I wrote about Product Led Growth. It’s the latest hot new strategy being promoted by many SaaS companies and VCs. It’s not a new strategy, we’ve seen it so often in the past, companies with Hot Products focused just on fulfilling customer demand. In past decades we’ve seen both the pros and cons of product-led business models.

In the article on PLG, I focused on some of the promise, as well as the problems/challenges with this business model. It’s ironic, as we reflect on this, the problem with so much of our go-to customer strategies is that too many have adopted a product-led strategy–even though they don’t have a hot product.

The perennial problem we face in effectively engaging our customers is that we focus on what we are interested in–our products/services–and not what the customer cares about.

What if we changed our point of view? What if rather than focusing on our on priorities, we focused on the customers’? What would happen if we adopt a Problem Focused Growth Strategy?

What’s this mean?

It’s simple, we move our perspective from our products to the customer problems and challenges. This is easy to say, but what does it mean? Some thoughts:

  1. We have to have great clarity around the problems we are the best in the world at solving. These problems define our products and services. These problems give us the context in which we deliver the most impactful value to the customer.
  2. We have to have great clarity about the customers that have/are likely to have those problems. Can you spell ICP? We are the most relevant, we create the greatest value, we are more successful with our customers and in achieving our own goals with those customers. We waste time and brand equity, when we try to engage customers outside our ICP.
  3. We have to recognize that our solution is likely to be just a part of the broader customer problem. So our solutions may be a component of that problem. We have a couple of challenges we have to address in this space: First, what part of the problem do we help them solve and how does that fit with all the work they have to do? Second, how do we help the problem-solving team successfully solve the problem? (The data on project failure within customers is stunning.)
  4. We have to recognize that being problem-focused rather than product-focused, it changes our engagement strategy and the skills needed to create the greatest value with our customers. This demands different skills and engagement models. In addition to product knowledge, we have to have critical thinking, problem-solving, project management, orchestration, collaborative conversations, and curiosity skills—because those are skills critical to problem-solving.
  5. We have to recognize the tremendous advantage–from a growth point of view—that the problem-solving orientation has over the product-led growth has. In a PLG strategy, we are dependent on the customer recognizing they have a need to buy a product. With a problem-focused strategy, we have the opportunity to get the customer to think differently. They may not know they have a problem, they may not know how to begin defining and solving the problem. The number of people having a problem versus the number of people recognizing they have a problem and buying a product to address this, is orders of magnitude different. Why should we be satisfied with the growth produced by people who recognize they need to do something and have selected our product? Shouldn’t we be addressing a much greater market opportunity by working with people who have the problem, but don’t recognize it or are struggling to solve it?
  6. We create the greatest value and differentiation by helping our customers recognize and solve their problems. We create the greatest value and differentiation when we help them in the change process. Product-led strategies actually minimize this value creation and differentiation because the customer has done all the heavy lifting. We know in every Hot Product driven business strategy, the greatest threat is the fast followers, those competitors that copy, or improve upon our product/solution. We have the greatest opportunity to sustain or accelerate our growth.
  7. A problem-focused strategy makes it easier for us to win. In reality, it is never about the product, but about solving the customer problem. As we look at most customer buying processes, any of the solutions on their shortlist will solve their problem. We discover, it really is never about the product, but what we enable the customer to do and how we help them learn and do those things. A product-led strategy is solely dependent on product superiority. Over time, this is unsustainable, both from a competitive point of view, but more importantly, from the customer problem-solving approach.
  8. Problem-focused go-to customer strategies don’t need Hot Products, they are only dependent on our ability to actually help our customers discover and solve their problems. There are very few organizations that actually have the ability to develop and sustain Hot Products. But all of us can and must focus on helping our customers solve their problems. And the degree to which we can do this creates a greater and more sustainable growth strategy.

I’ll stop here. PLG has become the latest shiny object diverting too many of us from focusing on the basic principles of creating value with our customers. It’s easy to understand the VC attraction to this–companies with Hot Products are great investments (during the upcurve).

While it’s not flashy, I believe the most sustainable growth strategy is about Problem Focused Growth–with our customers.