The first stage of market messaging is about conducting interviews with individuals who can help you confirm that you’re on the right path with your ideal customer profile.
Customers interviews are a gold mine of valuable insights and data points into your ICP. These interviews can significantly accelerate your path to revenue or stop you from going down a path that is destined to fail.
Your goal with customer interviews is to validate the logic and reasoning behind your ICP hypothesis as much as possible before you put resources into creating messaging and a customer acquisition engine.
Creating messaging is a time-intensive exercise. You want to be sure that the messaging you create will resonate with your audience. You came up with your ICP “inside the building” when you filled out your ICP spreadsheet with your team. Now it’s time to test your initial hypothesis by going “outside the building” and talking to real people.
Everything we do throughout the #gxmxp Series moving forward is geared towards a single ICP. Without conducting a few quick, low risk interviews to test the logic behind your ICP, you run the risk of spending an additional three to four months iterating with a live customer pipeline.
With customer interviews, you can get to that “no,” “yes” or “yes but” much more quickly, which in turn will significantly improve your customer acquisition efforts once they begin.
Good news! You already have everything you need to conduct these interviews. You don’t need to come up with a survey or some type of elaborate scoring mechanism. Remember, you’re just looking to confirm your current line of thinking with one ICP.
We recommend literally walking the interviewee through what’s on your ICP spreadsheet and asking for feedback. Do people agree with your assumptions? Where do you have blind spots? Where is there a bigger problem or opportunity for your technology that you were unaware of?
Focus customer conversations on the person you are speaking with and their business situation or problem, not on you and your product’s features and functions.
You’re confirming the reasons why people buy, how they deal with the current problem you solve, what KPIs they’re responsible for, etc. Think of it as asking these people to check the homework you did in the ICP exercise.
You may learn that you have all the right information or you might find out that what you thought was important to this customer is actually second to a much bigger issue that keeps them up at night. Everything you learn here will affect your market messaging and possibly your ICP itself.
Your goal should be to speak with anyone who fits within your ICP and is easily reachable. Just like we did in Customer Acquisition Strategy, go after the lowest hanging fruit. Start with people who already know you and who are already in your sphere of influence (like investors and advisors). Then go to your own pipeline and look for people you’ve talked to before or even people who didn’t buy your product.
We start with people you know because anyone you don’t know yet in your ICP is a potential customer, and you only get one first impression. Likewise, a lot of time and effort goes into acquiring any type of conversation whether it be an interview or a potential sale. We want to reserve that effort for when we are pursuing revenue.
If you already know the person you want to speak with, call them and ask to schedule a short meeting. Otherwise, the best way to set up these interviews is by sending a short email. You don’t need to explain the purpose of what you’re doing and how much you value it.
Just let the interviewee know that you’re building a product and would love their input on a product roadmap and features. Early adopters will be your first customers and they are stereotypically excited about the opportunity to advise on a technology solution!
A casual approach is good, too. Something like, “I’d love 30 minutes to pick your brain and share some thoughts about what we’re building.” In most cases, you should take a less-is-more approach to the actual interview request. There will be plenty of time to talk about yourself in the interview.
Trade shows are a fantastic source of customer insights. Most industries have trade shows. Find one where the audience is mostly your ICP. Getting a booth may be a little expensive right now, but you could go as an attendee and interview people in your ICP at the show. Trade shows enable you to have dozens of interviews quickly and get a great pulse for your market as a whole.
If possible, whoever on the team that has been working through this #gxmxp Series up to this point should be who conducts these interviews. Their knowledge and grasp of the content is key to confirming the hypotheses and also diving deeper into important tangents when they arise.
The best practice for conducting these interviews is to do so verbally. Often times, founders will create a Google survey and ask people to fill them out. This creates two problems. First, you are giving other people (and in some cases customers) work in order to help you. As a general rule you should make it as easy as possible for people to work with you.
Second, with a survey, you aren’t able to dive in deeper when inevitably you hear short, pithy responses that require unpacking.
We call these “interviews,” but, really, these are just casual conversations. It’s hard to have a conversation on a back-and-forth email. Where practical, meet people in person, rather than speaking on the phone.
Another best practice for customer interviews is to have two people from your company in the room. One person should be conducting the interview and another should be capturing the content. You could record the interview but sometimes recording people causes them to skew their true answers.
The person leading the interview should focus on listening and navigating the interview. The person taking notes should make sure learnings don’t fall through the cracks.
Immediately after each interview, synthesize the information. Make sure that both people in the room heard the same thing. You’d be surprised at how often people interpret these interviews differently. It’s crucial to review this immediately as to not to lose the great info you’ve gained.
Most importantly, remember that these interviews have nothing to do with your product. Your goal is to confirm that the people you want to work with actually think and act the way you’ve hypothesized. Do they share your world view or are you way off? Don’t waste anyone’s time by walking them through a demo (yet).
All too often with interviews, founders simply go through the motions. Go into every interview with a plan of attack. Know exactly what presumptions you are testing. The method of the program is to be intentional about everything you are doing.
We often get asked what happens if you are interviewing a potential customer and they confirm that they are in your ICP. How do you convert them to a customer? For starters, remove the notion from your mind that there is a difference between a customer interview and a sales pitch. They both serve the exact same purpose – to seek fit. The only differences that should exist between an interview and a sales pitch are the context coming in and the next steps going out.
Look at your customers interviews not as a survey, but rather as a rough draft of your sales pitch. Every interview doesn’t have to be exactly the same (you’re not conducting a study, just trying to get to market).
Your first interview will probably be much different than your fifth. If you’re getting a consistent answer to one of your questions after three interviews, then skip that and go to the next part in the future. You should be iterating these interviews as you start identifying patterns.
Again, this is your rough draft sales pitch. It should get better, tighter and there should be more agreement with your worldview in each subsequent interview.
Depending on the quality of your contacts and the interviews themselves, about five to ten interviews is a good amount to confirm information about your ICP. Assuming you’re speaking with people who are your ICP and the vast majority of your value hypotheses hold up without major objections or holes, you have confirmed your ICP and are ready to start building a messaging engine.
However, if you go through several interviews and have less clarity about your ICP, have more questions about the value you create and who you create it for then don’t move on. Instead, you need to focus more on continuing to develop your ICP.
Remember, the goal is to protect your business and runway as much as possible so that you can reach product-market fit. If this early in the game you are unable to see clear signs of product-market fit then imagine what will happen if you put considerable time and capital into actual customer acquisition.
Once you’re finished with customer interviews, the next steps in Market Messaging are about figuring out exactly what we’re going to say and how we’re going to say it. We need to codify your “pitch” into value propositions and selling propositions from which we can then build every piece of sales and marketing collateral.
Crafting your value proposition is up next in #gxmxp Series!