Marketing Market Fit
How to Maximize ROI of Your Inventions
Most early-stage startups seek product market fit: a product that satisfies the target market. While this is of course an important milestone, it is often more crucial to choose the right product to build based on market research. Here, we describe how to maximize the ROI of your inventions by first focusing on marketing market fit: a message that satisfies the target market. After achieving marketing market fit, you know exactly what is required to deliver on an irresistible offer for your customer with your future product.
How does one achieve marketing market fit? First, identify your target customers. Second, understand the most important problem(s) they are facing that you intend to resolve. Third, create a message about how your solution compellingly addresses their needs. After you have completed these three steps, you can confidently and aggressively turn your invention into a saleable product knowing that it will satisfy actual market demands. We will now describe how each of these steps looks in practice as you work towards marketing market fit.
This process begins with identifying target customers. Start by making a list of all the industries or customers that could benefit from your invention. Initially, include even hair-brained ideas that seem far out there. With this list, now leverage your network to get introductions to three potential target customers in each industry or segment. Ideally, this first round of conversations is with 30+ potential customers across 10+ areas. Your goal in these first conversations is simply to assess the following criteria that will help you choose where to focus later:
Which customers have the most acute problem?
Which customers see your invention as most relevant to their problem?
Which customers indicate excitement to test your proposed solution?
Which customers seem to have the most rapid technology adoption cycle?
Which customers appear to be most able to pay significant sums of money?
We suggest creating a rubric to score customers you speak with on these five criteria (1–10). Relatively quickly, it becomes clear that certain types of customers have a more acute and relevant problem for your invention to resolve. Additionally, certain customers express excitement to try it and willingness to spend money. You can gauge these things with the following types of questions:
- What are the biggest challenges you are looking for help with?
- How would X invention be able to help with those challenges?
- How excited would you be to try Y solution for those challenges?
- In the past, how fast have you adopted new solutions to other challenges? What are some examples of the slowest and fastest ones you tried?
- Do you have a budget for trying new solutions? What is the rough scale of that and how does the approval process work?
Also, ask every customer you speak to for three introductions to other relevant customers to learn more from. Thus, you can rapidly interview 100 potential customers over the course of a few weeks. At this point, you want to focus in on the top 3 problems and corresponding customer types to dig deeper with to ensure you viscerally understand their challenge and how to address it. Choose the problems to focus on based on the criteria enumerated above.
In a follow-up conversation with those customers that face these problems, ask questions like the following:
How valuable would a solution to this problem be?
What have you tried so far to solve it?
What has been satisfying in other solutions?
What has been dissatisfying in other solutions?
How many others have this problem?
Would you introduce me to three others who have this problem?
What would you need to see in order to try a new solution?
How do you see our invention addressing your problem?
What would be the first step you would want to take in trying our solution?
How would you want that step to work (timing and commercially)?
With the answers to these questions, you are getting the data you need to choose which problem to focus on solving. After you have another 30+ conversations, enough patterns emerge that you can select the problem and target customer to move forward with. We strongly recommend focusing on high value problems where customers have already expressed significant interest in a test soon where they are willing to spend money on that test. You also understand at this point in the process the key decision criteria that influence the customer’s decision-making process for this problem.
It is now to time to craft a compelling message. As these conversations are each yielding new introductions to talk to, you gain confidence in your message and you can test that message with a portion of the introductions while still gathering more market data. In our experience, after 100+ conversations hearing target customers’ problems and iterating on how you present your message, you can typically land on a story that speaks to customers. The key to creating this message is to focus on their problem and the solution to it — not your invention!
While they may find your invention interesting, they are not looking for a cool invention — they are looking for a solution to their problem. A compelling message still typically begins by asking questions like in the step of understanding problems. Even after years of delivering already proven products to well understood customers, we find it most effective to begin every conversation by asking new potential customers about their problems and needs. This is because it allows us to validate that we are speaking to a customer who faces the problem we have chosen to focus on and it allows us to subtly customize our message to their particular needs.
After asking questions designed to elicit their problems, you can transition into sharing your solution. This often takes the form of 2–3 key distinctive features of your solution that correspond to what your customer discovery process indicated as the most important decision-making criteria for customers. At this stage, it is important to identify for customers how your invention is uniquely positioned to deliver on those distinctive features that other solutions fail to address. This portion of the narrative should continue to be iterated on as you discover new competitive approaches over time.
You know that you have nailed your message and achieved marketing market fit, when the majority of your meetings are resulting in the customer asking for how they can try your invention.
Be ready with an answer about either a deposit to join a waiting list or a timeline on when you will follow-up to coordinate a test. By this time, you likely also have 100+ potential customers identified because you have made sure to ask for 3 introductions from each of your meetings.
Now you may be thinking that this seems like a lot of work and conversations before you build your product, and you are right. This is how you make sure you build the right product. It is much more work to turn your invention into a product than it is to have a few months of customer conversations. Do the easier work of customer conversations before you do the harder and less malleable development work.
As a result, you can iterate rapidly on your words about your product rather than iterating slowly on your actual product. This will also result in easier development work because as you are making design decisions in development, you will have a network of interested potential customers to ask for feedback.
This blog post described how to achieve marketing market fit. First, identify customers. Second, understand their problems. Third, create a compelling message. Then, when you turn your invention into a product you already know how to deliver what customers most need.
Prime Movers Lab invests in breakthrough scientific startups founded by Prime Movers, the inventors who transform billions of lives. We invest $1mm-$3mm in seed-stage companies reinventing energy, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, human augmentation and computing.