Skip to main content

Yeah, Sales Before Product-Market Fit is Hard

So you’ve built an MVP of a product. You’ve hit the ground selling. You’ve gone door-to-door (probably more figuratively, but possible you’re actually doing this). You’ve met with 100 prospects, and of those 100, you got… 0 customers. Ouch.

One of the greatest problems in the startup world is selling a product before product-market fit. I know from personal experience with Body Boss how we launched with a product that was overbuilt with features that weren’t needed by our market while missing features that were critical. Sales was very hard.

Within our true 16 months of running, we had signed up 12 customers… the average receipt of the customers in the first eight months was $214 while the average receipt of the customers acquired in our last eight months was $458.

Meanwhile, our retention and user engagement numbers of our latter batch customers were several times greater than the former. This reflected many things beyond marketing… namely, our improvement in the product inching towards product-market fit.

As I look back at our sales processes while building a product from the ground up in an industry none of us cofounders had any experience in, I can point to several lessons that could have helped mitigate our difficult sales situation…
  • Have first-hand experience in the market you’re trying to address. You can develop empathy easier, you may have a network of like peers, etc.
  • Absent first-hand experience, be a sponge and do a lot of customer discovery to explore the problem and present your idea of the solution to get buy-in
  • Selling on the dream is hard. Instead, sell on the primary value and benefit you’re providing with your MVP. You can share the dream, but sell hard on what you do provide
  • Focus on the problem you’re solving and the benefit you’re delivering. Don’t try to jam-pack more features that deliver incremental benefit. Focus on what delivers the most benefit in the shortest amount of time so customers get it
  • Launch, learn, iterate, repeat as fast as you can as long as you have sufficient “gut-feeling” on how the current approach is going
  • Customer discovery up front (early and often) mitigates significant cascading risks down the line
Most people in sales at startups will stress how sales is hard. Why? Because absent of product-market fit, the product just doesn’t address the market in a simple, scalable way. Meanwhile, you have significant friction in showcasing how your product can (assuming you can) deliver inertia-breaking benefits.

So yeah, sales before product-market fit is hard. 

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

You Make Time for What (and Who) Matters

I’ve always been a big proponent that you make time for the things and people that matter. Sounds simple, right? Then, why do so many not implement this better in their lives? Let me take a moment to recognize this more explicitly.
I touched on Laura Vanderkam’s TED Talk “How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” in last week’s post. In it, she shares a story of a woman who had a leak in her home. Coordinating with plumbers, and getting everything resolved, the woman estimated that it probably took seven hours of attention. That’s seven hours of “stuff” the woman hadn’t planned on doing. If you were to ask her (or most anyone) to find seven hours in the week before, she’d have told you, “heck, no, I don’t have seven hours. I’m busy!”
I was thinking of Laura’s talk in conjunction with Jacob Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life. Specifically, I’m aligning “making time” with Christensen’s Resources-Processes-Priorities framework. We make (process) time (resources) for the things th…

Vertical SaaS? Horizontal SaaS? It’s All News to Me

Not sure why, but I have only recently heard of a term called “Vertical SaaS”. Okay, there’s also “Horizontal SaaS”, too. Based on some light research, looks like vertical SaaS is also a growing trend and the number of companies fewer than horizontal SaaS providers.
Vertical SaaS borrows its moniker from the concept of vertical integration whereby there is more control over a supply chain from raw materials to point-of-sale. Here, vertical SaaS companies focus on a niche market (industry) offering a solution that enables more process control.
Horizontal SaaS providers get really good at a particular offering, and widen their market to reach scale. Their focus is on breadth of market, and thus, its sales and marketing strategies can require more resources.
Many vertical SaaS companies (such as Veeva Systems, Guidewire, Fleetmatics) are doing well usurping legacy systems of traditionally slow-tech-adoption industries. Here, vertical companies develop a best-of-breed product, and focu…

Leadership Take-Aways from Two of NCAA’s Most Successful Coaches

On my recent Delta flight, I read an interesting leadership article in Delta’s Sky magazine – the feature piece being an interview of two of the NCAA’s most successful coaches – Coach MikeKrzyzewski (Coach “K”) of Duke’s men’s basketball team and Coach Urban Meyer of Ohio State football with five and three national championships, respectively.
Given these two coaches’ storied careers, their leadership has incredible sustainability. Here are my take-aways from the article: Both coaches took leave of absences in their careers due to medical concerns. Their successes cultivated deeper motivations to win exacting significant physical, mental, social, and emotional tolls. After stepping away, however, each returned to coaching posts to continue winning ways, but implemented mechanisms and understanding to keep themselves in check. Take-away: To operate in peak form like their respective teams, leaders, too, need to ensure self-maintenance.The interviewer asked the coaches about social medi…