Q: How Do We Get A Business Prospect To Talk To Us?

Each interaction with a  business prospect or a customer has to promise an exchange of value: their time or money for at least the strong possibility of benefit. Many of the startup fantasy camp customer development training models neglect this and teach beginning entrepreneurs to rely on the kindness of strangers. This may work in certain consumer verticals but it rarely works in B2B markets.

The start of a conversation with a business prospectHow Do We Get A Business Prospect To Talk To Us?

Q: We have been trying to two months to get small business owners to talk with us. We have data collection and analysis package that can give them more accurate information about customer and prospect behavior. To prepare we have gone to several workshops or camps where we interviewed folks in coffee shops and other casual settings but when we email business owners and managers and ask them for a meeting to talk about their business we get no response. How do we find a business prospect who will talk to us?

A: From your description of the situation the root problem is not that you don’t know where to find a business prospect–a small business owners–it’s that you have not done your homework and do not have a compelling message that communicates an understanding of their business and their needs. Without some of promise of value for their time it’s very difficult to get busy people to spend time to educate you about their business in the hope that you may be able to help them.

The First Response To A Cold E-Mail Is A Website Visit

One immediate problem I see is that a business prospect who does not know you will normally take a look at your website before they decide to schedule a call or meeting with you. Your website does not list founders or any team members.  The closest I can find to who you are and what you do are these two sentences:

We help small businesses innovate in the rapidly-growing “Internet of Things” market. Our unique, cloud-based analytics platform offers insights by leveraging an “Internet of Things” sensor network.

I don’t know who you are, why your background equips you to develop an IoT offering, who else you have helped, and what specifically you can do to help me save money, reduce risk, or increase revenue. You have to have a promise of value for a discovery conversation. “Please help us develop our product” is not a value proposition and will not be compelling for a busy small business owner.

Use the Stanford Credibility Guidelines

You website violates most of the Stanford Credibility Guidelines and will not encourage prospects to sign up for interviews if they check it out after getting an email from you. Here are three significant shortcomings:

  1. You show some logos for large corporations but no links to any articles, press releases, trade journal articles or other reputable sites that substantiate any relationship between your firm and any of these firms.
  2. You don’t list a physical address or a phone number. You only allow contact via a form.
  3. Only the founders first names are given without any biographical background: nothing about education, prior work experience or other verifiable accomplishments that would be relevant to your current business focus.

Small Business Owners are Busy

Like many other business people retailers are busy most of the day and don’t have time to educate you about their needs. It’s unlikely that many will volunteer 30 minutes of their time where the payoff is extremely uncertain. “Please help specify or refine my product” is not value proposition: there is no directly foreseeable payoff for them.

The other problem about not having a clear value proposition is that the conversation starts to resemble an intelligence test (“here is what we have invented, can you find a use for it.”) or a grade schooler showing artwork to his mother asking, “what do you think of this?” and expecting a pat on the back.

Your focus on “small stores” is based on a theory that they are more approachable but you do not appear to have a value model or ROI calculation that was driving your selection of store type based on objective characteristics (e.g. inventory size, value, monthly turnover, SKU count, industry, geography). Put another way: given access to 1,000 store owners and anything you want to know about their business, which ones would you be able to promise the most value to from installing your equipment/system?

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