The unsung hero of achieving product-market fit is the space between checking checkboxes.
You’ve done everything right. You’ve prepared. You’ve researched. You’re experimenting. You have something worth buying. You have a business plan and goals.
The steady plod between idea and launch is well documented, and is honestly quite encouraging.
Even the time between launch and that first customer can be great. Unless you’ve made something that no one wants or are presenting in a way that interests no one, you’ll grab that first customer and celebrate with many gifs.
That space between your first handful of customers and that “rapid growth” everyone wants?
Oh, that’s mostly described as hard work.
Just pay your dues. Do things that don’t scale. Be patient. Move fast. Do literally everything at the same time. Don’t do too much. Experiment. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look to your existing customers for more leads. Look for new leads from social channels.
This is the time where growth gains its momentum, but how in the world you can go about finding the hill to push growth down to gain that momentum is anybody’s guess. It seems to work differently for literally everyone.
Identifying Different Customer Journeys
Let’s take Evermore here, for instance. We’re now in this infamous period of hard work. How do we kickstart growth so fast that my business partner, Kyle, has to start hiring people.
And just so you know it’s not limited to unthoughtful startups, we checked all the startup boxes:
☑ Solving a real, validated problem and providing demonstrative value
☑ One full year of market and customer research before building
☑ Successful testing period
☑ Scalable business structure
☑ Pricing structure from successful business mentors
☑ Favorable, honest product launch coverage
☑ Converting leads to customers successfully
☑ Happy existing customers
All that planning and patience got things much further, faster than expected. It was even a very agile process: I’d never intended to have a business partner, but it was a very organic and obvious choice when the opportunity came.
But, now that we’ve tackled the part where so many businesses fail and have a sustainable way of operating, how can we take this solution to the world? How do we meet people where they are to tell them about Evermore’s value?
After all, we haven’t fallen into the trap of selling a vitamin. Evermore is definitely a pain killer for some. If someone’s wasted a weekend trying to do things they don’t care about with WordPress just to get their website working, they understand the value. If they’ve had a really bad experience with a hosting or theme or plugin company, they understand the value.
Evermore can also be a vaccination for many businesses: prevent ever wasting your weekend, or learning things you don’t want, or being hacked, or debugging a slow website.
There are two very different entry points for businesses that would benefit from Evermore, but that doesn’t mean the product is unfocused. It means we have to account for those entry points.
Finding Pivotal Moments
This is the hard work: how can you be the obvious choice when the decision is made by a potential customer?
In Evermore’s case, how can we be there when someone experiences the pain of lost time or money dealing with a frustrating issue, and speak to that? And, how can we be there when someone wants to make an investment in their business’s website that will last?
Everything gets foggy here. You can start diving into every famous phrase for marketing: thought leadership, inbound marketing, social engagement, content optimization and testing. It all comes from a good place. They are all truly promising methods for being top-of-mind for a potential customer, but every business needs its own custom combination.
Depending on your budget, you may be able to hire researchers. Do so if you can.
Perhaps you have $10,000 to run your first series of advertisements, so you can see what works. Do so if you can.
Regardless of your budget, though, there are two fundamental, scalable approaches to finding your potential customers’ pivotal moments.
Talk to People
Engage in more casual conversation with your customers, potential customers, and people who understand the problem you’re trying to solve.
Yes, you should sell when the time is right, but don’t miss the opportunity to have a discussion all the other times. Kyle and I are constantly talking to people about Evermore so we can learn and understand more about the pain—even though we already know more than almost anyone about the particular problem. Never stop learning.
Never stop having the casual conversations where you can glean insight from all that nonverbal communication and word choice.
Do What Your Customers Do
How do you expect to understand your potential customers’ perspective without actually attempting to see things from that angle?
Do some recon: read the blogs they would read, understand the search terms they use, and go to the events they go to. The more context you can have, the more adequately you can reach people when they need the problem solved that you can help with.
We’re doing all this with Evermore, but it feels like it’s a slow process. It’s probably not. Understanding how to take the power of open source to a market that doesn’t know to care about it is complex, and it should take time.
May this post serve as encouragement to you and myself: the hard work is confusing, but worthwhile.