The painful lesson about PMF

You’ll hear it in the interview process, right? 

A declarative: “We have product/market fit.”

You’re already excited about the opportunity to become the company’s marketing leader. 

So you might just think: “Cool, let’s go!” (We’ve definitely reacted that way before.)

Or you’re further along in your tenure at the company, and it’s just assumed, like: “Yeah obviously we have product/market fit.”

So you either start or keep doing all the marketing. 

Content, ads, landing pages, emails, events, enablement, experiments, messaging and of course a bunch of website updates. 

Only to hear: 

“We need more demos!”

So in the spirit of driving pipeline and revenue, you optimize for more demos. Which only gets you so far. 

Meanwhile, the company wants to believe they have a marketing problem. That’s convenient.

But nobody wants to admit what the real problem is… 

For 9/10 B2B tech companies struggling in 2023, the reality is one of two things: 

1. They never actually got to product/market fit


2. They had product/market fit but somehow lost it


It’s no longer enough to solve a problem. Now we have to solve problems that map to the most severe and acute pains customers have. Solving for a pain that’s #7 on a customer’s list of issues does not get us to product/market fit. 

So why isn’t this talked about openly inside companies? 

When Marc Andreessen started writing about PMF back in 2007, he said he believes the life of any startup can be divided into two parts: before product/market fit (BPMF) and after product/market fit (ABMF). 

Since then, CEOs and founders have been indirectly conditioned to proclaim their startups have PMF as soon as humanly possible. 

It’s the #1 milestone!

They might wanna think that a particular number of customers or a certain ARR number correlates perfectly to it. 

It’s like that eager person on Jeopardy that presses the button before they even have an answer. 

But if they’ve told the company and the board and investors that they have PMF, can they really go back and say they’ve lost it? 

They could of course, but how many are doing it?

How hard would it be to raise the next round if they admitted it? 

Sounds a lot easier to say Marketing isn’t delivering enough demos. 

But the CEO isn’t actually the villain here. 

In fact, there is no villain. 

The market is just the market. And companies are notoriously bad at coming together and having brutally honest conversations about the hardest things. 

But as always, that is the opportunity. 

Audit for truth and be the voice of truth. 

And think about it – if you had product/market fit, you’d be too busy to even ponder this. 

“Customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it – or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can.

That’s how Andreessen described what it’s like when you actually have PMF.

So what’s the real lesson here? There are a couple…

1. It’s not the economy. It’s not the politics. It’s product/market fit. As sh!t has gotten hard, most companies don’t actually have it. And it’s creating all kinds of ripple effects.

2. PMF issues obviously don’t let Marketing off the hook—but they do change the game and force Marketing to adjust and have real internal conversations.

If you’re in this boat, we’d love to hear from you as we’re thinking about writing a lot more on this important topic. What’s your version of this?