You have an idea. You’ve done some of your early research and got some good feedback. Now it’s time to turn feedback into real traction—but how?
If you’re at this stage, you’ve done some good work to validate the market problem and get some early indications on what a solution needs to do, and you feel reasonably confident you might even be able to build that solution at some point.
Now is the time to take that strong feedback and turn it into a commitment. This is when you need to start thinking and acting like the head of sales at your company. You’re building out an early pipeline of opportunities with the goal of finding the right first customers to engage.
Here are three essential steps to building that pipeline and taking action to drive real impact on your business:
- Identify the Ideal Decision Makers to Engage. This is deeper than saying you’re targeting an industry or a particular company. You need to identify the individuals who will make the decision and the technical experts who will vet your concept. You need to identify titles, name names, and figure out how to connect with them to set up discovery meetings or calls.
- Get the Most Out of Your Initial Discovery Meetings. After you have made contact, you only get one shot; make it a strong one. You must prepare thoughtfully and assess what you currently know and what you need to learn in the meeting to see if this is a viable opportunity. DO NOT SHOW A DEMO or get technical. You should be asking the questions. It should be 90% you listening and 10% talking. Do your research, prepare your questions, and listen. Think about framing your questions from the highest level themes, then gradually getting into more details based on the conversation. A good first question is simply, “What business challenges keep you up at night”? If you’re not in the top 2-3 things on their mind, you may not have a chance to break through. Ultimately, your goal is to determine whether the problem you want to solve is important to this individual and their business. Is the proposed solution feasible, and is there excitement to work with you?
- Ask Obligating Questions to Get Real Commitments. Let’s assume you’ve gotten affirming answers to the questions above. What’s next? The worst outcome is leaving with this positive feedback and a “come back when you have a product.” This is not a yes or a confirmed customer. This is a temporary dead end. Push through the positive feedback and ask obligation questions. “Oh, this is important to you? We need capital to build this product. Can we sign you up today?” You will quickly discover how important this is and how much they trust you to deliver.
The following are some ways that show a customer is committed:
- Cash: Is the potential customer so excited they’re ready, willing, and able to pay you today so you can build this solution?
- Resources: If the potential customer isn’t ready to pay, will they offer anything else of value? Think about staff resources to continue providing input on the product needs, access to data to help you validate that the product can work, access to distribution channels, supply chain, or any number of other resources that can help you at this stage.
- Letters of Intent: A strong LOI that clearly confirms the problem, the proposed solution, and a potential contract can go a long way when talking with investors and talent.
Customer validation is the only way you can truly validate your concept. Customer validation and traction will excite your team, potential investors, new hires, etc. Don’t assume customers will come to you—no matter how great you think your product will be. Go out there, talk to your market, ask obligating questions, and find out where you really are.