Any product must have market appeal in order to gain customers. At my last company, Pictela, we struggled to achieve product/market fit in our first year. Initially, we tried to sell our product to PR agencies as a way to distribute brand content. But no matter how hard we tried,we could not get them to buy it. We later realized we had the right product but the wrong market. Once we adapted our product to advertising, boom! The business took off, and Pictela was acquired a year later.
But there’s another element of this product/market fit that’s often overlooked: the product/customer fit. You can have a great product/market fit but be involved with the wrong kind of customer. Here are some examples:
The dreamers. Some potential customers never stop dreaming up new things they want the product to do. Just when you think you’ve addressed their needs they have another half dozen ideas they want you to tackle before they buy your product. These kinds of customers can hijack your product roadmap and delay more important features from being developed.
The procrastinators. A business today must move fast and have constant growth in order to survive. However, some customers make decisions at a pace that would make a tortoise look speedy. A “yes” that can take a year is often worse than a quick “no.”
The cheapskates. Free trials are OK, but if you have to give your product away indefinitely, then there’s something wrong with either the product or the customer. Insisting on getting paid -- even if it’s a small amount -- can help you determine if there’s a market for what you’re selling.
The friends. Convincing friends to buy a product can be easier than selling to complete strangers. The problem is that they may buy your product but never get around to using it.
The job hoppers. Some people will want to know about your product because they want a job, not because they actually plan to buy it or can sell it through to their management. Try to ferret this out quickly so you don’t waste a lot of time.
The rip-off artists. There are some unscrupulous people, including senior executives at large companies, who may want information about your product not because they plan to buy it, but because they plan to copy it and build it themselves. Watch out for these people!
If at any time you sense a bad product/customer fit you should back away from the relationship gracefully but definitively. It’s hard to say no to a potential customer, but sometimes fewer, better clients are better than a bunch of weak or duplicitous ones.
Ultimately, what matters in business is having the right customers.