Several years ago I invited a key champion at an early customer to go to lunch with me. This person was an IT director who always provided me good feedback on the early product I was building. While my company in those days had closed some early customers, we were still struggling to find our place in the market and lived on customer feedback. But a couple days before the lunch, the IT director dropped me an email to let me know that his manager, the CIO, asked to join us. I thought that was odd, but still looked forward to the discussion.
After exchanging pleasantries at lunch, I asked the question I always started with: how are things going with the product? What followed can best be described as the CIO of the early customer giving me a hard slap across the face. He told me that while he bought our vision, the product was not living up to this vision. He showed me a feature from a competitive product that he had recently trialed, and made it clear that this feature was more valuable to him than anything else in our product. His feedback was direct, professional, and fully intended to be constructive. But his message was clear: fix this or else. I asked him if he was willing to work with us, and it was clear he was. I then left with my head hung low to drive back to the office to gather our small cross-functional team and decide what to do.
Once back in the office we discussed what the CIO told us and formed an action plan. Each member of the team walked away with a task, and over the next few days we all executed with maniacal focus. Within a week we had a proposal to the CIO for what we would do, within three weeks engineering had successfully delivered on that proposal, and within four we drove a highly successful training session with 25+ users across the company. This transformation all happened in 30 days. The CIO was nothing short of ecstatic.
We didn't know it at the time, but that slap across the face was the catalyst for the last piece of the "product market fit" puzzle. The features we built combined everything we had done in the previous year suddenly transformed our position in the market. We were able to get more prospects interested in talking to us, show them value faster, and close customers at a high rate. All this from a team of people facing adversity head on, asking ourselves hard & uncomfortable questions, converging on a plan, and the executing that plan with maniacal focus / efficiency.
Adversity never feels good. When confronted as an individual can feel scary. But when confronted with as a team, sometimes it's not really adversity at all - but opportunity.