Customer discovery interviews are essential to testing key B2B product hypotheses and understanding your target customers’ needs. Broadly there are five ways that you can reach out to potential customers to have a discovery conversation. All of them assume that you have a clear picture of who your target is and a few key questions that they will be willing and able to answer that will indicate they have a problem or need your solution may address.
Come share ideas, form teams, and launch startups. … Come join us for weekend-long, hands-on experience where you will learn what it takes to launch a startup, meet others with the same shared passion for entrepreneurship, and maybe even create a new business! Sean Murphy is excited to be a mentor at the event.
June 6-8 in San Francisco, CA
Use promo code SFB2B10
During this Startup Weekend, entrepreneurs will be empowered to pitch, build teams and transform their B2B based ideas into Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).
Update Sat-May-17 from Sean Murphy: I am grateful to Scott Sambucci of SalesQualia for recommending me as a mentor and glad that I was able to suggest that Emily Tucker of TaroWorks and Liz Fraley of Single Sourcing Solutions take part as mentors.
Tristan Kromer offers a great workshop on taking your big idea and break it into a series of small steps to test.
Your MVP Sucks! – How to crush your dreams and embrace reality
- Monday, May 5, 2014 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (PDT) more info
- Tuesday, May 20, 2014 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (PDT) more info
You should attend if:
- Have an understanding of lean but are looking for a deep dive;
- You do not currently have Product / Market Fit;
- Keep running experiments but either aren’t making progress or can’t tell if you’re making progress.
After every Great Demo! workshop we contact the attendees with a short E-Mail that reads in part:
I want to check-in to see how you have been doing using the ideas and skills we covered in our Great Demo! Workshop three months ago. Specifically, I’d like to hear:
- What have been the results so far?
- Do you have any success stories to report or share?
- Any questions or new situations you’d like to discuss?
What follows is a redacted e-mail from a real attendee at a recent Great Demo workshop. We have his permission to post it, but he asked that we remove identifying information because of his candor about his approach to demos before he came to the workshop.
I would like to tell you that your workshop has had a positive impact not only on my demos, but also on my customer meetings in general.
The key message I took away, “Do the last thing first,” has proven very effective at increasing customer engagement in our demos. Our product is a sophisticated one with a long history–what are prospects sometimes describe as “very complex” or “arcane” even “confusing.” We sometimes present modules that–in hindsight–were of no of interest to the customer. This can not only turn a demo into a waste of everyone’s time but also convert a hot prospect into a lukewarm one.
It’s seems obvious now, but getting right to the point and then working backwards based on the customer’s level of interest (“Peeling back the onion”) has triggered a lot more questions and demos that end in clearly defined next steps instead of “you’ve given us a lot to think about, please let us get back to you.”
The example that really punched me in the gut when I realized what I had been doing was your hyperkinetic impersonation of someone doing a demo of Microsoft Word. Your first answer to the question, “Can you print?” seemed reasonable: you opened the print dialog box and walked through all the print options in detail–portrait or landscape, single or double-sided printing; color or black and white, number of copies, print quality, etc…
But when you did the second take and said “Yes, would you like to see it?” and clicked the print icon I had this terrible sinking feeling.
“Holy Crap! My demos have too much detail,” I said to myself.
Change is hard, but the three of us who attended your class took the “Great Demo” approach back and have seen a difference in the number of demos that now lead to sales that are progressing.
You may be in the same predicament if your approach demos involves one or more of the following:
- You include a multi-slide corporate overview whether the prospect requests it or not.
- Demos are viewed as an opportunity to provide training on your product.
- It’s not uncommon for a demo to end with prospects sitting in stunned silence or murmuring, “let us think about this and get back to you” instead of asking questions.
We have two Great Demo! workshops on on the calendar for 2014 in San Jose
|May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
I think the most difficult challenge in sales is maintaining an appropriate perspective and emotional distance from deals: balancing fear, greed, and frustration to maintain empathy and a clear understanding of business objectives.
Some of the technologies employed in the sales process are changing rapidly but they impact the tactics, not the substance. Selling for entrepreneurs is about establishing rapport, project management, and acting as a change agent. The need to listen, communicate clearly, and build trust over time has not changed.
I have been selling my expertise since I started a photography business when I was 16. But I have always looked at myself as an entrepreneur not a salesperson or a consultant…or an employee for that matter –in my own mind I was getting training to be more effective as an entrepreneur in my own business.
To a first order sales people worry about making quota, entrepreneurs worry about making payroll. It’s a different mindset.
We have two workshops on offer in March, one that’s focused on discovery driven sales and one about lead generation–getting the phone to ring. We have offered both for more than 7 years now and they have each undergone considerable change and improvement.
But what hasn’t changed is that entrepreneurs need to generate leads and close deals if they want to build a business.
|Sold Out||Improve your Sales Pitch with Cohan’s Great Demo! Workshop
March 5&6, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA
|Getting More Customers Workshop
March 25, 2014 9am-12:30pm Sunnyvale, CA
Update Wed-Feb-26 Great Demo Mar 5-6 has sold out.
Q: We have started selling and are looking for resources for a lean approach to sales, in particular for new product introduction.
Lean Approach To Sales at Lean Startup Conference 2012
Scott Sambucci and I presented a workshop at Lean Startup 2012 on “Engineering Your Sales Process.”
The deck is posted at http://www.slideshare.net/SalesQualia/engineering-your-sales-process
About 70% of the workshop is interaction with attendee on their specific early sales challenges so it’s not something that we video record.
Scott Sambucci has two books out that address early sales issues:
- “Startup Selling: How to sell if you really, really have to and don’t know how”
- “52 Sales Questions Answered: A Q&A Guide to Customer Development & Sales”
Two articles that offer useful overviews for defining a sales process:
- The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sales by Mark Duncan and Sean Murphy
- The Sales Learning Curve by Mark Leslie and Charles Holloway (2006)
Revised in 2011 at “Sales Learning Cycle“
Other books you may find helpful:
- SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham
- Solution Selling by Michael Bosworth
- You’ll Never Get No for an Answer by Jack Carew
- Secrets of Consulting by Gerald Weinberg
- Getting it Right the First Time: How Innovative Companies Anticipate Demand by Christy and Katsaros
Here is a long interview I gave to Gabriel Weinberg on early stage B2B sales that many entrepreneurs have found useful: Sean Murphy on the first six enterprise customers
All of these resources talk about a systematic approach to selling for new products. I continue to offer “Engineering Your Sales Process”® as a workshop for early stage teams. Please contact me if you would like to arrange for a workshop.
Peter Cohan from Second Derivative offers some of the best sales demo/pitch training and hands-on learning that we have seen. So we are honored to offer these interactive workshops to startups.
Here is the upcoming schedule:
|March 5&6, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|May 21&22, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
Let’s face it, finding customers can be quite a challenge. In this interactive workshop, we will cover a variety of proven marketing techniques for growing your business: attendees will select one or two that fit their style and develop a plan to implement them in their business in the next 90 days.
- Speaking – small groups, large groups, conferences, …
- Writing – blogging, newsletters, articles, …
- What Other People Say About You – referrals, testimonials, case studies, …
- Getting Found When and Where Prospects are Looking: adwords, Craigslist, trade shows, SEO/SEM, …
March 25, 2014 9am-12:30pm
$90 includes lunch
“This workshop provided great material to bounce off of. SKMurphy created a fertile space for me to think about my business and plan a concrete step forward. Thank you.” Paul Konasewich, President at Connect Leadership
Another excerpt from Peter Cohan’s very insightful new article “Stunningly Awful vs. Truly Terrific Competitive Differentiation – What, When, and How”
From the customers’ perspective vendors are “differentiating”, positively or negatively, with every contact, every meeting, and every deliverable. Let’s explore possible negative differentiation first. How do you feel about:
- Vendors that cold call you – repeatedly?
- Vendors that take forever to answer your email inquiries – or ignore what you asked?
- Vendors that leap right to showing you a “solution”, without sufficient Discovery?
- Vendors whose demos look complicated or confusing, in spite of having a pile of “competitive differentiators”?
- Sales people that speak ill of their competition?
- Sales people that are “cagey” about providing pricing information?
- Vendors that over-promise and under-deliver?
Interestingly – and sadly – the list above is what often occurs with typical, traditional vendors and sales people. Most of us as customers perceive these items as unpleasant and they contribute to an overall negative impression. Unwittingly, perhaps, these vendors and sales people have differentiated negatively.
Let’s look at the same list again, but with a different approach to each item:
- Nurture or “trickle” marketing activities (as opposed to cold calling).
- Rapid, specific responses to email inquiries.
- Thorough and intelligent Discovery – before presenting solutions.
- Crisp, focused, engaging demos of the Specific Capabilities needed by customers.
- Sales teams that are clear and honest about their own offerings’ strengths and limitations.
- Clear and transparent pricing information.
- Building a vision of how the customer will move from their current (painful) state to their desired (glorious) future state with the solution in place and operating.
Generally speaking, these activities are viewed favorably by customers. Vendors that follow these processes are already differentiating positively in comparison with “traditional” vendors.
My take: a startup is negotiating from the first contact with a prospect. They are negotiating for attention, time, insights, data, feedback, revenue, endorsements, etc.. The more you can do from the very first contact to show that you value your prospect’s time, opinions, and ultimately business by how you treat them, the better able you are to differentiate your startup from many common practices that communicate a lack of respect for the customer and their needs.
Related Blog Posts
- Cold Calling Won’t Find Your First Business Customer
- Purpose, Patience, Politeness, and Prudent Risk Taking
- How To Start a Warm Conversation About a Customer Problem
- Are You Generating iPod Fishbowl Leads?
- Treat Prospects Well–Allow For Another Conversation
Great Demo! Public Workshop October 15-16, 2014
|October 15&16, 2014 “Great Demo!” San Jose, CA|
Our next public Great Demo! Workshop is scheduled to take place October 15-16 in San Jose, California.
This is an excellent opportunity for individuals, small groups or for teams that have new hires.
We’ve found that these events are most productive when there are two or more participants from each organization (singletons are also fine). This helps to mimic real-life interactions as much as possible, both when preparing demos and delivering them in the role-play sessions.
We use this definition in our “Engineering Your Sales” and “Validating Your MVP” workshops and our MVP clinics. Our focus is on developing and selling products to businesses so that biases the definition a little bit but it’s important to remember what’s under your control in crafting your MVP:
- The particular type of customer: you can select who are you targeting and messaging. In many B2B markets the best message is a dog whistle: highly appealing to your target and of little interest to those who are not.
- The specific problem or need your focus on: it’s better to pick a very narrow pain point initially so that you maximize your chances of providing value.
- What you provide: the feature set and packaging of your offering.
These are normally the three areas that you tinker with during marketing exploration and MVP introduction. It’s also important to understand what’s not under your control:
- The customer decides if the need is important enough, or the problem severe enough, to devote any time to conversation or learning more about your offering.
- The customer decides if your solution offers enough of a difference over the status quo and other alternatives available to them to actively consider. Value is in the customer’s mind and it’s created in the customer’s business when they successfully deploy your offering. Your MVP is not valuable in the abstract; it must always be evaluated in the context of a particular customer. It does not matter how much time and expense you have invested in creating it, it’s the effect it will have on the customer’s business.
- The customer decides the nature and size of the initial purchase. You can decide not to pursue an opportunity that is “too small” but if the customer wants to pilot in a team or one department before deploying your solution more widely it’s often better to take that deal and get started than continue to argue for a larger initial deal. Breaking your offering into phases and smaller components will always make it easier to digest.
The following chalk talk illustrates this last point in more detail:
See “Chalk Talk on Technology Adoption” for a transcript.
Peter Cohan has a very insightful new article up on “Stunningly Awful vs. Truly Terrific Competitive Differentiation – What, When, and How” What follows are some excerpts with additional commentary but the entire article is worth reading.
What Is Competitive Differentiation?
Most vendors define this as “capabilities that we have or do better than our competition”. Pretty straightforward, right? But do customers share this definition? Likely not.
Customers are looking for solutions that fit their perception of their current and expected future needs. A vendor with capabilities the meets these current and future needs exactly is clearly the best choice, everything else being equal (such as price).
So you are faced with assessing current and future needs before you start to demo: you need to diagnose before you can prescribe. The better choice is to withdraw or recommend another alternative if a prospect has one or more requirements that you are clearly unable to satisfy and you know that at least competitor can. Always include the prospects current system (“status quo”) as an alternative: if your offering represents a downgrade on or more critical functions it’s better to withdraw early and in good order than invest a lot of effort only to come up short much later and with loss of time and credibility.
With that in mind, a vendor who seeks to “differentiate” by simply presenting capabilities that another vendor lacks is at risk. What if the customer doesn’t see the need for these additional capabilities? What if they don’t care or, worse, can’t use them? Then these additional capabilities become a liability.
For example, let’s say you are shopping for a new set of kitchen knives. At the store, you are looking at several knife sets and the sales person steers you to one particular set of 10 knives, saying, “This set is better because it has 10 knives – one more than most – plus a sharpener, so you can keep all of your knives razor-sharp.” The other sets on display only have nine knives.
Sounds like a win, right? However, it turns out that your knife block only has room for 9 knives and no place for a sharpener. You are concerned that the extra knife and sharpener will end up rattling around in a drawer – and possibly be a hazard. Differentiation has occurred, but not positive differentiation! The larger knife set is perceived as “too much” and possibly “too expensive” (if it costs more than the set of 9) or “cheap” if the price is the same as the set of 9, since the perception will likely be that each knife individually is worth less.
This is one way for startups to surprise incumbents and larger fuller featured competitors. If the prospect is not using or does not consider certain features important then you can win and leave your competitors muttering “but we had more features…” Peter also highlights the need for a clear assessment of needs before you start to demo: any “extra” features are likely to make your system appear too complicated or too expensive (more features must cost more in most prospects’ minds).
Positive feature- or capability-based differentiation only takes place when the customer agrees that the capability is beneficial in their specific situation – when the customer visualizes using the capability sufficiently often and/or the problem the capability addresses is sufficiently important to solve. Otherwise, the extra features and capabilities are perceived as making the offering too complicated or too expensive: “We don’t need the Cadillac; we just want the economy car version…”
Do Discovery with a bias towards potentially differentiating capabilities you offer (and your competition lacks or doesn’t do as well), such that those capabilities become part of the customer’s vision of a solution.
During Discovery, you might say, “Some of the other organizations we’ve worked with that had situations very similar to what you’ve outlined so far, found that the ability to set alerts based on approaching certain thresholds enabled them to take action before problems grew large – and they were able to save hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result. Is this something you might also find useful in your practice?”
Your customer responds, “Why yes, that sounds really great – and I can see how we could use that. Wish we’d had it before!”
This capability has now become a Specific Capability desired by your customer – and you can prepare and plan to demonstrate it accordingly. Since your competition can’t offer the capability, but only the simple alerts, you have successfully positively differentiated.
- Similarity: Your first step is to establish a relationship between your current prospect and other organizations – particularly those that are perceived by the prospect as being similar to them.
- Capability: You describe the capability itself and its advantages and potential benefits.
- Reward: You describe what benefits other, similar organizations have realized through the use of the capability.
- Verify: test to see if this capability also sounds interesting or particularly useful to the customer. If it does, you have successfully and positively differentiated.
This approach is also a good idea during the demo: establish that they are interested in a capability before showing it.
Peter Cohan’s Great Demo workshop has some seats left on Oct 9-10 in San Jose. This course is most useful for folks developing B2B software products. It’s normally only offered privately on-site at firms like Microsoft, SAS, VMWare, etc… Peter Cohan is also a mentor at StartX and will offer some specific tactics for early stage firms as well.
Where: Moorpark Hotel, 4241 Moorpark Ave, San Jose CA 95129
For out of town attendees: The Moorpark is located 400 feet from the Saratoga Ave exit on Hwy 280, about 7 miles from San Jose Airport and 35 miles from San Francisco Airport Hotels Near Great Demo! Workshop
Register for “How to Invent” for free Udemy course at http://www.udemy.com/how-to-invent/
“How To Invent” is a step-by-step guide for non-inventors to start inventing. It is organized as screencast lectures, practice sessions, and quizzes. It offers process for capturing on paper key ideas in your head that you want to document as intellectual property and possibly protect as inventions by patenting them. This on-line workshop is a great way to learn more about Bill Meade insights and teaching style.
Don’t Miss Bill Meade’s Hands On Silicon Valley Workshop
He is also offering a live workshop “Capturing Intellectual Property” in Sunnyvale, CA on Sat-October-19-2013. Bill normally only offers private workshops for larger firms but this one is open to anyone with ideas that they want to document. This hands-on workshop will cover:
- What is intellectual property (IP)
- The forms and functions of legal IP protections
- The IP system and its functioning (on one slide)
- Capturing an invention
- Checking the invention for enablement
- How to capture invention if you work in a big company
Who should attend:
- Engineers who have never filled out an invention disclosure form.
- Section managers/Scrum Masters who are interested in learning what types and quantities of IP they should be seeing from their product development efforts.
- Patent agents and attorneys who are not “seeing enough” IP from their project teams and would like to capture more.
Bill Meade is an intellectual property consultant at BasicIP. In addition to capturing inventions, Bill has substantial experience in disclosure evaluation, IP portfolio management, business side of litigating patents, and licensing patents. He is the former patent portfolio manger for HP’s LaserJet group, has run over 200 invention workshops across US and around world. Bill has a Ph.D. in marketing and has taught college courses since 1990.
I interviewed Bill on “Inventors and IP Management” in 2010 for the EE Times “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column.
We have been invited back the SF Lean Startup Circle to present our “Validating Your MVP and Value Proposition for B2B Startups” workshop on June 4, starting 5:30pm. This interactive workshop will address:
- How a B2B startup should think about message, MVP, and launch.
- Understand who buys your product and how they calculate its value and total cost.
- Where to find people to validate your MVP.
- Systematic approach to validating your MVP and your value proposition.
- How to track and measure your efforts.
- When to pivot.
When: June 4, 5:30-8:30
Where: Runway, 1355 Market Street, Suite 488, San Francisco, CA
Cost: $60 (or join the volunteer mailing list to get in free.)
Tristan Kromer‘s (@TriKro) vision for the SF Lean Startup Circle is to offer a testbed for developing workshops for entrepreneurs. So with this iteration we are adding a new module where participants will build a LEGO representation of their business. We believe that this will offer a useful metaphor for analyzing a customer’s business and the value that your MVP offers.
Other LEGO related blog posts:
- Empires build Death Stars, rebels build X-Wing fighters
- Associating, Pattern Matching, and Sensemaking
- It’s the Picture on the Box that Sells the LEGO Set
Join us on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 for a new class “Get Out Of Your Batcave: Customer Development for Lean Startups” from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM at Education @ PARISOMA in San Francisco, CA.
You’ll learn how to:
- Establish “ground truth” in an early market
- Use an MVP (minimum viable product) to explore the market
- Apply what you have learned to drive early product iterations
- Make your offering attractive to paying customers
This interactive class will cover key concepts and rules of thumb for successful innovation by lean startups. We will cover actionable strategies for lean startups bringing discontinuous or disruptive products to market.
Why Get Out Of The Batcave To Discover A Market’s Ground Truth?
To Find As Many Surprises As You Can
In The Market
Before Building And Launching Your Product
For more “Get Out Of the Batcave” stories and advice see:
- W. J. King’s “Unwritten Laws of Business”
- Steve Blank on Leaving the Batcave to Learn from Customers
- Customer Development Proceeds in Parallel with Product Development
- Moving from Vision to Engagement with Prospects
- Customer Development and Its Discontents
- Three Equations, Three Unknowns: Customers, Message, Features
- Startup Advice in Three Word Doses
- Failure to Thrive
- Purpose, Patience, Politeness, and Prudent Risk Taking
- Where Do Lean Startup Methods Help Most?
- Hiring a Startup’s First Salesperson
Join us in San Francisco for an interactive workshop “Validating your MVP & Value Proposition.” We will cover a variety of proven techniques for validating your MVP & value proposition for B2B startups.
When: 5:30-8:30 PM Tue-Apr-2-2013
Where: 1355 Market, Suite 488, San Francisco
This interactive workshop will provide:
- Systematic approach to validating your MVP & your value proposition
- Understand who buys your product and how they calculate its value and total cost
- Explore different options for reaching them
- Learn how to track efforts and measure results
- Determining when to pivot and when to persevere
We will cover:
- What is MVP?
- How much do I need to talk to people about my MVP?
- Techniques for Validation
- Where to find people to validate Your MVP?
- Iterating your MVP for problem validation, customer validation, market niche exploration, and product launch
Here is a brief testimonial from Adrian Perez (@adrian_perez) after he attended our Great Demo workshop in September of 2010.
Create and Deliver Surprisingly Compelling Software Demonstrations
“Do The Last Thing First” — the recipe for a Great Demo!
When: Tuesday, April 12, 2010 8 am to 5 pm
Where: Moorpark Hotel, 4241 Moorpark Ave, San Jose CA 95129
Before March 28: $566
This is an interactive workshop with Peter Cohan geared especially for you who demonstrate B-to-B software to your customer and channels. Bring a copy of your demo and be prepared to present it–we’ll help you turn it into a surprisingly compelling demo!