheduler. In essence, what Buffer is, is what the name implies: it’s a buffer. You put all of your posts in when you’re good and ready, and you have them come out when the market’s good and ready. Good tactical, good thing to do, right? It also, of course, allows you to post to multiple different social platforms. Again, there are other tools, like Hootsuite, that do that as well.

So this buffer, you put all the social posts that you want in when you’re ready to post them, and you have them come out at the right time based on what Trello and other tools have told you the market best wants to receive it, or in the very least, just trickle charges with some kind of frequency. Your power scheduler that you do, particularly with tweets, is to say, “Look, I want this piece of content to go out 20 times,” let’s say. That’s what we’ve been doing lately, the same tweet going out up to 20 times over a month. Then for the next blog, we tweet it as well, another 20 times, and for the next blog we tweet it another 20 times.

What happens is that we’ve then got multiple different pieces of content: this week’s, last week’s, the week befores, going out on Twitter. To you, it looks like there’s lots of fresh content coming out, and that’s a great thing. To us, it let’s us still stick to the weekly schedule, but to not bore you to death with sending the same thing out too often.

What have we found we increased our tweets? Despite the fact that we’re sending the same tweet to the same piece of content up to 20 times more often, we’re actually getting more followers and more likes and more retweets than we used to get. Why? Because you’re busy. A tweet has a half life measured in seconds, so we just need the message to get out, and to get out, and to get out, and to get out. You might see a particular tweet one day and somebody sitting next to you sees it on another day, but the fact that we’re resending it means that we’re visible when you are ready for us to be visible.

Buffer is the primary tool, power scheduler is feature of that tool. What it lets us do is to be visible to you when you’re ready for us to be visible to you. That’s this week’s tool tip.

As you know, Funnel Plan is a great way to determine and then articulate your objectives, your strategy, your velocity, and the tactics that sales and marketing are going to use together to earn you business. Today we’ve been talking about product/market fit, and then place for that in the Funnel Plan is relatively obvious, but I’m going to come back to the main point about evolving product/market and its fit in a second. Let’s start with the basics.

It begins with the problem. You can see in the Funnel Plan here that we’ve identified a number of problems that we might consider solving, and we’ve chosen from those one problem that we’re going to focus on becoming the best in the world at solving. The first question is: what will it take to fully solve that problem? There’s your product part of the mix.

Now, product/market fit, let’s take a look at the market. Who is it that’s most affected by the problem? There’s two parts: there’s what are the common elements of the segments, what’s true of every kind of buyer who has that problem, we call the ideal client profile, and where will we find those people? What are the segments, whether they’re structured around industry, as is often the case, or not? What are the segments and the role within those segments who must have that problem? There’s your product and your market.

The comment from Andreessen and Co is all around getting a fit between the product and market; willing market and a great solution to a problem that they have. Point is, the problem that the market has, you can change that. You can change what problem the market believes it has, or problems it prioritizes, and that’s where your tactics come in.

We start with a strategy. Again, problem, then product, then market. Then we go down to tactics. I’m not going to drill into individual tactics here, just to say that we need to find tactics, not just to position and generate interest but, and this won’t surprise you. You know where I’m going with this: tactics to trouble the market about that problem.

When you succeed, well and good, you’ll move on to having a marketing qualified lead, but when you fail we need to earn the right to get those failed or those late prospects back into the funnel with the nurturing. That’s where your, down in the bottom here, the ongoing nurturing or the recycling of the leads, plays its most critical role. Ongoing invitations to thought leadership, which in this case is short teasers which lead to a blog. Whatever your ongoing nurture is, it needs to not just keep you positioned but it needs to change the market’s concept of what the problem is that they have and what a good product/market fit would be.

In the Funnel Plan software, to generate that PDF output, of course we’re looking here at the market. I’ve identified the problems, now what does the ideal client profile look like? Where will we find those ideal buyers, the type of business owner role, and then, of course, we moved into the tactics. That’s it, hope it helps.

I mentioned in the blog that we’ve been using ad words significantly and successfully in the Australian market. On next week’s show I’m going to share with you some of the lessons that we’ve learned about using ad words for selling a complex service into an immature market. Until then, may your funnel be full and always flowing.