‘Fall in love with the problem you’re solving, not with the product you’re building’. It’s easy to think your product is the bee’s knees but the real test of a product is customer validation - does it solve a pressing, high-value problem? Discovering this before and while building your product is critical.
To build a sustainable and profitable business, having frameworks that help you remove confirmation bias, avoid a self-fulfilling information loop and receive constructive feedback are essential.
This revelation came to me after reading ‘The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you’ by Rob Fitzpatrick. This is a book that the Upekkha leadership strongly recommends for budding entrepreneurs.
I am the founder of SmartCue, a SaaS product that helps AEs (Account Executives) deliver effective and tailored product demos, fast! I’ve been working on implementing practices from The Mom Test into my discovery and client calls and the results have been revelatory. While these learnings are SmartCue-specific, I’m confident that you can reframe them for your own business.
Here’s what I’ve been trying to do and build up a muscle memory in my client interactions:
Start broad and gradually narrow down to the problem
Your product might solve one problem for your customer but that may just be one piece of a larger problem. For example, SmartCue helps with product demos, which is a small albeit important piece in the larger sales process.
So before trying to selfishly showcase how I can solve their product demo problem, I try focusing on uncovering their larger issues first.
For example, I’ll deliberately ask something open-ended and vague like:
What are the three big things you’re trying to fix or improve right now in your sales process (not just product demos)?
Rule of thumb: Start broad and don’t zoom in until you’ve found a strong signal, both with your whole business and within that conversation.
Once you have a signal that their sales team is perhaps having a tumultuous year, dive deeper.
Ask questions ‘around’ the problem your product solves:
- How seriously do you take your product demos in your sales process?
- Do product demos have a direct impact on your sales process e.g. sales velocity or quality of leads etc.?
Give as little information as possible about your product while still nudging the discussion in a useful direction.
Do your clients have high intent to solve the problem?
If it's a high-value problem for your client, then there will be a lot of intent to solve it. The conversation will have a sense of urgency. Can you feel the intent? It’s important to get a sense of this because this will give you a sense of how much the problem is worth and how much is a prospect willing to pay to solve it.
But how do you even know that?
One way of knowing the intent is to understand the actions they have taken to solve the problem. Let’s take an example again:
- Have you tried anything to improve your product demos?
- What are you already doing to improve this?
- How much time does your team spend delivering demos each week?
- Which tools and services do you use for enabling your sales teams to deliver product demos?
Asking questions like these should give you signals on how urgent and business-critical the problem is and whether the prospect has demonstrated intent to solve it.
Don’t jump the gun when prioritizing feature requests
Are you receiving new feature requests in every other call? That’s awesome because it means that you’re getting the prospect’s wheels turning on how they can use your product. But we’re often guilty, myself included, of trying to build everything a customer asks for.
Remember a thumb rule: Ideas and feature requests should be understood but not obeyed.
When someone requests a feature, instead of Yes/No, ask:
- Why do you want that?
- What would that let you do?
- How are you coping without it?
- Is it a showstopper or could we build it in phases?
- Would you pay me now to build it if I promise to deliver it in X days/weeks?
Always end with Asks
Never end a call without asking: Is there anyone else that I should talk to?
If the person is not a decision-maker, it is highly unlikely that you will get a commitment. So ask for that follow on conversation!
Strive to get a clear commitment
You are doing a vague job if you do not get clear commitments.
Can you get a financial commitment from the decision-maker to use a (paid) trial for at least 90 days? Even if it is a minimal amount. Or atleast a Letter of Intent, Pilot agreement or a pre-order? Or are they willing to stake their reputation and introduce you to their peers or a decision-maker?
If nothing else, at least aim to have a clear agenda for the next meeting and get feedback on your product or messaging.
Here is how I try to run a productive meeting:
- Always have a list of your 3 big questions. (my 3 questions are below):
What are the 3 big things you’re trying to fix or improve right now in your sales process (not just product demos)?
Have you tried anything to improve your product demos?
Which tools and services do you use for enabling your sales teams to deliver product demos?
- Learning about the customer and their problems works better rather than a long, formal meeting. Meet them in informal settings if possible rather than Zoom calls.
- Spend up to an hour writing down your best guesses about what the person you’re about to talk to cares about and wants.
- Review your notes with your team and update your beliefs and 3 big questions as appropriate before the next set of meetings.
- Ask yourself – which questions worked and which didn’t?
- What can I do better next time?
Conducting effective discovery calls is an iterative and ever-evolving process but I hope this framework and my experiences are helpful as you grow your business.