The strategy for business success are built around three pillars: The Product, The Market and The Team. Each pillar or a combination will most likely determine the success or failure of a business. The core pillar or strategy to focus on is “the product to market fit”. In business schools they say that a business fails for two reasons, lack of funding or lack of strategy execution. Strategy execution should centre on getting the product and market fit right. If the product to market strategy execution by the leadership team is not right, the cost to fund the business for customer acquisition, sales, marketing and product development increase to the point where value cannot be captured.
What causes business success?
In business which strategy pillars contributes the most to success of the enterprise, the team, the product or the market? Or put another way “what is the biggest cause of success”? Also which is the weakest link: a bad team, a weak product, or a bad market?
Let us briefly dig a little deeper into these three pillars. Investors and venture capitalists often say they don’t invest in businesses they invest in people, so the team can be defined as the potential effectiveness of the CEO, co-founders and senior staff relative to the market opportunity. Can the team execute against the market opportunity they have identified, will their effectiveness overcome any lack of experience, and has the team the ability to deal with the “never seen it before” obstacles.
The product can be defined as to what problem is it solving and how impressive is the product to any customer or user who actually uses it: How easy is the product to install/set up and use? How feature rich is it? How fast can the benefits be seen? How transformational is it? How well-crafted is it? How has it been tested and what were the results?
The market is the size, number, predictions and growth rate, of those addressable customers or users for the product.
One other pillar that has to be planned for is “the Cost of Customer Acquisition”; meaning that the cost of acquiring a customer is lower than the revenue or profit that customer will contribute. The rate of customer acquisition has to do with execution and the ability of the team to move enough prospects through the sales funnel. Remember also that product quality will not create market size; Steve Jobs learned that lesson with his NeXT business. What a business needs is a desirable product, a big enough market and an economical way to target it.
So which pillar is the Number.1 building block for business success?
If anyone conducted a survey amongst business people on the question of which is the most important factor in business success, they probably would get three different answers. Some will say team, some on the product, while others will choose the size of the market.
As written about earlier in this article, if you ask entrepreneurs or VCs which of team, product, or market is most important, many will say team. This is an obvious answer because most of their knowledge and reference points in the beginning is the team as the product may not be built or ready to market plus the market will not have been fully evaluated yet.
Marketing and techies will say the product is the most important factor. The business is product driven, creates great products, then markets buy and use the products. The most valuable companies today are brands such as Apple and Google because they build the best products and without the product there is no company. Right? Try building a great team and having no product, or a great big market and having no product.
This leaves “The market”, where researchers, students of business success and business leaders will tell us that the market is the most important factor in a business success or failure. The argument is that in a big market (fragmented market or badly served by existing solutions), a market with lots of real identifiable customers, then the market needs will pull products out of the business. The market is ripe for change, has an appetite that needs feeding and the market will consume, viable products that will feed it. Maybe the product doesn’t need to be the greatest; it just needs to work. And, the market doesn’t care how good a team the business has, as long as the team can produce those viable products.
Has history shown us that the No.1 business killer is lack of market?
To expand on this a little further, maybe the business killer is not just lack of market, but more importantly a lack of product to market fit. Could the building blocks for a successful business be about being in a sizeable market with a product that can satisfy enough of that market to make profits? Is being in business about “making things that people want and will pay for”
Take the example of search engines, smartphones, online marketplaces even cars, when there is a growing, sizeable market with an appetite for change. Is this the story of telephone directories morphing to the web as search engines, the evolution of the telephone into people’s pockets, the buying and selling of goods being streamlined online or the transportation of people becoming about journeys.
The flip-side is in a market with little appetite for change, a business can have the best product in the world and super leadership team, and it may not matter, the business is going to fail. A business can spend a heap of money digging for years trying to find customers willing to pay for a product, little reward for a lot of effort and the team eventually will disintegrate, and the business folds.
Has history shown us that the No.1 business success factor is market?
When a great business team meets a stagnant market, market wins. When an average business team meets a great market, market wins. But when a great business team meets a great market, then something really special happens. Now this is not to say a business can’t screw up a great market, it has been done many times, but assuming the team is effective and the product is accepted in the market, a great market will tend to return success for the business and a poor market will tend to return failure to the business. So does Market matter most?
A few things worth remembering
Great products are really, really hard to build. So surround yourself with a great team, as a great team will always beat a mediocre team, given the same market space and product appeal.”
Great products can sometimes create new markets. Product that are so transformative to business or consumers it creates a whole new big market and the business becomes a gorilla. Think Microsoft.
The team needs to know how and on what battle ground it will take on and beat the competition to gain market share.
As a business leader or start-up, what should you do next? Focus on the thing that matters; get the product to market fit right. Product to market fit means getting into a good sizeable market with a product that can satisfy that market and capture value for your business. Do whatever is required to get to product to market fit. Seek out people who can help build your vision, change the product, change the sales model, move to a different market, tell customers you need some customer validation for the product, whatever is required.
Lastly, build a team that can make the product to market fit happen. A team that can go out and get customers buying the product. Next get product usage growing across a wide range of paying customers. Customer acquisition and market acceptance of the product means the team has got the product to market fit right which means the business can grow by hiring marketing,product, sales and customer support staff. The strategy for business success will always be the product,the market and the team. So the business plan and go to market strategy needs to address all three.