Find underserved segment in the market → achieve product/market fit → but no product/channel fit → no growth → dead end.

That is the “dead zone trap”. Here is how teams get into it and how to get out of it.

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First, teams may stumble upon an empty or underserved niche. Often this segment consists of small or micro-sized businesses.

Then they build the product for this newfound audience, and through direct sales and manual onboarding, they acquire their first few dozen customers. The customers find the product valuable and start using it. They are even happy to pay.

The teams get excited—after all, the product creates real value and has product/market fit. Woo-hoo!

But that’s when the unexpected hard part starts.

Obviously, they can’t go door-to-door and manually onboard customers forever. So they ought to find a scalable channel to deliver the product at a profit. And usually they can’t.

Sales-driven approaches don’t work because they are too expensive. Monetization in the small business segment won’t recoup the costs of acquisition. It’s spending dollars to make pennies.

Regular B2C growth channels also don’t work: they can’t target relevant users or catch them at the right moment.

And that’s how products end up in the dead zone.

The dead zone is escapable, however. Some products find unique growth channels to deliver value at scale:

  • Mailchimp uses viral growth loops. The customers themselves help to promote the product, in the case of email marketing (Mailchimp adds a self-promo to emails sent through the product).
  • Shopify mostly relied on word of mouth and advertising.
  • Slack defined its free plan as a marketing tool targeted at teams and figured out how to use small teams as a foothold for winning over entire companies.

Products get stuck in the dead zone all the time. But sometimes it’s possible to climb out.

That is the “dead zone trap”. Here is how teams get into it and how to get out of it.

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