Finding the right customers is not just a matter of kissing frogs until one turns into a prince, but a methodical search guided by an experimentation perspective where your selection criteria are continually refined and re-evaluated.
Q: How do we find the right customers? There are some many businesses that an benefit from our product we don’t know where to start.
A: The French have a phrase “deformation professionelle” that captures how our expertise or our professional perspective biases how we perceive reality. It’s not uncommon to see the need for your skills or your product everywhere that that you look, the challenges are:
- Can you predict the impact / outcome reliably enough to make promises I can keep as to total cost and likely ROI?
- Can you accurately predict how long it will take to achieve at least minimum amount of positive value?
- Can you explain up front what you need to be able to deliver the value or benefits that you are promising?
In other words, can you answer accurately when a prospect says, “This sounds great! How much will this cost, how long will it take, and what do you need from me to get started and to ultimately finish?”
Apply these tests to narrow who might focus on initially as prospects.
Q: Our current approach has been to “kissing frogs” until one turns into a prince, a customer we can use as the blueprint for future outreach and connection.
A: It’s better to a couple of hypotheses about who you can serve–please note that this is different than “so many I don’t know where to start”–so that try multiple approaches and explore around the margins to understand the contours of who your best customers are. I don’t think canvassing a lot of folks at random or broadcasting your product description as an IQ test “Here is what we do, can you figure out how to take advantage of it?” are good approaches.
It’s better to have specific target customer selection criteria but have conversations not only with those who satisfy all of your selection criteria (which can include disqualification criteria) but those who satisfy only some of them to test for the accuracy of your intuition.
One other thing to be careful of: often you leverage folks you know to find prospects to talk to. This allows for more trusted conversations because they are based on an introduction. But there are likely selection effects built into your social network that bias who you end up talking to. The net effect if you are not careful is to screen out portions of your target market from discovery conversations.
We worked with a team that offered cell phone spend management to businesses–optimizing plan selection and monitoring for “breakage” from 2007 to 2015. In the early going it was very hit or miss we were reaching out to a lot of different businesses–“kissing a lot of frogs” as you put it. But we started to get a disproportionate uptake from construction and contracting companies. This was in 2008 and there was a recession on: these firms were getting hammered and the CEO was leery of targeting a segment that was in distress.
We determined that firms with an itinerant field force working in locations that frequently lacked power or regular phone service relied on cell phone and tablet apps as critical infrastructure. So we were helping them optimize what they considered to be a critical expense. But that took a while to figure out. Ultimately, we expanded beyond that niche but in the beginning, construction firms would decide very quickly to move forward compared to other verticals.
Q: It seems like a mistake to give up on the “big market” to go after a slice of it.
Don’t view it as “giving up on the big market” but prioritizing where you are most likely to get strong interest quickly: imagine a line of 1,000 or 10,000 prospects waiting to learn about your product. Consider three to six questions that ask them to describe their situation or need that have a yes/no/number answer. Questions that almost everyone would answer yes (e.g. “Do you want to save money on your car insurance?”) are not useful. Questions that help you sort the larger prospect set into
- those that are in the most pain, (This is not just an issue or problem but a critical problem)
- those who will derive the most value, (they might use the product more frequently than average or have a delta between their current status quo and what life looks like with your product that is higher).
- those who have the highest likelihood of seeing a positive impact (they may only see a small impact but it’s extremely likely they will see at least some benefit).
- those who will see an impact most rapidly (they may on see a small impact but they should see it after using the product only once or twice).
are much more useful and allow to focus on a subset of “non-average” people who are more likely to purchase and perhaps pay more or decide more quickly–the latter is very useful when you are bootstrapping as it helps to minimize the quote to cash cycle and improve cash flow. Obviously the specific questions would need to be based on the particulars what you are planning to offer.
Related Blog Posts
- Deformation Professionelle of the Software Entrepreneur
- Your First Dozen Enterprise Customers
- Newborns vs. a Startup’s First Product
- The Robin and the Cherries: Sharing Value You Co-Create With Customers
- Focus on Delighting Early Customers Over Accumulating Followers
- First Customers: Targeting The Right Customers To Build And Sustain Your Business
Image Credit: “Group of Frogs at a Farm” by Plepraisaeng licensed from 123RF (Image ID : 87556863)