Market feedback is an essential component of startup success at every stage. New companies need market insights for the ideation process and product design. Once your venture has advanced, it is imperative to confirm that you have product-market fit and that you are answering a real need with a product that clients are willing to pay for. As you scale, you will want to expand to new markets, penetrate new territories and introduce new products.
If you are a corporate or VC, you can spend $50-$100K on an expert network like the Gerson Lehrman Group. They will connect you with experts who will help you answer pressing questions about your market and test potential hypotheses. But if you are a startup with limited time and resources, how can you get the information you need about the market or clients without a protracted research project?
The answer lies in engaging your target market at every junction. Here’s who to speak to, how to reach them and what to ask in order to get actionable insights quickly.
Who: Cover your bases and identify the right people
Make sure you speak to twenty people so that you get a range of opinions and a complete picture of your market/submarket. Your resource pool should be comprised of potential clients, subject matter experts and competitors. Each type of information source sheds light on a different aspect of your company’s offering. Potential clients provide valuable insights about their specific pain points and the nuts and bolts of what they need from your product to make it compelling. Subject matter experts have a holistic perspective that can help you see the bigger picture and define direction. When they are enthusiastic about the value of your offering, they may even become brand champions. Hearing about what comparable products do and don’t offer will sharpen your focus and highlight gaps, strengths and areas of opportunity.
How: But they will never agree to speak to me
With a bit of hustle, you can reach big names within a couple of weeks. Cold calling can be daunting, but you may be pleasantly surprised. People want to be heard and are often willing to share their time and thoughts. Persistence is key. Look through your LinkedIn account, track industry articles and see who is generating buzz online. Aim high – even big names may be willing to speak with you if your product piques their interest. Over the years we have seen that about 30-50% of people answer cold emails or LinkedIn requests, and an additional 50% to 70% will respond to a follow-up request.
What: Don’t pitch! Create a conversation
“We really listened to what our users wanted, both qualitatively listening to the words they say, and quantitatively looking at the behavior they take.”
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder & CEO Facebook
Now is not the time to pitch aggressively. Go in selling, and you will miss valuable opportunities to really understand your market. You need to hear what potential clients, subject matter experts and the competition have to say, and to respond to the points they raise. Start a dialogue, ask for opinions and listen with an open mind. In our experience, these informal conversations often lead to new advisors, clients or partners.
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