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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. 

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