Last week, an entrepreneur wrote in with a long and detailed question, but one that I see a lot, especially from founders who are already on the market and doing crisp business. It was actually more of a cry for help than a question. It seemed that after a healthy launch that resulted in hitting some lofty KPIs in her first year, new customers no longer wanted her product. Suddenly, she told me, new customer adoption had come to a screeching halt.
The customers she already had still loved the product – adored it, in fact. The market she was addressing was full of carbon copies of her best customer profile. These were prospects that should have been as enthusiastic to purchase her product as her existing customers were using it.
Same product. Same customer. Great track record. Brick wall.
So I dug in to find out why. Turns out her customers weren’t the problem.
The Gap Between Launch Success and Product-Market Fit is Real
To be honest, there is always a head fake waiting for any startup that experiences initial success – even great initial success. Achieving success with a startup is one thing (and difficult to do), but maintaining that success across a broader and wider swath of customers is a different story, and much more difficult, to boot.
In fact, I would go so far as to say every startup I’ve ever been involved with hit some kind of slowdown in momentum almost immediately after their initial wave of success. And in hindsight, there was always an identifiable reason for the problem.
That reason, while different from startup to startup, was almost always hidden in the positioning and messaging. At launch, we were working with a segment of the market that had some awareness of what kind of business we were. The buildup to launch had helped us define and refine our messaging to bring these early adopters on board, almost without a second thought.
In other words, these were customers that were already looking for the solution we were selling. All we had to do was tell them: “Here it is!”
Once we went out to a post-launch market, in every case, we had to be a little more explanatory about exactly what we were offering, to whom, and why it would solve their problem. This is a different puzzle to solve, and it takes a little experimentation to hone that message.
Stop Asking Why Your Customers Don’t Want Your Product
Instead of asking herself why all these new customers didn’t want her product, she should probably be asking if these new customers understand her solution. All her messaging around her product was intended to build a level of trust in her new company, and the messaging was directed at an audience she naturally assumed would be skeptical.
Most of the time, new companies get so caught up in trying to establish their credibility that they lean towards communicating how much their customers love them rather than what it is their customers love – and why. I see this play out in website copy, in email marketing, and in content marketing. I wish press releases were more about increases in problems solved rather than shiny new customer badges. It’s great knowing that Microsoft swears by Software X, but if I don’t know what Software X does, I don’t know if I need it. Microsoft swears by a lot of things I don’t need. Like the Edge browser.
Stop Solving Skepticism
Look, if your business has no customers or unhappy customers, you have a bigger problem than messaging and positioning. But most of the time, when I see a startup enter the market with a bang that suddenly becomes a whimper, it’s usually because they’re spending too much time trying to convince customers that they’re for real, and not enough time explaining why their solution is for real.
A fool and their money will always be parted. Your messaging shouldn’t be focused on assuring your prospects that they won’t end up fools, but rather, it should leave them wanting to pay twice what you’re asking, because you’re relieving that much pain.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.