You have just created a new product. It might be something you can touch, some software, or a service. You know the market your product is aimed at, your general target market. These are the people you will approach after you get that first reference account. How do you find that first customer? Who do you go talk to? How do your choose your first Target Market?
You already have your web site, your 10 minute high level power point deck, and your thirty second elevator statement. You have focused these on business value, of course.
Let’s talk some more about that elevator statement. It is called that because it is the message you can give in an elevator between the lobby and the other person’s floor. It has to be directed to someone outside of your area of expertise, with no jargon, acronyms, or technical details. It should be easy to understand by almost anybody. Have you tried it on your child’s teacher? That strange uncle in another state? The cashier at the coffee shop you go to every morning? They may not be interested, but they should be able to understand what you have. You may meet someone you haven’t seen in years who asks “what are you up to.” She may end up being a customer or know someone else who will be interested.
The elevator statement should have four components:
- What your product is.
- What problem it solves.
- What makes it different.
- What the business value is.
It needs to be vague but compelling. Don’t dive into the technology, tell the person “why.” Practice until you can give it without sounding like you are reciting something. Make sure it is short. Thirty seconds is a long time. Say it out loud and time it. Keep tweaking it and trying it out with anyone who will listen until you get the “aha” response.
Finding that first customer may be easy if there are other existing products that are very similar (but yours is much better, naturally), or if you already have a large customer base for products that are related to your new product. What if “none of the above?”
Use your network. Update your LinkedIn status, put it on your Facebook wall, tweet about it, send a “what’s new” email to everybody in your address book, …. Don’t just go to those in your target market. Bet you didn’t know your spouse’s hairdresser/barber lives next door to the CFO of a company in your target market. I suggest you check out Social Steve’s Blog. He recently posted a seven part series on “Social Media: How To Go About It.”
If you know someone in the likely market or can get a good introduction, one technique is to ask for an advisory meeting. “I’ve got this nifty new product and I would like to get an opinion from an expert in the field. Can I have an hour for a conversation?” I have found that conversation often leads to a pilot with that organization or another lead. Plus you get good information that will usually allow you to improve your product and confirmation that you understand the real customer requirements.
I have seen companies who waited until they had the perfect product before going to market. I have never seen a successful company do that. As I have said before, “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” Or, more importantly, “Perfection is the enemy of revenue.” Strive for good enough. Strive for what satisfies your first potential customer’s requirements, but no more. In the early days, strive for what will convince your customers that you will be able to satisfy their needs quickly. Drive your development to meet those few who look like they will be your early adopters. Make them your focus.
What if the first really interested person is not in your general target market but in some market you hadn’t even considered? If your product can be quickly tailored to satisfy that customer and there aren’t other obstacles like special certifications, I suggest you go after it. A reference account is good, even in another market.
The last word:
Don’t give your product away. Even if you decide that it is worth it to not charge that first customer, give him an invoice with the list price and a 100% discount. Make sure they understand the value. Make sure they will be a reference account if they are satisfied with the product. If it is a software product, make sure they sign an evaluation EULA (end user license agreement) that at least limits the time frame they can use the product at no charge and protects your intellectual property.
Keep your sense of humor.