The focus on getting in front of prospective customers is because you cannot get the right, paying customers without first talking to prospective customers. It’s akin to a fundamental law of physics.
The right, paying customers are vital because the best single feedback source — the absolute, spot-on, most useful, very best feedback — and very best guide to your business opportunity roadmap comes from rich discussions with product users who are using your solution and have paid for it. Repeat for emphasis…
The very best, single source of feedback on your business opportunity roadmap comes from rich discussions with product users who have written a check and use your product.
All other feedback is conjecture and guessing…and as I like to ask: Why settle for guess?
It’s possible to get paying customers without meeting with them, but the likelihood that those early adopters represent a sustainable source of future growth is very low. Also, your team will have little idea what’s needed next.
But you don’t have to worry about that circumstance. If you start meeting with prospective customers and they immediately want to buy your product and know five others they want to introduce you to, then take the order, close the deal, set up meetings with the other five. But don’t walk away.
To build a sustainable business model on top of a sustainable sales model, you need to know more about the problem you solve, for whom you solve it, and the value they receive (or the cost they incur if they do not solve this particular problem).
So whether your product or service is a big hit right out of the box or meets with glazed eyes and questioning looks, your path is the same.
At this phase (as in RIGHT NOW), your job is to lead your team to develop paying customers as quickly as possible. The right paying customers are the only true experts (or sources) for understanding your business opportunity and what you have to do to (continue to) develop it.
Put another way, all your start-up operations should be pointed toward discovering prospects and changing them to paying customers that you believe represent your future customers. That needs to be your frame of mind. . . developing paying customers. Lean Startup, Customer Development, SyncDev…are not academic frameworks or market research projects…they are the steps to getting the right paying customers sooner rather than later.
The best ones with whom to meet first? A prospective customer who has struggled with the problem you solve and is willing to pay you to solve it.
How many? There are three answers to this question.
1. The first answer is the experiential answer: 30. That’s right. 30. Time after time, client after client, company after company. Once we had completed 30 (sometimes fewer) field meetings we were learning very little additionally relative to the effort. The first meeting was nothing like the 30th, but the 29th and 30th were a lot alike. What changed between the first meetings and the last ones? We knew who to call on, how to qualify, we presented a bull’s-eye product and benefits, and the prospective customer reacted without surprise, again.
2. Answer # 2 is the general case of answer #1: You keep meeting with prospective customers until you are bored — until you are not learning anything more. This is with the caveat that you are pulling the levers and turning the dials on your product, your value proposition, who you meet with, what you say, etc. That is, you are spiraling in on the sweet spot of the market for what you are offering. When you can accurately anticipate what the prospective customer is going to say based on their profile or qualifying questions and you feel comfortable that you have met with customers representing your now refined target market with your now refined product, then the marginal benefit of more meetings is not worth the cost. Another way to put it, when you make 5 calls, can qualify the prospect, and then can get 4 out of 5 of them to “buy” (whatever that means at your particular stage), then you have found your target market and how to address it.
3. Answer # 3: Just meet with 3. Or 1. Or 2. Stop trying to tell the future or make excuses. “Get out of the building” is the current phraseology. Don’t sit at your desk wondering how you can possibly meet with 1,000 prospective customers while trying to build the product. You can’t and “a bunch of meetings” is a false obstacle. Just meet with one, then another.
There will be surprises. These meetings are what fast forwards surprises to right now while it’s easy to change the product, while you don’t have a 10-person salesforce to redirect (and pay!), while everyone in the company is excited and energized, while you still have money. Why wait?
Now is the time to defy the laws of physics. Time travel! Meeting with prospective customers is like loading your team into a time machine. You flash forward to what your best sales person is going to experience if she was presenting your product to your target market. Future posts of mine will get into how to get the most out of time travel.
One way I have found helpful to think about meeting with prospective customers is in waves. Right now, just worry about the next wave. The second wave? Don’t even think about it. It will be dictated by what you find out in the first wave. Let’s not worry about the second wave until the first wave happens.
In The Startup Owner’s Manual, Steve Blank and Bob Dorf have put together “…14 rules that make up The Customer Development Manifesto”. Rightfully, Rule No. 1 found on page 31 is titled: There are No Facts Inside Your Building, So Get Outside.