I almost titled this post “Find Your Niche” but as I thought through it, a lot of the content I would have written was about customer and market validation. But let’s start there…
Find your niche
When providing a service, selling a product, solving a problem, etc. you can’t be everything to everyone. You can’t solve all problems (obviously). You can’t make a product that literally every person wants to buy. Maybe you think you can, but you can’t. What you really need to do is find your niche.
Define a specific subset of clients within a broader market, then focus on that group. By defining the group (as specifically as possible) it allows you to both focus your solution and also your messaging. Even if the problem to solve is a broad one, there is a pretty good chance that the preferred solution by a Baby Boomer will be different from a Millennial. The preferred solution for someone living in Southern California may be different from someone living in New England. The solution may also vary based on gender, or income, or nerdyness – whatever. There are tons of ways to define a customer/market segment and being as specific as possible will help concentrate efforts.
Validate your niche – and the problem
Validate the niche and the problem, but not the solution just yet. Once the customer profile is defined, find those people. Can’t find those people? Well then you’ve identified a potential problem with your plans right out of the gate. Once you do find those people, ask some open-ended questions. Some good questions to ask are:
- Do you find that you have a problem with XYZ?
- How large of a problem is it for you?
- How do you currently solve the problem?
- If you could wave a magic wand for the ideal solution, what would it look like? (This is a very powerful and informative question!)
- How much would you be willing to pay for that ideal solution?
In an ideal situation some of the answers to the questions you ask point right back to the solution you have drafted in your mind already. If they don’t, then hopefully you can take the feedback you receive and use it to pivot.
Pivot? Sure, maybe a small pivot or maybe a large one. Maybe your drafted solution is good but you defined the market incorrectly. Maybe the customer demographic is right but the problem isn’t nearly as big of a deal to them as you thought. Maybe both the problem and the solution line up with your expectations but the amount people are willing to pay for that solution is way lower than you have expected. There is a ton of great information that could come out of these interviews.
Should you tell them your solution? What if none of the ideal solutions align with what you had expected? Should you tell them your idea and then ask what they think about it? Sure, you can do that if you want but: 1) ask that after you’ve asked the open-ended questions; 2) understand that you’ve now tainted the answers so anything afterward needs to be tempered with that understanding. Never lead in early with your proposed solution. Many people are nice so they may say they like an idea even if they don’t, or don’t value it enough to pay for it.
Validate your message
Okay, great, now you’ve validated that your customer definition is good, and that you have both a solution that is desired by these customers and also one they’re willing to pay for. Next?
Validate your messaging next. Create some content – ideally very simple and to-the-point content. Put up a few landing pages online (assuming your client will research solutions online, which is largely a safe assumption for most problems anymore) with varying message content. You want to validate what messaging motivates people into action the best.
A good landing page will reinforce what you found in your first step – “The solution to X for people like Y”. By the way, as a quick note here, from a personal lesson learned, in your messaging try to focus on something relatable and maybe emotional. Rather than saying “we provide X GB and Y speed and Z resolution” it may be better to say “we provide an amazing experience beyond anything you can imagine”. Focus on the value or “experience benefit” to the customer whenever you can.
Okay, so your landing page “speaks to” the desires of the person. Or at least you think it does. How do you know? One simple way is a “click here to learn more” button. If they click, you’ve made progress! On the next page you can give some of the details you held back from the first. Now how do you validate those details are desirable? How about a “buy now for only $X” button? That is a huge validator. If they click that button, they are a hot lead. Feel free to have the next step present them with a message saying that the solution is in the final stages of being prepared for the market and ask that they give their email address to be notified as soon as it is ready. If they do that you’ve not only validated the messaging but you’ve started to build an actual pre-sales list of interested people. It will allow you to really hit the ground running when the solution is ready.
Now, if you aren’t getting clicks through this process, you start to identify some problems. Maybe the emotional message isn’t ideal or maybe the pricing is a concern. If you align with what you found in the interviews these things shouldn’t be problem (big ones at least) but maybe you need to re-review your notes and start to make small changes and do some testing to optimize the messages.
If you are getting clicks, great! Now validate your channel ideas.
This is just as important as, and very related to, the messaging. But you need some content before you drive people to the page so work on the content a while first. You can’t validate the message until you get people, but getting people and not having a plan to step them through some validation process isn’t useful either.
How about some Facebook ads? Or pay-per-click ads? Perhaps you want to spread the word in person – no problem. Make some business cards that have some lead-in info (just like you would with the ads) and a call to action (i.e. the URL). If manually spreading the word I recommend the use of “promotional codes”. If someone clicks an ad, you can generally get that measurement. If someone types in the address of your landing page you don’t always know why. Did they link from another site? Was it word of mouth? Was it you handing them something? Did they stumble on it from an online search? If you have content suggesting to “enter code XYZ for…<something>” it can allow you to track the source.
After you run some tests, change things up – optimize the messaging right here up front. Getting lots of impressions but few clicks? Something is wrong with the message. Getting a lot of clicks but they people don’t take action on the landing page? Perhaps the page isn’t reinforcing the ad messaging well enough… or your clickers are too broad and you need to narrow focus – i.e. put some negative keywords or do something to narrow the group. It is better to have a larger percentage of a smaller click pool than a small percentage of valid buyers from a larger click pool. Those clicks cost money (or time, which costs money) so you really only want warm leads to click, and then want them to follow your page guidance to become hot leads.
By changing things up you are also optimizing the channels. You will find out what type of advertising and messaging works best and what doesn’t. Do more people convert from Facebook (or CNN.com ads or whatever)? Does certain messaging within the ad have a better rate of getting people to the landing page, but a lower rate of people making it all the way to leaving their contact info? You need to think through all of these things and optimize.
Customer acquisition – the sales funnel
This is your customer acquisition process here. Whatever this costs plays into your customer acquisition costs. If advertising costs you $X per Y exposures, and you get Z% clicks, then A% pass to page 2 and B% leave contact info… well, you can do some math here and tell how much each of those contact records cost you. You still need to actually sell them a product and you won’t sell 100% but you’ll start to get a sense of what each hot lead will cost. And I sure hope it is a lot less than the amount of profit margin you expect to make on each sale. If it isn’t, you’ve identified another problem to test, optimize, and fix – costs!
If you struggle here and want to skip this part, ask yourself: If I can’t get people to flow through my funnel now, what makes me think I can do it when the solution launches? A great solution without willing and able purchasers is a waste of time.
All of the above can be done well before the product is ready to ship. In fact, you might learn some things through this process that impact the development of the product. That’s actually part of the intent – validate these things as much as possible before spending too much time, effort, and money building a solution. If things start to line-up and validate positively, you can continue to fine-tune the process while the product is being finished (or at least the minimize viable version of the solution). You sure can’t have too many hot leads at launch – that would be a great “problem” to have! :)
Now, go find your niche and do some validation so you can get started on your solution and conquer a problem!
As always, if you are in need of a mentor or coach to help with the above or any of the topics I write about, feel free to reach out to me and we can discuss if an arrangement makes sense.