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In school, if you score 40% on a test, you have FAILED. Not just sort of failed — really failed. But in the world of digital products, scoring 40% can actually be an A+.

How, you ask? For product owners, 40% is the magic metric of the percentage of users who say they can’t live without your product. This, my friends, is called  product market fit.

What’s product market fit?

Entrepreneur and investor Marc Andreesen is frequently credited with developing this concept. The name says it all: your product fits well into the market. It means your product meets the needs of your target audience in a unique and compelling way. If 40% of your users indicate their lives would be worse off without your product, you’ve achieved product market fit. And that means you’re poised for scalable, sustainable growth.

Why 40%? 

While Marc Andreesen is credited with the concept of product market fit, Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of GrowthHackers, is the one who found a way to quantitatively determine if you’ve achieved it. After looking at benchmarks for hundreds of startups, he discovered those who were struggling to grow could not reach this 40% threshold. On the other hand, startups who had surpassed this threshold were seeing substantial growth. 

How do you get there?

The road to product market fit starts with research way before you even build or release a product to the public. You must have a deep understanding of your target market. Not just demographics or statistics. Really get into their heads:

  • What makes them tick?
  • What drives them?
  • What are their pains? 

Use these answers to develop personas that will act as your guide for every product decision you make along the way. If it wouldn’t matter to your persona, let it go. Build what matters to them. Put the product out into the wild. Then, gauge product market fit with your earliest adopters to determine if you’re ready to start to scale. How? Easy. You ask them! 

Ask them what, exactly?
You’ve probably gotten the following question in your email or through a pop up on a website: “How likely are you to recommend XYZ to a friend?” with a scale from 1-10. This is a Net Promoter Score, which some have said is the one number you need to know.

Here’s where I have a problem with that question: what do these numbers mean? Somebody puts a 3, another marks a 6. Cool. I have no idea what that actually means for their behavior. Will they come back? Will they buy again? Who knows. The numbers and their meaning are arbitrary. 

Instead, all you need is one question and four answers: 

How would you feel if you could no longer use [PRODUCT]? 

1. Very disappointed

2. Somewhat disappointed

3. Not disappointed

4. I no longer use [PRODUCT]

If more than 40% of users answer “very disappointed,” congratulations, you’ve achieved product market fit! Pour on the gas to scale and grow!

What if you don’t have product market fit?

If you haven’t quite reached the threshold, dig into your “somewhat disappointed” people. They’re on the cusp of being convinced, you may just need a little bit more to reel them in. Ask some open-ended questions to pull insights about potential feature additions or adjustments that would turn it into a product they can’t live without.

If you’re way off the mark, it may be time to step back and reevaluate. There may be either a fundamental misunderstanding of your audience’s pains and motivations or misalignment of the solution.

Whether you’re in a position to scale and grow your business or need to reevaluate what you’re bringing to market, Three Five Two can help. Drop us a line or give us a call to discuss.

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Megan Hord is a Senior Growth Marketing Strategist at Three Five Two. She thrives on helping her clients find traction and grow their businesses. A native Atlantan, Megan is a mother of two, an expert in Netflix trivia, and loves classic soul music.