One last thought following on my previous note on product marketing 101.
If a project does not pass the framework test, if you cannot build consensus on who the customer is, and why he/she should buy your product:
- For (target customers - beachhead segment only)
- Who are dissatisfied with (the current market alternatives)
- Our product is a (new product category)
- That provides (key problem-solving capability)
- Unlike (the product alternative)
- We have assembled (key whole product features for your specific application)
You (you the company CEO or you the company board members or investors…) should stop and pause, and should not continue funding and working until you have a plan to address this, and find a reasonable answer (not the final answer, but a good-enough answer that you can leave with, and convince your people (internally) and partners (externally)).
When you have reached this point of no-good-answer-that-your-mother-could-understand, you have three paths open in front of you:
- Stop the project
It’s the hardest but simplest solution, as you cannot explain what you are doing, you should stop (and remember Wittenstein (What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence)…)
If you are not ready to do this, you should budget a fixed amount of time and energy to building enough customer experimentation so that you can then answer the framework. The amount of time should not be larger than 6 to 9months, and no second chance or second budget should be allowed here.
I have witness or be part of several board situation where we have not followed that rule, and we have ALWAYS lost, i.e. I have not seen a single case where we could not follow the framework, where we did budget more time, where we still had not answer, and at the end things work out fine, and we were able to build a successful company.
- Shrink into an IP factory
If you believe that your problem is a timing issue, that you are ahead of the market need, but that you time will come, one solution is to shrink into an IP factory, with minimal staff, and buy yourself some time until the market is develop enough to sustain the eco-system that your product needs.
For it to work you need to validate the following assumptions
- do you have significant IP and unique know-how that you could monetize in the future
- do you have the time needed for the market
- do you have the management and investor willing to stick around and wait
I have seen this working at Intertrust for example, but it does fail more often that it works, and is a high risk path.
- Change the people
This is the third way, change the people or hire the consultant. As long as you stay within the time constraints describe in the first solution (ie give yourself a finite amount of time to play around before shutting the project down) it’s an ok solution that will most likely not work…
The reason for it not working it that you can only change the people if you have a core group (at least one…) of people to build from (otherwise you will have to unpleasant experience of pilling each layer of the onion, only to realise that the core is empty, and that you have nothing to build from…). If this core group of people is here it should be able to answer the framework and changing people with have little or no impact.
As a board member, CEO of senior executive, always remember that if you cannot give an honest answer to the framework question, you have a real problem on your hand, that you cannot and should not ignore...