Product-Market Fit Isn’t Enough for Viral Growth

Blake Bartlett, Partner by

Sean Jacobsohn of Emergence Capital recently wrote a great article about how to determine if your cloud service has achieved product-market fit. It’s an awesome guide, and it’s accurate.

I describe product-market fit as the distinguishing essence of a company that is “growing like a weed.” Weeds don’t need fertilizer, irrigation systems, pruning, or TLC. They just grow. Looking for the magic strategy/tactic to help create weed-like growth is a non-sequitur. There is something in the weed’s DNA that makes it grow without outside intervention. It just fits the environment.

The parallel in the software world is called product-market fit. There’s something in the DNA of a product. It’s the right product built to address the right market need, introduced at the right time.

But here’s the thing: product-market fit is not enough. The product itself also needs to be easily accessible to prospects by removing friction from the conversion funnel. You cannot achieve weed-like growth, and your product will not “sell itself,” unless the conversion funnel is simple and seamless.

Let me give a personal example. I was at a day spa recently trying to buy a one-time treatment as gift for my fiancée. I was not there to shop, I was there to buy. But I was stopped short. How? The establishment had trained its store associates to aggressively discourage one-time treatments or gift cards in favor of memberships. After a 10-minute back-and-forth, I finally said, “I want to give you my money, but you don’t seem to want to take it.” The associate didn’t quite understand my statement and resumed the membership pitch, at which point I walked out with all of my hard-earned dollars still in my wallet.

I know I’m not the only person who has felt this way as a consumer. The question is: do your prospects feel this way?

Removing Friction is a Real Strategy

There have been entire businesses built on the back of removing friction from a transaction process and making it “dead simple” to use a product or convert. Here are some examples:

  • Hotel Tonight: A prominent component of their initial pitch was the relative number of “taps” (on a smartphone) it took to book a hotel room vs. competitors. Today it only takes “3 taps and a swipe.” And they’re still working to make it faster by further removing taps.
  • Uber: The service started with black cars, but there were other ways to book black cars online before Uber. They were called GroundLink and Limos.com. Yet Uber removed the friction by making it (i) mobile, location-based, and on-demand; and (ii) only 2-taps to book a car.
  • Yo: Okay, this is probably not considered a “business” yet, despite its recent $1.5M in funding. However, its novelty and virality is based on its 1-tap simplicity. Zero friction communication. And it’s reinforced with the tagline, “It’s that simple.”
  • Push For Pizza: A brand new app that I actually love. Literally a pizza button. It’s kind of a joke, but it’s also a powerful concept that removes all friction between me and pizza. Yeah, it’s real.

Removing Friction in B2B

All these examples embody the golden concept of reducing “time to value.” The most successful weed-like tech companies today (whether consumer or enterprise) are built on the back of reducing the effort and time required for a prospect to get value from a product/service. What good is it to have the best product in the world if it’s a pain in the ass for customers to interface with your company?

You may be thinking, “All your examples are consumer apps. Does this work for B2B products?” The short answer is yes. The most obviously example is the freemium model. However, I’ll point to four non-freemium examples:

  • Optimizely: Go to the website. There’s a very obvious and powerful call-to-action: a search bar. We all know what to do when we see a search bar. Three clicks later, you are using the product. Optimizely doesn’t have to “pitch” its value prop, it only has to direct users to its website.
  • Join.me: Somehow LogMeIn, a 10 year-old company, bucked the innovator’s dilemma and created the lightweight presentation app that everyone is using. We’ve all experienced the perennial 10 minute conference call tardiness due to the clunkiness of legacy solutions like GoToMeeting or Webex. With Join.me, you enter one code or click a URL, and you’re in. No agents to download and install (for non-presenters).
  • Moat: Once again you see the search bar. One click later you’re getting value from Moat. Although it’s more of a free lead gen tool vs. a free/test version of the full product, there is still very quick time to value.
  • HubSpot: Take a look at their Marketing Grader. It’s at the other end of the spectrum from the Optimizely example, in that it provides an auditing tool rather than instant access to the full product. However, it leaves you feeling exposed, and any diligent marketer will look for a solution to the deficiencies identified by the Marketing Grader.

When the friction is removed, and time to value decreased, a company gets closer to true marketing nirvana — using your product as your primary marketing asset.

Get feedback and act on it

As a software company, are you turning would-be customers away? Are you putting up hurdles that make it frustrating and alienating for prospects to actually access and consume your product? I encourage you to map out how many steps are required for a motivated prospect to use your product. Are there hurdles your prospects have to jump over? Where is the unnecessary friction in your funnel?

Or better yet, ask your customers directly. You can survey them with tools like Instant.ly or SurveyMonkey. You can implement something like UserVoice in your app and prompt users for feedback. You can monitor social media to see what they’re saying (or if they’re not saying much, that’s a leading indicator too – great products create vocal customers). Lastly, you can track their behavior in your funnel through a heatmapping and session playback tool like ClickTale or Crazy Egg. I’d actually recommend doing all these things – they are not mutually exclusive.

Be honest with yourself, and take user feedback seriously. Get creative and try wild new UX design approaches that radically simplify your funnel. I guarantee there are plenty of tweaks you can make. Some will work and some won’t, but on the whole, removing funnel friction will positively impact your conversion rates and customer acquisition metrics.

As the examples above demonstrate, there are more and more companies out there getting extremely good at this. If you want to keep up and stand apart you’ve got to strive to be even better.

Photo by: Katie Ashdown