As we head into Market Discovery, remember that this phase is about effectively evaluating all potential customer profiles and go-to-market strategies that could fit into your market development budget.
The best place to start is your current sales pipeline. We’ll take a thorough look at your current leads, opportunities, customers and conversations.
We’ll be looking for patterns that help form hypotheses about your ideal customer profile (ICP) (i.e., the people out there with the biggest needs or problems that you can solve today with your current product, not your product roadmap).
First things first. Scroll over (or down on mobile) to the Resources / Downloads area and grab the Current Account and Pipeline Review spreadsheet. Try to fill it out as you read this post.
(Don’t worry about the “Pipeline Prioritization” tab right now; we’ll come back to that and prioritize your sales pipeline once we’ve developed your ICP.)
Pipeline reviews always start at the bottom of your funnel and work their way up to the top. There is no better group of people to discern possible patterns from than the ones who have already said yes (i.e., closed-win).
List your customers in the Current Accounts tab and then work across the spreadsheet adding thorough detail for each customer. Take out whatever notes you have from meetings, review email exchanges, speak with anyone else at your company who was with you. Do whatever you need to do to create a thorough record of each customer.
One of the most important aspects of this exercise is detail. You want to tell the entire story of every lead, opportunity, customer and conversation.
Don’t be afraid of being verbose here; tell the whole story of every customer interaction with your entire team. Often times, this exercise yields small, forgotten details that lead to big, clarifying “ah-ha” moments.
Above all, shed your ego and be honest. You may want to say that a customer loves working with you and is extremely interested in your product. But if they haven’t done anything conclusive in the last six months, are they actually as interested as you thought?
If you’re doing it right, this exercise takes a while. As you get through your first few customers, you should get into a rhythm and it will go faster. But, a rhythm isn’t an excuse to cut corners.
Make sure that you take every customer, opportunity and lead through the same series of questions.
One of the biggest mistakes we see companies make when doing this exercise is not taking enough time to go deep enough into each customer’s story.
And, don’t forget Closed-Lost. If you can recall those conversations, follow the same exercise and add their details to the Current Account tab. You might want to highlight them red or note them as Closed-Lost, or just create a new tab.
When you’re done, repeat the exercise for all of the accounts in your current pipeline, starting with the bottom of your funnel.
Here are detailed descriptions of each of the columns to help guide you towards the most relevant insights you’ll be searching for:
- Use Case – How do they intend to use your product? Which department of their company will use it (marketing, legal, etc.)? This answer may not be simple. Oftentimes, different people at a company might think they’re going to use the product in different ways. If you have multiple features or product offerings, this is the space where you should include which ones they’ll be using and how.
- Affiliated? Y/N – Is this a referential customer? Did you find them through your network (customer referral, investor referral, your own personal business, etc.)? This step separates referential or affiliated customers from those you’ve found through cold outreach or inbound marketing.
- Contract Details – What does the contract look like? Is it a year-long contract or a pilot to full implementation? This helps you see all the ways you’re trying to sell your product and if there’s a process that’s more effective than others. If there isn’t a contract yet, you can still fill this in with your ideas of what the contract for this lead would be.
- Active Vs. One Time – Are they a customer right now or were they previously a customer? Maybe they’re on a one-time contract or trial. This is where you’ll separate the customers who are actively engaged from those who tried your product before but aren’t back on board yet.
- Lead Source – Where did you get this lead from? Talk this one out. Don’t just say this was an inbound lead. Go deeper. Where did it come inbound from? Had they heard of you before? If someone referred the lead to you, discuss who that referrer is and how you know them. Often times for startups, these initial leads come from sources that you can go back to for more. Likewise, when you really dig into the story of where the lead came from you can unearth the “why” that drove the connection.
- Title/Department of Contact Person – Who is your main contact and what’s their title? This is important because we’re starting to get into the customer’s brain. Their title tells you what they’re concerned about and whether or not they’re the decision maker. As you move along, you’ll want to identify if there is a pattern between deal quality/speed and the titles of the decision maker.
- Buyer Type – Are they a user buyer, an economic buyer (i.e., the person who has the ability to commit funds to a purchase), a technical buyer (i.e., the person who makes sure that purchasing rules defined in corporate governance procedures are followed) or a champion buyer (i.e., the person who wants your solution to win)? This is where you’ll start to understand if you’re talking to the right person and if they actually have the power to buy.
- Number of Meetings from Start to Close – How many times have you met with them? This doesn’t have to be an exact number. You don’t have to go through every single day on your calendar and figure it out. You’re trying to understand how many times you typically have to meet with somebody in order to get a deal going. Start from the very first time you ever met them (don’t count emails), and count actual meetings to today or to close. Again, push yourself to talk through the meetings. This information across various conversations will help you understand if there are the pieces of a repeatable sales process already in place.
- Sales Cycle (Days) – How many days has it been from the first meeting to wherever you are in the sales process today? This also doesn’t need to be exact, but you do need to be consistent about where you define that start point in the sales cycle. It should be the very first introduction meeting. This information will help set a benchmark for you (and your investors) on how long it takes to bring in new revenue.
- Current Status – This is where we start getting into the actual pipeline review. What’s the status of the account right now and what’s the next step? In a sales pipeline, everything should have a very clear next step. If it doesn’t, the deal might stall out or might not be relevant anymore. This column will highlight any action items that your team has in order to move forward with the deal. Keep in mind that as you go through this exercise the next step might be to stop pursuing the account altogether. Focus is a good thing and in this instance, avoiding customers who take up your precious time budget is critical to success.
- Company Size – This is really just an example of any additional columns you may need. Additional columns that may be relevant to you could include company size, industry, current technology, funding level, size of the sales team, size of the development team, etc. What are the actual key indicators for you, as opposed to just more data? Identify if there are other tangible qualifying factors that you can check off for almost every account, and add as many of these extra columns as you need.
- Notes on the Sales Process – This is where you’ll explain if there’s been any friction in the sales process. As you talk through the entire story of each customer you will begin to notice patterns in your process where things could have been handled better. This is the low-hanging fruit we talked about in Marketing and Sales Process review. The data here will be both immediately actionable and help you build out a new sales process that removes that friction for future customers.
- Notes on Current Customer/Opportunity Status – This is an overflow bucket for any other next steps you need to include, like if you want to continue with the opportunity. The Current Status column above is just the state of the account. This column is where you’ll make a decision about it.
Go Slow to Go Fast
Einstein has some great advice for us here when he said that if he had one hour to solve the world’s problems, he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only 5 minutes solving it.
The current account mapping and pipeline review exercise is part of that 55 minutes. It may feel like it’s taking too long, especially when you’re anxious to start selling and see revenue. We understand!
With limited resources, you must focus your time, money and people on creating opportunities that are most likely to deliver feedback (and, ultimately, revenue).It’s crucial to know what you’re looking for in a customer before you start marketing to avoid another common startup mistake: confusing being busy with making progress.
Maniacally focus on your initial customer profile if you want to win the long game.
The insights you will generate from completing the current account mapping and pipeline review exercise will carry forward into the next part of the program: forming critical hypotheses about your ideal customer profile. That ICP exercise is one of the most critical steps in orienting your resources in favor of opportunities that are most likely to deliver feedback (and, ultimately, revenue).
Get ready…ICP is next up in the #gxmxp Series!