In your early customer discovery conversations to assess demand for a new offering a wide range of customer needs and symptoms can trigger a leap to a solution, which just happens to be yours. Guard against this by probing to understand the root problem–have at least three questions that allow you to dig out the details–and consider questions that would disqualify your solution.
Q: I want to help new e-commerce websites improve their sales. I take part in a number of discussion forums where many store owners are asking for help: while they are getting many visitors they are not making many sales. If I focus on the conversion problem–assuming the stores have some means of getting traffic–what do you think of the this solution?
[Detailed solution omitted]
A: I am by nature impatient and will often try to help people with some immediate suggestions, so I can recognize someone else who may also have made a leap to a solution/conclusion without double checking key assumptions about the problem and constraints on any solution. My concern is that you have not done enough to identify the root causes of why “they are getting many visitors but not making many sales” and my fear is that there are many possibilities that should at least be ruled out or addressed by different offerings.
Details of Visitor Behavior
I think you need to consider the details of visitor behavior beyond whether they visited a page of the store. In particular, here are seven different kinds of visitor behavior that may point to different underlying issues with a site. Do visitors:
- visit one page and leave
- visit a few pages, spending little time on any
- visit many pages, spend at least 30s on one or more pages, but don’t put anything in shopping cart
- put one item in shopping cart and then abandon
- don’t calculate shipping costs and delivery
- do calculate shipping and delivery but don’t provide payment info
- calculate shipping and delivery, provide payment info, don’t press confirm purchase
- visitors put many items in shopping cart and then abandon (again for various values of abandon)
When you compare the characteristics of visitors who buy vs. those who don’t (including other factors such as referring page / source, coupon usage, time of day, etc..) do any other hypotheses occur to you?
What Are Some Possible Reasons Why Visitors Don’t Buy?
Can you think of 10 underlying reasons visitors might not be purchasing, adjusted for what details on their behavior you can glean?
- inventory / products don’t match visitor needs
- visitor cannot find what they need (store carries product but search/presentation so poor cannot be found)
- products are too expensive
- products shipping time and cost are too high
- store return or payment policies unsatisfactory
- presentation of merchandise causes visitor to lose confidence in store (e.g. typos, bad photos, poor layout)
- presentation of business causes visitor to lose confidence (no physical address, phone number, testimonials)
- bugs in e-commerce configuration prevent certain transactions from being initiated or completed
What have I overlooked?
How to Test Your Leap To a Solution
In general if you are not ruling out differential diagnoses (other possible root cause problems) and you are not ensuring that the customer does not have bona fide needs or constraints that would either rule your product out or make another one a much better solution, you run the risk of leaping to a solution. Put another way: the intuitive leap to a solution is often key to an entrepreneur “leveling up” a business, but you need to backtrack methodically to make sure you have grasped all of the essential elements of the problem and any constraints on a solution.
This is especially important as you contemplate bringing on sales people or working with channel partners. You have to provide detailed guidance for how to diagnose whether your prospect has a need where your product is a good fit and will withstand basic scrutiny against competitive alternatives (or other solutions that are readily available to them).
Related Articles and Blog Posts
- Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sales In particular see Figure 4: Sales Qualification / Disqualification Flow Chart
Most articles and books on sales are intended for people who sell. In contrast, this article is for the technical founders of a software startup who need to better understand the sales process, with practical tips on how they can be more effective as part of the selling team. We review frequent reasons for the sales process being broken, the need for an iterative approach in refining the sales learning curve, key steps in the sales process, preparing for a sales call, sales methodologies, and key sales positions.
(This was selected for the course pack for a University of Chicago course on entrepreneurship).
- The Limits of “I Know It When I See It”
- Video & Slides from “Limits of I’ll Know It When I See It” Talk at SFBay ACM
- Labor Day 2014: Knowledge Work Productivity
- Connecting Technical Know-How With Customer Needs
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