For more than 20 years, I’ve been bringing new products to market. I’ve taken new product ideas to launch, through product-market fit, to traction, growth and ultimately success — sometimes failure, but my track record is pretty good and I always learn from my mistakes.
4 Elements of a Solid Product-to-Market Strategy
- A description of every single product you are offering, including variants.
- A fully defined and identified customer for each product.
- Fully developed paths to find those customers.
- Fully functional fulfillment, from a frictionless way to buy the product to seamless delivery of it.
Along the way, I’ve also been paid a lot of money to advise dozens of other startups to do the same. Most of them, not all of them, come to me when they’re in trouble. They come to me for help with their feature set, their pricing, their marketing and their sales. They come to me because none of it seems to be working.
In these situations, I can’t wave a magic wand and fix it. I wish I could. But most of the time it’s due to a poorly built go-to-market foundation, sometimes even a lack of any foundation.
This is going to seem surprising, but the simple step I see skipped almost every time a startup fails to find product market fit is when the startup creates grand plans for dominating their market without any sort of plan to make the product available on the market.
It happens all the time, with new entrepreneurs and veteran entrepreneurs alike. Stealth mode gets activated, feature sets and benefits get documented and built, marketing campaigns get created, sales numbers get projected, and all of this gets done in a vacuum before the first potential customer shows up.
Then when all the assumptions that went into those grand plans get undone at product launch, the startup is no longer in any position to react to who their customers really are and what those customers really want.
The irony is that having a product available for sale is incredibly easy these days. I mean, it’s more than just a landing page and a credit card form. But it’s not much more. Here’s what I usually find missing, for the simple reason that it never got done.
Fully Defined and Available Products
Before you write your first line of marketing copy, you need, available on your website or some other sales channel, every single product you are offering, a description of exactly what it is and a way for someone to buy it.
For each product variant, you’ll need a short (20-word) description of what the customer gets, another 20 words on why they need it, and a price.
All of this needs to be on your website with a form to accept a credit card for purchase or some other simple and frictionless way to transact. This is your landing page, and every outside link to your company should point to one of these pages, and every one of these pages should have a credit card form or a buy now button in a place where the customer doesn’t have to scroll to find it.
All traffic to and from this page needs to be tracked, including where the visitor came from, how much time they spent on the page and where they went when they left.
Fully Defined and Identified Customers
For each product you define above, you also want to define the primary customer for this product. You can write up detailed customer personas if you want, but at the very least you should define enough about them to be able to identify them in the wild.
Keep in mind that the defined customer for one product or variant might be a different customer than the defined customer for another product or variant, although they may have many similarities between them. You need to reach and speak to each type as well as all types together. This is impossible if you don’t know the similarities and the differences.
Fully Developed Paths and Funnels
Once you’ve defined your customer, you’ll be able to identify them, which should lead you to where they congregate. This should help you determine how to get started reaching them. It might be content marketing, it might be email marketing, it might be social or ads or it might be all of that.
Keep it mind that the broader your reach, the more expensive it is to acquire the customer. So before you do anything to reach customers, develop the path by which they get to your landing page and the funnel that pulls them closer to conversion. Oddly enough, a lot of startups start here, building funnels for unknown customers and selling products with unknown demand. This usually results in a high cost to acquire a low number of unsatisfied customers.
Fully Functional Fulfillment
That’s a mouthful, but all it means is once someone buys one of your products, you need the machinery in place to deliver it to them. This should go without saying, and it often does, but the process to fulfill the product should be the exclamation point on the readiness of the product for the market.
In other words, this step proves that all systems are go for launch.
Now that your startup can define, describe, sell, and deliver a product to a defined and identified customer, all the assumptions you make about your feature set, pricing, marketing and sales are grounded in reality. This allows you to track the accuracy of those assumptions and make changes that are based on results, not speculation. Those changes are what is needed to find the fit that leads to traction that can ultimately lead to growth and success.
Those steps can’t happen in your head or on paper. They need to happen in the real world.