I recall it clearly: the pressure to get that first “deal”…as well as the relentless pressure to fill “the funnel” even though we were in a very early stage incubator within a large firm where our revenue wouldn’t have paid for the yard care.
That memory came flooding back last week at a professional society meeting. One of the members of the group was talking to me about how after working tirelessly for 18 months, they had just gotten their proof of concept devices into real customers’ hands. We talked about how magical it is to get that first customer’s tangible feedback. And in this case, it was a paid for beta run, so she put some commission money into the sales team’s pocket, as well.
In addition to congratulating her on the win, I gave her some advice which caught her by surprise. I told her she was about to enter the danger zone that exists in larger firms: the zone that comes with a validated new offering. I shared with her that in addition to being a tireless champion, she just got a new role: defender and chief of the team. Her goal within that role was to help the team make the device great before getting buried in demand.
To be a growth leader in a firm, you need to negotiate a subtle detente to hold the big and perfect machines at bay until you have high confidence and metrics that you have the killer product or service.
It’s the bane of large organizations – the minute the proof of concept is done, the pressure to release innovation via the core product development system is overwhelming.
Why is it Wrong to Put Ship Pressure on a Nascent Product Team?
The issue is this: within the core product development system of a firm, the larger issues of product market fit have all been worked out. The products are moving into a proven and substantiated market, where the price, feature and performance expectations are well known. The distribution system knows, likes and trusts the firm’s products, and has expectations of how they will behave with marketing incentives and the like.
Contrast this with the young internal team, where product market fit and business model discovery need to be job one. There is much to be learned, and in most cases, it’s been a long time since anyone has had to do the pick and shovel work of determining market fit.
You as the innovative leader need to be the articulate firewall until you are 100% sure it’s ready to be given full scale. This should involve lots of testing, with carefully chosen audiences to be sure it’s ready for prime time.
Once You Have Product Market Fit, Then Turn on the Optimization Engines
There are two big guns in the established firm that are your friends once you’ve zero’d in on the product market fit: the tools of scale and variation reduction. A start up can only dream of having an operations team that can build a supply chain, construct the product and deliver it at a high level of quality. Similarly, established firms have distribution engines, that at the minimum, can provide a blueprint for the new product or service, and hopefully serve to get you to market at a significant ramp rate.
So How Do We Do This?
As growth leaders, we need to be consummate negotiators with the internal team and set expectations carefully. I find the STRIDE framework useful for making sure that everyone understands that there is a reality phase that we need to get through that will be messy and require investment.
Large firms are known for short cycling the “reality” portion of the cycle, and this will deprive the team of the rich learning, significant know how and intellectual property that is necessary for long-term value development.
- Find the sponsorship you need to be able to get a clean offering ready. This means equal parts of champion muscle and protective air cover. For ideas on how to do this, see here and here.
- Shape your engagements early. When doing your customer proof testing work, begin to design your dream team of beta clients, and keep nurturing them. Choose them strategically to test all corners of features and performance of your product or service. You can do this intuitively, or employ advanced methods.
- Develop your competence sequentially for maximum impact. When you are working on perfecting your early stage products and services, choose narrow specific segments to get great feedback that allows you to crisply work out the details. When you have achieved the net promoter status for that group, move on to the next one.
You’ve probably gathered that there are a large number of process details, decision-making methodology and facilitation know-how that go into doing this well. If you’d like to have a deeper dive on how this all works, give me a call at 847-651-1014, or click here and set up a no strings attached, 20-minute phone call.
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