Why you need to talk to your ideal clients from the get-go

I get asked a lot, if I had to share just one tip, something that every founder should do at the beginning of a new venture, what would it be?

If I could offer only one, something to help align the outcome with success, to save time, money, effort and perhaps even a few tears, then it would be to vigorously qualify the assumptions you have about your business idea. I would say get out there and get deep into your target market and talk, talk, and talk some more to you ideal clients.

There is no substitute to ensuring that what you have hypothesised is actually reflected back to you by your ideal client market.

A few months back I was asked to give a talk on how to build a success-based mindset to a group of visiting students from South East Asia. I was the last of three speakers. Having arrived early and after making my introductions I settled back in my chair to listen to the first of the other two speakers.

The opening guest speaker was Eric Sicart, a thirty something Catalan entrepreneur, standing tall with plenty of energy. As he addressed the room his passion for his venture poured out through the sharing of his story. He shared how he came to create an incredible piece of technology intended to materially improve the lives of a great many people. His vision was to make accessible the wonders and benefits of literature to the world’s blind community and he sought to accomplish this with something that could sit in the palm of your hand.

Perhaps, in the world of kindle and instant downloads, access to books is taken for granted. With many more titles accessible today to so many more people than any other time. But it’s not like that for everyone. Having identified the gulf in price, physical size and availability between regular paperback books and their braille equivalents, a device was imagined, designed and eventually built to bridge that gap.

The size and form of a computer mouse, it could be moved across any text, seamlessly converting each word into braille through the raising and dropping of small pins resting underneath the users finger, creating a continuous stream of words to be read by the user.

I remember thinking to myself; it was such a simple, yet brilliant idea. In the true spirit of entrepreneurism, here was someone that noticed an opportunity, a gap in the market which he could fulfil and improve the lives of others in the process.

So it made no sense to hear him go on to describe how after several years and hundreds of thousands of euros worth of investment the business was being folded up.

I was like, wait, what? But how? There was a gap in the market, right? You engaged with the market place, spoke to the idea clients to validate the idea, right? Then you acted on the results of the analysis? Well not exactly.

He explained that during the project validation phase they did discuss their idea but they asked the wrong questions and directed to them to the wrong people.

Validation, or as it’s described it in sales as qualification, is something I talk about extensively to all and everyone that will listen, be they clients or just attending my workshops and seminars. Qualification is the key, and has always been the master key to my successful sales outcomes throughout my career. It’s talking to your ideal client and asking relevant questions. You do this throughout the sales cycle but it’s never so acutely important as it is in the early stages of a new startup venture. It’s testing your hypothesis, confirming the size of the problem you believe you are solving is equal in magnitude to your ideal clients perception of it.

It’s a big deal for the business when you do it right; it’s an even bigger deal when you don’t. It’s an insurance policy of sorts; you invest the time early on to save your resources further down the road.

With our speaker, the failing as he described it, was to validate the concept with people that wanted him to succeed. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s imperative you ask those people best qualified to give you the feedback and the insight needed to validate your ideas.

He went about asking the relevant blind institutes and foundations if they thought the device and what it stood for was a good idea. Of course they gave a lot of positive feedback, which encouraged him to proceed. Unfortunately, it eventually became clear that they hadn’t posed right question nor were they the best people to ask. Therefore several years later and hundreds of thousands of euros spent, the realisation dawned that the market he was committed to helping simply didn’t need it and would not buy it.

The reason why stands as a clear reminder, that if you don’t know your ideal client well enough you will suffer the consequences. You have to understand if the huge problem you believe you are addressing is indeed a problem that your customer actually feels is a problem worth solving. In this instance what was discovered too late was the vast majority of the blind population, ninety percent in fact, are located in developing countries. The consequence to this reality was that a majority of them did not have the means to meet the price of the device he hoped would avail them of the benefits and pleasure of books and reading. The second and by far greater obstacle to mainstream adoption amongst the blind community of this technological bridge, were it that the affordability barrier could be overcome, was that over eighty percent of the global blind community are illiterate.

Your target market is your biggest intelligence resource, get to know them, understand what problems they want solved. Never assume anything about them or their take on the world. Until you engage with a statistically relevant number of them, how much trust can you put in your hypothesis? And don’t forget to ask the big questions, would they buy it for what you seek to charge for it?

If you are interested to discover more I have made a brief video on this and other salient aspects of startup life ranging from the structural building of value propositions and determining market fit to the less tangible building of a resilient success based mindset, you can check them out on my YouTube channel, TCS sales accelerators for startup and feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

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