The science of finding product-market fit in a competitive industry is really just the practice of producing what your customers want most. This, however, is more easily said than done.
As markets change, consumer needs shift, invalidating entire business models and products in the process. Taking aim at a specific group of potential leads and designing a product for them only to find you’ve missed the mark entirely can crush your startup before it even gets going.
This is where product-market fit comes into the picture. Once your product fits its intended market, you can concentrate on ironing out additional details.
The tricky science of balancing acquisition, engagement, and customer retention through stellar product design can be managed in more ways than one. This article describes three of the best tactics you can try to get product-market fit just right.
1. Zero in on what your product does best
When Steve Jobs told Nike CEO Mark Parker to “just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff,” he was referring to Nike’s entire product line. But this is also excellent advice for finding product-market fit for just one product.
A product that launches with too many functions dilutes its own purpose and confuses customers who may not understand what it has to offer. To help your product stand out from the crowd and earn stronger interest from consumers, you should cut it down to its core function and market it that way.
Paring your offering down to its best feature also means your product design can be streamlined much more effectively because there’s only one primary function to fix up and adjust. Early waves of feedback from focus groups and team members can bring about more effective changes to a product meant to serve a single, well-defined purpose.
Focusing on your product’s core competency can keep you from overextending early on in your business’s development. Overengineering your product puts you at a disadvantage to adapt it to customer interests as these are made clearer.
2. Figure out your customers’ needs (and roll with the changes)
Although individuals in your target consumer base may have a lot of intersecting needs and interests, identifying a single one of these and satisfying it thoroughly can help your product fit into the market.
Figuring out those needs can be done in multiple ways, including interviews and surveys. You can also try doing a competitive analysis or simply plotting out your target user’s journey from product discovery to everyday use.
For an excellent example of leveraging surveys and user feedback to maximize a product’s market appeal, email optimization innovator Superhuman is worth looking at. Led by Rahul Vohra, the company’s founder, Superhuman takes a proactive approach to feedback. A key part of their process is to associate survey responses with unique buyer personas, and identifying those that like their product the most. These personas then become the focus of the company’s optimization efforts. Read more about how they expertly use feedback to determine product-market fit here.
Your customers’ needs can change suddenly as circumstances alter their journeys, so you need to stay informed and be agile. For example, Slack took the rising wave of business users transitioning to remote work into account and came up with business services like bolstered security measures and several other features.
Once you know what your customers actually need from your product, you will have much better success in finding a way to solve their problems and succeed on the market.
3. Start with a minimum viable product
We mentioned earlier that you should focus on one thing your product does really well. But sometimes, your product doesn’t necessarily need to be the best—it just needs to, well, work. This is where the minimum viable product (MVP) comes in.
Delivering a minimum viable product comes down to designing for a single use case and nailing down the core vision of the product. It should be reliable, without being over-engineered and intuitive without making too many assumptions about user preferences.
The main purpose of a minimum viable product is putting your company on the map and encouraging consumers to provide you with valuable feedback. The feedback you glean from your customers can help you to redefine your product as it develops, molding it to real-world needs one step at a time.
There’s also the financial benefit of a minimum viable product simply being cheaper to produce than its more full-featured counterpart. If it needs to be scrapped entirely so that your team can start anew with a better understanding of the market, it won’t serve as a major loss of capital or time.
Not convinced? Ask companies like Buffer, Dropbox, and Airbnb—they all used MVP to learn about their products’ viability and fit into their respective markets.
Finding product-market fit is the first step
On the road to building a viable, sustainable business, achieving product-market fit can quickly prepare you for fresh challenges and solidify your product’s functional foundation for future development.