In the early stages of any business, the most important thing entrepreneurs can do is have as many one-on-one conversations as possible with potential customers. Last week on the blog, Jordan introduced a book by Eric Reis called, The Lean Startup when he discussed creating a lean professional image. The book has a lot to offer and its methodology has been widely adopted by business leaders since it’s official introduction in 2011. This week I dive a little deeper into the methodology and discuss how most business owners aren’t taking full advantage of Reis’ message as they fail to apply it to their initial sales and marketing strategy.
The book suggests the development of a “minimum viable product” (also referred to as MVP) to test a product’s merit in your target market. This is a great idea because it’s very unlikely that you will out-think your target customers and give them something that they want without first testing the concept. Failure to do so can result in the misguided investment of resources to build something not very many customers will want to buy. Which might just be our worst nightmare as business owners. We can obviously only survive if we have products and services customers want to buy.
An MVP also enables you to create what Reis calls the “feedback loop,” which he defines as a stream of responses and reactions to your product or service from your potential customers. It’s hard to find a better source of information to utilize in evolving the design of your offering than that. Listening to and incorporating direct customer feedback is an integral way to give your business the best opportunity to successful. The MVP is the most cost-effective and nimble way to utilize limited resources in building something that will result in new customers and a growing business.
So lots of business owners uses this methodology with product development - however, they significantly miss the mark by not translating this process into their sales approach. The functions of sales and marketing should be treated exactly the same as the functions relating to the design and build of a new product or service. It’s unwise to make investments into any aspect of a business without a legitimate level of affirmation that you are on the right track. The MVP concept is easier to apply to product or service development because it feels more tangible in comparison to the internal processes of testing the right messaging for sales and marketing.
So let me introduce you to the “minimum viable sales process,” or MVSP. The idea is that a business should create an initial sales and marketing strategy using as little resources as possible to develop a “feedback loop.” This is the part that most business get right because their goal is to gain information about their product or service. The problem is that’s only half of the critical feedback that should be tracked and used in building strategy. Those one-on-one conversations provide insights into whether or not people will buy what you want to sell. They also provide incredibly useful information on things like your highest value target market, initial messaging in sales conversations and marketing materials, as well as the most effective marketing strategies to reach prospects once your offering has launched.
Let’s say you have developed an MVP and are meeting with people in your network to build your feedback loop. The most obvious questions to ask are:
“Would you use something like this? Why or why not?”
“Do you think this really solves a problem or is it just something that would be nice to have?”
“How much do you think you would feel comfortable paying for something like this?”
“What are you doing now to solve your problems?”
And so forth. The point is that most questions in this conversation are going to be about the design and functionality of the product or service. The next step should be to ask a set of questions designed to find additional potential customers - in other words- more people like them.
“Do you read any publications related to these problems or topics?”
“Would you prefer to buy something like this online after doing your own research or is the nature of this product/service such that you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that?”
“When you have decided to buy things like (related items or services) in the past, what type of process did you go through?”
If you don’t ask questions like these then you will build a sales and marketing process before you have proven if you’re on the right track. In the biz we call this “selling blind” and its a very difficult way to grow your business because you haven’t defined the feedback loops for product/service and sales/marketing.
When you don’t clearly define those feedback loops, you don’t know where to pivot to and evolve towards when you hit inevitable walls along the way. The MVSP allows you to know if you need to invest more in direct sales or content marketing. How many sales and/or marketing touches might it take to reach and convert prospects to customers? What tools and technology are necessary to support you?
The best advice I can give you if you are getting started with a new business, is to keep it simple. Refer to these simple steps to help build your first sales process; and remember, even when you have really good ideas starting a business is hard. If you don’t keep things simple and think beyond building something “cool,” then you drastically decrease the likelihood of success. When in doubt, organize a conversational outline of questions you can ask potential customers, record all feedback on product/service and sales/marketing, and build a plan based on that information. Stick to the basics and you will survive.