Product developers pride themselves on delivering the best possible experience for their customers. In my experience, that means listening to, and sometimes anticipating, the real needs and feelings of humans â€” those using the product and those who build it.
Product Market Fit Starts by Identifying Your Users’ Needs
Product-market fit is achieved when you’ve built a product that consumers need to have, as in they’re almost pulling it out of your hands to get to it. That is the nirvana of product development, but it’s a long and arduous road for most of us to get there.Â
When your tech product is in its nascent stages, you’re starting from scratch and a handful of assumptions. This is true even when you have an existing product that you want to iterate for a new target audience. Although it requires a lot of patience, you need to slow down before jumping into building something.Â
You need to figure out the details of three things:
- What is the pain point we’re solving for?Â
- Who exactly is the target audience?Â
- Can I build something that will pull users away from the existing solution?Â
You need to begin by getting in front of different customers and asking many questions. You can do this with inbound marketing, forming focus groups, and one-on-one interviews. Then eventually, as you hone in on what your solution is, you can do surveys to see what the widespread issue is.Â
The key is to let your target audience speak and listen. No leading questions. No telling them your idea. Just approach the conversation with curiosity.Â
Find out things like:
- What in particular do you struggle with when it comes to this problem?
- What solution are you currently using?
- What solutions have you researched or tried in the past?Â
- How much are you paying for the solution you have now?Â
- How often do you deal with this problem?Â
Through this process, start-ups will usually identify an entirely different pain point to solve and go back to the drawing board on ideas.Â
Once You’re Established, the Question Is How To Stay the Top Pick
If you’re on a product team at an established company, you already have access to your customers. Achieving product-market fit is about adapting to the evolving needs of our users as they come up, sometimes even delivering a solution before they articulate the problem.Â
Even if you know with all your being that you have landed upon an idea that will revolutionize your users’ or prospective users’ lives, adhering to a process of reaching product-market fit will save you a whole lot of heartache.Â
Start with one fundamental question: is it even possible to bring this idea to life?Â
Begin by drawing up a map of all the variables that have to be true for the feature or product to be successful. Your team should be able to determine whether or not enough of the dots across customer needs, motivations, and technology are connected to move forward.
Involve Your Customers â€“ A Lot of Them
Build a pilot product and start testing. Bring your pilot product to your users and watch them use it. Figure out where they’re getting hung up or stuck. Pretty quickly, you’ll be getting feedback about what makes your product easy to use or where people feel frustrated. That feedback is almost always something you didn’t account for because you’re in the forest, and you’ve ceased differentiating the trees.Â
Often feedback is split 50/50 between how you’re building the product and educating your users about how to use it. The first is just the capabilities and features themselves, redesigning them or tweaking them to make them more intuitive. The second is the content and design â€” do people understand what this solution/app/feature does? Does it meet their expectations? Do they feel comfortable taking this gesture?Â
For in-person testing, invite your target customers into a setting where you can watch them interact with your product. Online, you can invite pilot customers into a shared chat platform to interact in real-time with your developers, engineers, and product success teams. Explain the rules of the game:
- The problem you’re trying to solve,Â
- Potential ways that your customer would need to use it (use cases),Â
- How to receive support, andÂ
- Where to provide feedback.Â
To fit your market, your product must be easy to understand and use. The key to this phase is knowing just how long you should spend here.Â
Make the Call to Ship It or Ship Out
You can always continue iterating, but eventually, you have to ship the feature and move on. My team puts together a spreadsheet of issues, draws a line that we all agree upon, and tries to burn the list down to the line. Once we hit it, we release the feature for everyone and continue addressing our remaining hopes and dreams, usually just small details.
Sometimes, though, you need to make a necessary choice to abandon a feature or product. This is a painful thing to consider, but one we must all face. It’s time to move on when one of two things happen:
- You’re going too far afield from the overall vision of your product, orÂ
- Your team doesn’t have the core competency or skill set required to build it.Â
If you don’t see a path to success, it’s not time to give up, though. As they say, no one gives up in Silicon Valley; they just pivot. The key is to pivot while you still have enough money in the bank to do one more thing. You want to make sure you have enough runway that you still have a good shot at a successful launch.Â Â
Product Market Fit for Humans
No matter how much you love your solution, you have to remember who you’re building for and why. The first two constituencies I build for are end-users and business administrators â€” aka human beings. Our third constituency includes third-party developers, and they’re humans, too. We take the same thoughtful approach in designing our APIs (Application Programming Interface) as we do our user interface. Both interfaces depend on ergonomics to succeed.
We consider all three of our constituents’ needs while building a feature set. That doesn’t mean that we’re just plugging in algorithms and letting data drive the product forward. We elevate the users’ voices, ask them questions, and listen a lot. All of that informs the design process, and so does the intuition and opinions of our designers themselves. This is a case where the product being developed is data-informed, not data-driven.
Whether you are data-driven or data-informed, the most successful companies that continuously reach market fit time and time again outline their development process and stick to it.Â
Reaching product-market fit is about really listening to your users (or prospects) and getting curious and experimental about how you can solve their problems. Then, hopefully, you build something that makes their lives better.Â Â