No matter whether you’re offering your course in a webinar, personally, or in a sales page, your narrative must be filled with excitement. Because, whenever your customers feel apathy in your speech, their motivation to listen to what you’re saying weakens.
But, the word selling causes something weird on you; It seems there’s a voice in your ear saying: “Calm down… You don’t want to annoy anyone.” And this voice makes you slow down your narrative, and takes your enthusiasm to the ground.
Sales has often been called “the transfer of enthusiasm”. The more enthusiastic and convinced you are about what you are selling, the more contagious this enthusiasm is and the more your customer picks it up and acts on it.
Hence, if you want to sell your course or workshop, be truly ENTHUSIASTIC about it.
Yeah. I know… Talking is cheap.
But, let me share three tricks that always help me to overcome apathy.
Isn’t it exciting to tell someone good news?
Like telling your parents they’ll become grandpas for the first time. Or telling one of your employees she’s promoted.
Knowing that your message means good news for the listener is enough to make you eager to say it.
And that’s exactly how you must treat your course sales from now on.
It’s not about a sale for your business. It’s good news for your customers about a positive transformation in their lives.
Hence, the key to unlock your enthusiasm lies upon your understanding about how better their lives will be.
It means the deeper you know the problem your course is solving and its consequences—frustrations, wasted time, wasted money, wasted energy, broken relationships, sleepless nights—the more you see your program as good news.
So, the secret is always to address a relevant issue that, once solved, will mean good news for your customer.
But, wait… How can you be sure to address a really relevant issue?
By digging deep into your customers’ lives. Interview them, read forums about the topic, enter group discussions, or derive insights from your own experience.
Don’t stop digging until you find something truly relevant.
It Definitely Works!
Eliminating hunger in the world is definitely good news. However, if you cannot deliver it, you’re making an empty promise.
And guess what? An empty promise will kill your enthusiasm to sell your course.
You don’t want to fool anyone, and any doubt you have about your promise will mine your excitement, and make your speech very mild.
So, the next step to kill apathy in your course sales narrative is to be sure you’re offering an effective program.
Once you’re certain that your course is really effective to solve the problem, you’ll never feel you’re “pushing too hard” anymore.
Instead of picturing yourself begging for your customers’ money, you’ll see your efforts as giving them chances to solve their problems and improve their lives.
In summary, the more you work to raise your course effectiveness, the more enthusiastic you’ll be about selling it. You won’t be concerned about annoying people, because you know they’ll thank you and leave great testimonials, when they finish your course.
It’s Soooo Worth It!
Do you enjoy wasting your money? Neither do your customers.
So, the third mindset shift you must go through is to put yourself into your customers’ shoes and see your course as an investment decision.
Really. Go in front of a mirror. Pitch your course for 1 minute. Pause.
Now, analyze the investment decision you’re asking your customers to do.
Start with how much you’re asking in terms of time, energy, and money. This is the overall investment they’ll do, once they decide to enroll in your course.
Now, ask yourself how much your course is giving them back—time, energy, money, health, relationships, etc. This is the return on their investment.
Finally, ask yourself—as if you were the customer—“Does this offer makes a lot of sense? Is the promised return much higher than the investment it requires from me?”
If you’re answer is ‘no’, ‘not really’, or ‘kind of’, it’ll be hard to be enthusiastic about it.
In this case, think hard about ways to reduce what you’re asking (their investment), as well as to increase what you’re delivering to them (their return).
Your enthusiasm will come only when your answer for the questions above is a huge ‘YES’.
Wanna be 100% enthusiastic about selling your course or workshop? Be sure it:
Addresses a BIG PROBLEM in your customers’ lives
SOLVES THE PROBLEM effectively
Delivers a HIGH RETURN on your customers’ investment (time, money, and energy)
Do you want a ton of 5-star, extremely positive testimonials about your course? Then, make sure to help your customers achieve their goals.
One of the biggest mistakes you can do when building your course or workshop is to think it’s all about organizing and presenting your knowledge to your customers.
But, the truth is: your customers care less about what you know and more about the results they’ll get from it. It means they’ll give you great testimonials about your course, as long as it has produced positive results in their lives.
Do you want to guarantee strong results for your clients in your next course? Then, work hard to build: a clear roadmap, powerful frameworks, and smart safety nets.
A Clear Roadmap
Your customers want to achieve great results but they don’t know how to do it. Therefore, the first element of an effective program is a clear roadmap.
A roadmap shows all the important milestones and major steps that must be completed in order for your customers to achieve success. The milestones and the steps in your roadmap must also be linked to one another so your customers understand they’re all part of your program’s journey.
Maybe you already presented the roadmap on your free webinar. But, it’s important that you assure your customers clearly understand it, before moving on to teaching them the first framework.
The better they understand the roadmap…
…the more engaged with your program they’ll be
…the less doubts they’ll have about how to perform the required steps
…the more resilient they’ll be about the potential hurdles (once they understand the importance of each step, they’ll find a way to accomplish them)
…the more they’ll leave you positive testimonials
Just knowing what to do and why to do it (roadmap), still won’t make your customers able to perform the steps by themselves. That’s why you have a second mission when designing your program: to build powerful frameworks.
In your program’s context, a framework is the fundamental structure to execute a specific task. It’s the recipe behind a specific achievement. Your customers will use your frameworks to know what to do, how to do it, and in what order.
You should love creating great frameworks. Why?!
Because every time you build an effective framework, you transform your expertise into pure results for your customers.
You see?! It’s the point when you stop just teaching concepts, and start producing results through your know-how.
More than that, when you build a great framework, you increase your value as an expert because you just got your clients a better—or easier, or cheaper—way to perform a task.
Without frameworks, your program will be just informational. So, when designing your course, be sure to create frameworks that are both clear and effective.
The better you design your frameworks, the faster your customers will get to their final goal.
But, how to build great frameworks? By always answering these two questions:
“What are the steps my customers need to perform in order to achieve each milestone in the roadmap?”
“What is the clearest way to guide them to perform each step?”
It’s very tempting to simply stop in the first two elements of the equation (Roadmap and Frameworks). But, your course’s effectiveness is at risk if you don’t care about a third element: “Safety Nets”.
You know that net placed under an acrobat when she’s performing her show? Yep… In case something goes wrong, she doesn’t hurt herself.
I know… Your customers are not hanging their bodies 20 meters above the ground. But, as an acrobat, they’re also testing their limits.
When you ask people to invest their time and energy to learn and practice something new, it’s very likely they’ll fail somehow.
But, why would they fail, if you’re already providing them with a brilliant roadmap and powerful frameworks?
In fact there are many reasons why. Here are just some examples:
They’re very busy and cannot find enough time to dedicate to your program
They’re too tired (after working the whole day) to pay attention to what you say
They may not have money to invest in the tools or equipment you’re asking them to buy.
And so on…
Let’s suppose you’ve built a course about “how to include financial planning in kids’ lives”. Although you put your efforts to produce a great course, very busy parents will find it difficult to attend it, or to sit for hours and teach their kids about finance.
Hum… What about including audio only episodes such as podcasts (so they could attend your course while commuting)? Or maybe shorter lessons and a slower progress plan (so they could perform the tasks in a longer time-frame)?
Providing your clients with smart safety nets will help them get rid of potential hurdles in their journeys and, consequently, increase your program’s effectiveness rate (number of people who attended your program vs. number of people who achieved expected results).
To guarantee positive testimonials about your first (or next) course, don’t forget to:
Present a clear roadmap, so enrollees understand and believe in the process and go the right direction
Build powerful frameworks, so they take the right steps in the right way to produce solid results
Design safety nets, to help them deal with and overcome the hurdles in the way
That’s it; Three pillars that equal success for your customers and positive testimonials about your program.
P.S.: Your success on building these pillars is strongly related to your ability to niche down.
Do you want to avoid building a program—course, workshop, etc.— that falls into the “just another course” zone? Then, you must consider to niche its scope down.
While it’s tempting to build an “ultimate” course that encompasses everything you know about a topic, it mines your efforts to entice potential customers to buy it.
But, what are the advantages of niching your program’s scope down?
I’ll give you three.
1. Niche Down to Get Your Customers’ Attention
The first reason why you should niche the scope of your course down is to make your customers listen to you.
Different customers deal with different problems. Also, these problems happen in different contexts. That’s why each person describes their struggles differently.
The magic of niching down happens when you use in your narrative the same wording your target customers use to describe their problems.
Check out these two examples of courses’ promises about the same topic (marketing):
“Learn everything about marketing in my 3-day workshop.” (very generic promise)
“Build an effective digital marketing routine for your brick-and-mortar business, in 3 days, in my workshop.” (specific)
While the first promise may be completely ignored by your audience, the second one does ring a bell inside their minds. When they hear (or read) words like “brick-and-mortar” and “digital marketing”, their senses open up to your message: “Brick-and-mortar? Digital Marketing? Tell me more about it…”
In summary: when you base your course’s promise on your expertise (e.g.: marketing), your potential customers will see your offer as part of your strategy to be successful.
However, when you design it based on a specific outcome (e.g.: digital marketing for brick-and-mortar businesses), they’ll perceive your course as their strategy to succeed.
2. Niche Down to Increase Your Program’s Effectiveness
Increasing your program’s effectiveness is the second reason why you should niche its scope down.
First, it’ll have a positive impact on the perceived effectiveness.
Customers are not stupid; They know that their specific contexts demand different approaches. So, when they realize your program was designed for their specific situations, they’ll give it more credibility. Isn’t it likely that a specific program will provide better methodologies, frameworks and tools for a specific case? No doubt about that…
Second, niching down will also have a positive impact on the real effectiveness.
Since, you’re providing your customers with better frameworks, they’ll start achieving better results. As a consequence of this focus, the number of success cases will rise. In turn, these cases will boost your program’s future sales—via testimonials, case studies, etc.
3. Niche Down to Be Seen as a Specialist
Finally, niching down will increase your reputation as a specialist.
If you want to be recognized as a reference for a topic, you must know that topic upside down. The more you talk (or write) about that topic, the more your audience will see you as an expert.
But, when you try to address a broader topic, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed. Even if you try hard to learn and produce content about that topic, people won’t see you as a specialist.
Imagine two different professionals who offer a program that promises to teach you how to plant beautiful trees in your garden.
The first professional, named Sam, has a course called: “Learn how to plant beautiful trees in your garden”.
The second one, named Sarah, has a course called:”Grow beautiful fruitful trees in your garden, with low maintenance costs and zero-stress.”
So, if you want to build beautiful fruitful trees that require small effort and money, who do you think is more capable of delivering results? Yep, Sarah.
In summary, if you’re building your course or workshop, start with a specific scope.
This narrower scope will help you to:
Make your customers pay attention to your offer
Build the credibility of your program
Build your reputation as a specialist in that specific topic
At this point, maybe you still have a doubt: “But, there are successful generic courses. Aren’t there?”
Yes, there are.
But, if you still are not recognized as a specialist nor have built massively successful courses in the past, you should go narrower.
Let’s think about it…
Every outcome demands an investment—of time, energy, and money. When you choose a bigger scope for your course, you’re also asking a bigger investment from your customers. The bigger their commitment is, the higher the friction to buy will be.
This additional friction will require from your customers a stronger belief that they’ll get the results they want. This stronger belief will only be possible if they have proof it worked for other people like them in the past.
So, the logic is to start with a smaller scope, help your customers achieve success, then go to bigger scopes.
Okay. You’re excited because you’ve scheduled some customer interviews. You know this is a great opportunity to generate insights that will boost your startup development. But, some entrepreneurs simply waste this wonderful opportunity because they ignore one or more of the following customer interview tips.
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions
The more your customers talk, the higher the likelihood to generate great insights.
But, how will you make them talk? Using a magical ‘trick’ called open-ended questions. These questions start with ‘WHY’, ‘HOW’, ‘WHAT’, and they’ll demand from your customers longer answers than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
Let me give you an example; Let’s suppose you’re doing interviews with potential customers for your flowers lovers app.
You may decide asking a closed-ended question such as: “Is it hard to find the right seeds?” And hear: “Yes.”
Or you may ask an open-ended question as: “How do you find the right seeds?” And hear: “I start by checking with my neighborhood what were the seeds he has planted in his garden. Then, I select a different one. It’s like a healthy competition… who has the most beautiful flowers, the most exotic, the tallest ones, etc. We have a lot of fun in our ‘mini-war’. And some of our neighbors are already joining the game. The size of the challenge grows every year, because it’s harder to find such unique seeds.“
Have you notice the difference? Besides the second answer is longer than the first one (duh!) it revealed more useful insights too. It was also more spontaneous, which helps you preventing yourself from inducing your interviewees to answer what you would like to hear.
2. Simply Shut Up
Every time you’re talking, your customers are not. So, be sure to open your mouth only in appropriate moments—to build rapport, to deepen or to change the topic, to clarify any blurry point.
But, why do we have problems to being quiet during customer interviews? Because we’re driven by the willingness to be:
Respected: we fear that the person we’re talking to will judge us badly if we stay too quiet. So, to make sure we’re not ‘stupid’, we try to dump everything we know about the topic and related matters.
Accepted: human beings need to be accepted so we constantly try to please other people. And to demonstrate we agree with them, we end up talking.
Right: No one enjoys being wrong. Indeed, we should recognize our failures as a means to learn, but the truth is we always prefer to be right. During customer interviews, this willingness to be right may trick us into trying to convince the interviewee about our point of view. If the interviewee doesn’t agree with us, we assume she didn’t understand it and we start ‘explaining’.
After each interview recap the moments you opened your mouth. Were you trying to be respected, accepted or right? If this was the case, work hard to avoid doing it again in the next interview.
3. First The Forest, Then The Trees
Many times, the most powerful insights are hidden in the less obvious places.
For that reason, you should begin your interview with broader questions, in order to understand your customers’ context. Once you capture the big picture, you’ll know which aspects are worth being further explored.
By being broad and open to the unknown, you’ll allow yourself to generate insights from:
Interesting quotes: that reveal hidden beliefs, paradigms, prejudices, ideas, etc.
Unexpected statements: something that goes to the opposite way you’re expecting it to go.
Additional problems: complaints about different issues than the one you’re addressing with your solution (maybe a more relevant one).
Adaptations: Self-made solutions or adaptations customers are already doing to partially or completely solve the problem (when something bothers them, they can be reeeeally creative).
4. Be Curious
From all these customer interview tips, this is definitely the most powerful one. If you are really curious about your potential customers’ lives, all the rest becomes much easier.
So, I have a challenge for you: instead of just focusing on putting a checkmark on the task, I want you to take a humbleness pill and work hard to understand how different and amazing your customers are.
When you truly empathize with your potential customers, you become apt to understand their fears, goals, thoughts, frustrations and logic. All these elements are fundamental if you want to make them open their wallets to buy your solution in the near future.
Yes, you may come up with ‘smart’ questions before the interview starts. But, don’t forget that many of the smart questions cannot be anticipated. So, trust in your curiosity to formulate powerful questions during the interview.
5. Don’t Pitch
Simply put: interviewing is about being open to discover; pitching is about presenting to convince.
Do you see? They go to very different directions.
That’s exactly why you must keep in mind that the interviews are all about the customers.
Every time you choose to pitch your idea—instead of listening to your customers—you waste an opportunity to discover what is running in their minds.
Besides that, if they believe you’re pitching, they tend to be less honest too—they may agree with you and say things like “It’s a great idea!” so you don’t become disappointed.
6. Stop Assuming Things
Another common mistake is to take some assumptions for granted.
If you’ve ever said something like “I didn’t ask him, but of course he does that.”, be careful.
In this very beginning, don’t consider something as ‘too obvious‘.
Maybe, you would act in a particular way. But, since you don’t know your customers’ context, you need to ask.
You’re painting a picture from scratch. You know the elements you want to use to paint it. But, you don’t know what kind of picture it is. Let your customers guide your masterpiece.
I love the word ‘why’… Why?
Because it’s so short, but at the same time it’s soooo powerful.
It’s like a small key that opens your customers’ minds and reveal their context, goals, logic, values, judgment, and dilemmas.
So, every time you want to put some color to grey answers—like a ‘yes’ or ‘no’—simply ask ‘Why?’, and be prepared for a ton of powerful insights to come.
Places: “in my house”, “at work”, “in my family’s ranch”, “in the restaurant”
Times of the day, week, month, year: “after finishing my work”, “on the weekends”, “on holidays”, “when I’m doing laundry“
Events: “on my vacations”, “when I visit my grandmother”, “when we visit our clients”, “when we plan our budget“
Goals: “I want to be more productive”, “I need to do it faster”, “I wish I could be a better father”, “one day, I will…”, “I want to save more money”
Constraints: “I would if I could”, “I cannot do X because of Y”, “I don’t have a good memory”, “but it’s so expensive for me”
2. The Relevance Of The Problem
If I told you I can solve the biggest problem in your life… Wouldn’t you be absolutely crazy to hear what I have to say? That’s a great reason for you to do customer interviews: to be sure you’re solving a problem people really care about.
To do that, during the interview, check if:
The customer mentions the problem before you do: instead of asking how your customer deals with the problem you want to solve, ask her how she handles the situation (in which the problem should be happening). If she doesn’t mention the problem, maybe it’s something not relevant at all (or she doesn’t realize its relevance yet).
The customer expresses a strong negative feeling about the problem: even if your interviewee mentions the problem, you still need to check her reactions about it. Can you sense a high level of frustration in her narrative? If you can, they definitely may be crazy for a solution. If not, try to understand why she is not as frustrated as you expected her to be.
3. The Consequences Of The Problem
During customer interviews, your mission is also to uncover and understand every single consequence the problem causes to customers. Sometimes, customers are not even aware of all the consequences.
So, have in mind all the chain of consequences the problemcan cause to your customers. When customers are talking about the problem, pay attention to everything that happens after the problem emerges:
Do they get angry? Frustrated?
And what does that anger make them do?
And by doing that, what happens next?
And so on…
4. Customers’ Wording
The words your customers pick to describe their thoughts and feelings about the problem are magical.
When you know these magical words—and understand their meanings—you start entering your customers’ minds.
Once these magical words find their way back to your customers’ eyes (in a sales page, for example) or ears (in a podcast episode or a video) these customers get instantaneously sucked into your narrative.
Therefore, avoid doing your own interpretation of the words you hear. For example, don’t hear ‘exhausted‘ and register ‘fatigued‘. Nor write down feeling ‘upset‘ when your customers said ‘miserable‘.
5. Current Alternatives (to your solution)
To understand how amazing your solution is to your customers, you must first understand what alternatives to your solution they have on their hands.
And I suggest you look for alternatives in three different categories:
Products and services that solve—even if partially—the problem you’re addressing.
Adaptations or self-made solutions your customers might have created to solve the problem or reduce the effects the problem has on their lives.
Doing nothing: Yes. Doing nothing about the problem and accepting its consequences must be considered as an alternative. Sometimes, simply facing the consequences is preferable to investing time or money in any kind of solution.
6. Level of Excitement About Your Solution
The more excited your customers are about your solution, the higher the probability they’ll pay for it. And you can capture this level of excitement by paying attention to customers’ keywords such as:
“How much is it?
“Where can I buy it?”
“Is it already available?”
“I would love to use it even if it’s not finished yet.”
These and other statements that clearly show your customers’ strong intention to take action, should be considered too.
CAVEAT: Statements like: “This is a great idea.”, “You’re brilliant!”, “You’re going to earn a lot of money from it.”, “This is what the world was missing.”, “How hasn’t someone come up with that before?“ SHOULD NOT be considered as evidence of excitement (especially if they’re coming from your mom or best friend).
7. Rationale and Friction Points
Finally, customer interviews will help you to anticipate your customers’ rationale to decide if they’ll buy your solution or not. Inside this rationale, you’ll find several potential barriers that can make them say ‘no’—instead of ‘yes’—to your product, like:
“It’s too expensive.”
“It’s too complicated/hard to use.”
“It’s too boring.”
“It’s too big/small.”
“It’s too ugly.”
“I’m not sure it will solve my problem.”
“It’s too unstable.”
“It’s too risky.”
“It’s too laborious.”
“It’s not good enough.”
Every time you hear one or more of these negative statements, don’t be sad. Use them to start digging deeper into your customers’ rationale and to find ways to overcome these barriers.
Okay. Before investing a lot of money, time, and energy in building a solution, go talk to your customers and build THE solution they’ve been looking for.
Finding the right people to partner with, takes time and patience. If you still don’t have money to build your business, use your time to develop relationship with potential partners.
Look for people who will complement your skills and that have the same values as yours.
Start by identifying the benefits your startup could provide to partners and, then what benefits a potential partner could add to your business.
Building strong partnerships completely changes the outcomes of your business. But, don’t expect them to happen naturally. Start designing and nurturing ideal partnerships for your business, in order to make them become true.
6. DEFINE AND BUILD YOUR VALIDATION METHOD
After defining a strong rationale for your idea, you must test and validate its riskiest assumptions in the market—in the fastest and cheapest way.
To do that, you may count with an infinite number of validation methods. In a previous post, I presented you 5 methods to validate your solution. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you to do it right now.
Defining a validation method and building a first version of your solution is super-powerful to generate insights (and much easier and cheaper than building a full-feature product).
7. DESIGN YOUR MARKETING FUNNEL
Just building a great product won’t make people naturally come and buy from you.
As an entrepreneur you must design a clear marketing funnel that conveys a strong strategy to intentionally make people purchase your solution. Consequently, this funnel will be the basis of your marketing metrics and initiatives.
There are some great free and paid online services you can use to design your marketing funnel. One tool I like using is funnelytics.io.
8. BUILD YOUR REPUTATION
If you don’t have enough money to build your solution, yet you may find some time to start developing your reputation in the industry.
Start engaging in conversations about the problem you’ll solve through your solution. These conversations might happen through social media, blog posts, podcast episodes, etc.
Why is that important? Because when you have a strong reputation on a specific topic, people will listen to what you might say about a potential solution.
And guess what… You’ll have a solution that precisely solves their problem. Such a coincidence. Right? Of course not, it’s pure long-term strategy.
9. IMMERSE YOURSELF IN THE INDUSTRY AND LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN ABOUT IT
Learning is definitely one of my passions. The more I learn, the easier it becomes to understand some of the world’s dynamics.
While you’re still preparing to execute your business, you may start absorbing a ton of knowledge about your industry from sources like:
Researches and publications
Social Media Accounts / Influencers
Social Media Groups
The knowledge you’ll gain will help you to take well-based decisions about your business and drive it faster towards success.
For instance, to understand how a button will play a video in your app, customers don’t need a perfect button nor a real picture of the video. A sketchy button and an image placeholder will be enough for them to give you initial feedback.
On one hand, wireframes are great for gathering insights from your customers sooner. On the other hand, if you need to validate customers feedback on the visual, usage or real value of your solution, wireframes won’t be enough.
Mockup is a static visual representation of your solution. It helps you on getting feedback about the visual, as well as on logic of your product flow. In other words, mockups are screens of your app or nice illustrations of your product.
Despite they still don’t allow your customers to interact with your solution, mockups provide a more realistic visual about your product than wireframes. That’s why mockups resonate better when your intention is to gather feedback about your solution visual appeal too.
However, better visuals for your screens will demand you more time to develop mockups of your product than wireframes (that don’t require a visually awesome interface at all).
Below, you see 3 real mockups used by Bambu to validate its solution with its customers:
They look a real app, don’t they?
But, let’s see what Ned explained to me:
We created about six static screens of what a digital saving app would look like and we put on a PowerPoint. We’ve paid a few thousand dollars to do that. We mocked it up as a digital savings journey, you know: “How old are you?”, “What are your savings goals?”, “When do you want to retire?” Put some nice pretty colors around it. Put it in six slides and that was that. No coding, no tech, no stack, no nothing. Just a six-page PowerPoint.
Suggested tools: Mockups can be easily presented in PowerPoint, Google Slides or Keynote. To build your screens images, there are also some services like InVision and Photoshop. You also can find some easy-to-use templates (free or paid) to have your screens ready to be presented (like this one).
A landing page is a website page that allows your potential customers to take some actions, so you can measure their interest about your solution.
Landing pages are great to reassess customers’ interest about the problem as well as their understanding and excitement about your solution.
The main objective behind a landing page is validating if your startup’s value proposition fits to your customer’s problem. Hence, the decision of what elements to include will depend on how well you can communicate your product’s value for your customers (e.g.: some landing pages don’t have screenshots, others do).
On one hand, a big plus of using a landing page is to capture potential customers emails. That’s why you must include an appealing Call-To-Action (CTA) button.
On the other hand, a big challenge is to get people coming for your website. Differently from wireframes and mockups, you’ll not be able to interact directly with most of the people who visit your landing page. So, it’s important to start defining how to get potential customers coming for your landing page.
Their low cost and no need to have a finished product make them awesome to test if customers would are interested in buying from you.
Prototype is an interactive representation of your solution. It means that you’ll not only show it to your customers, but they’ll actually “use” it (like they were using your solution).
The benefits of getting a prototype in the hands of your customers are huge. Through a prototype, you’ll understand how they interact with your product and what difficulties or doubts do they have while using it.
Despite your prototype would work like the solution, you still won’t deliver any real value to your customers yet. It’s not your product, but a vehicle to capture customers feedback on your products usage.
It’s important to notice that your prototype is an interactive tool, but it doesn’t mean you need everything coded or automatic yet. Actually, your mission is to simulate customers’ interactions with your product, without building the product for that.
[…] we tried to get people to use it and see the kind of difficulty they had, see if it worked or not, and things like that, that was kind of research. […] It [the prototype] was always coded and you could interact with it. It allowed you to do two major things. Number one is to set a goal and number two is to save towards that goal. All what we were doing was monitoring how you were doing at your goal. You couldn’t process money for people as it was.
In other words, MVP is the minimum set of features needed to deliver your core value for your customers to solve their problem as well as to allow you to test your most important assumptions.
I’ve produced this other post specifically about MVP.
How complex and expensive does your MVP need to be? It depends on what you define as “minimum”. And this is definitely the most challenging part of building an MVP.
After all, since the beginning, you were mentally visualizing what would be your ideal product (with a lot of features).
But, to build an MVP, you should consider it part as a product and part as a vehicle to validate your assumptions in a fast and cheap way.
Want to see an awesome example of that?
Bookme is a Pakistani online platform through which you can buy tickets for Cinema, Bus and Events. Today, the reservation and payment processes are automatic. But, Faizan (Bookme founder) was able to build a much leaner MVP:
It was merely a form where you could simply put in your request that you want to see a movie at ‘XYZ’ cinema or you want to book a seat from this city to that city. It was all manual, there was no integration of stuff at the back end and there was no option to select a real-time seat. It was like: tell us your preference, which seat you want and we will try to make it as close as possible.
First, it’s important to mention that these are not the only methods to validate your solution (although they are really important ones).
Second, you don’t need to use one OR another. You can start with a simpler method and move to a more detailed method later in the validation process.
To define the best alternative in your case, I suggest you to compare them in terms of: resources, methods effectiveness and access to customers.
Each method will demand more or less of your startup’s resources. That’s why you should start by estimating how much money, time and effort each method will require to be executed.
Together with “Resources Needed” you’ll assess the resources you have. Do you have someone who can build a prototype? Great! Do you have someone who could build a landing page in one day? Awesome! Will you have to hire people to do any of those alternatives? Okay, take that into account too.
The selected method must resonate with the next assumptions to be tested (the riskiest ones). For example, if you need to test how much customers are willing to pay for your solution, wireframes wouldn’t be recommended (because customers won’t have a perfect sense of how exactly your solution brings them value.
Similarly, if you want to test market demand and gather users contact, landing page would be better than just presenting a few people the prototype.
ACCESS TO CUSTOMERS
A last factor you must consider is how easy and formal is your connection with those you want to test your solution with.
In other words, if you have close friends that are related to your solution’s topic, it wouldn’t be a problem to present them a wireframe.
However, if you’re presenting your solution for a potential customer who you need to trust you (like a big corporation), then you need something more polished (like mockups or a prototype).
No matter what validation method you choose, keep in mind these four elements of the validation process:
Assumptions: What assumptions do you want to validate now?
Method/assumptions fit: Is the validation method covering those assumptions?
Results: How will you measure validation? What metrics will tell you your assumptions are valid or not?
Action: One or more assumptions were not validated? Why? How should you restate them? Were they validated? Great! Go to the next set of assumptions or start planning scale.
It’s time to translate your business idea into a business model hypothesis, which will help you on better:
Visualize the idea: it will consolidate the problem and the solution under the “Value Proposition”, which—with other 8 components—will bring you a clearer picture of what you’re aiming to build.
Communicate the idea: once it’s easier to visualize it, it will be easier to communicate your idea to other stakeholders as: employees, co-founders, and investors.
Iterate the idea: With a structured framework, it will also be easier to analyze and define which assumptions should be tested first and how could you iterate your business model hypothesis in order to achieve success.
To make the most of this learning, I’m providing to you a FREE Excel template, so you may fill it in with your business model components:
There is a widely-used framework that will help you with that, called The Business Model Canvas (BMC). It was developed by Alexander Osterwalder and presented in his book: “The Business Model Generation“.
Looking for the info: There are several techniques that may bring you the information you are looking for such as: Interviews, Observations, Empathy exercises (putting yourself in your customers’ shoes) and Data Analysis.
Generating insights: To generate insights from this data you may use some great methodologies such as: Personas, Storytelling, Storyboarding and Customer Journey.
Of course, people are very different from each other. However, you may find some important characteristics that are common to the majority of your customers.
You may define at least two customer segments for your product. That’s up to you, as long as you’re aware that customers differ significantly, hence, demand different approaches.
What is the value you are offering to your customers?
For more info on Value Proposition, check this post.
The value proposition refers to the products and services you’ll offer to your customers as well as how they will improve people’s lives.
When defining your value proposition, include the following elements:
A general description of the product you’re offering
A brief description of its features
All the benefits your customers will have when using your product
A long-term vision showing how your product will change the world, after massive adoption
Don’t think solely about the features of your product. Also, think about the benefits your product brings to your customers. What will they get that they are not able to get today from current alternatives?
After describing your value proposition, it should be clear for you and for anyone else how your product adds value to your customers.
How do you communicate, sell and deliver value to your customers?
To define your startup channels considering the whole buying experience, have in mind that, in order to do business with you, customers must be able to know:
They have a PROBLEM
Your SOLUTION exists
Your solution is the BEST ALTERNATIVE for solving their problem
Where and how to BUY your product
Where and how to GET your product
Where and how to get SUPPORT for your product after the purchase
Now, you should define which are the most efficient and effective channels to address each one of these points.
How will you get, keep and grow businesses with your customers?
For more info on Customer Relationship, check this post.
While Channels relate to the experience of the customer when buying from you, Customer Relationship refers to the strategies to get, keep and grow businesses with your customers.
This BMC component aims to generate the traction needed for your business to thrive. The questions to be answered:
GET: How will you acquire (and activate) more customers? What strategies will you design to find customers and start a “conversation” with them about their problems and their solutions?
KEEP: How will you ensure your customers will continue buying from you after the first purchase? What kind of incentives will they receive to make the next purchases?
GROW: How will you expand businesses with each customer? How will you make them buy more frequently or spend more on high-value products?
When designing your customer relationship strategies, have in mind the customers segment profile you’re aiming to reach. Some strategies will work much better than others depending on the segment. For example, if you’re dealing with big corporate customers, it’s likely that a dedicated sales team will work better to GET customers than Facebook ads.
How will you make money with your business?
For more info on Revenue Streams, check this post.
The revenue streams are the ways your startup will monetize the value it delivers to customers.
Of course, there are several alternatives to come up with good options. To start thinking about them, I suggest you consider:
Everyone who might benefit or is related to some degree with your business: Of course, the most obvious answer is your customer. Nonetheless, you may be surprised by how many different stakeholders might be benefited from some aspect of your business.
How will you generate benefits for them: after considering everyone who could have some connection with your business scope, you may start wondering how you would produce the benefits for them. What is feasible and aligned with your business model?
How much to charge for each alternative: now, you need to set a price range for each alternative considering the cost of producing it, the value it brings to your customers and the costs of alternatives they currently find in the market.
The items above are just suggestions and you may find other ways of coming up with ideas for monetizing your business. What is important to consider is that there are several ways of earning money from your business. Don’t get stuck with only the most obvious alternatives.
What are the key assets that your startup’s value proposition demands?
Well, you’ll need some assets to create the value you’re promising to deliver to your customers. For example, if your startup produces an innovative shoe, it may need machines and a building to do that.
To help you in defining your startup assets, consider the categories below and which assets are essential in your business model hypothesis:
Physical: machines, buildings, etc.
Intelectual: trademark, brands, know-how, etc.
Human: key people to support core business activities
Financial: working capital, commitment lines, guarantees, etc.
Understanding which are the key resources of your business model hypothesis is crucial to be realistic about the structure your startup needs to be functional.
Depending on the business model hypothesis you’ve designed, there will be some activities that your startup should pay more attention to. These activities account for a big part of your product’s value creation and underperforming on those activities, might negatively impact your customers’ perceptions.
A good way to think about which are the key activities of your startup is to think about the other BMC components. Which of these components demand the most important activities? Is it Value Proposition production? Is it Channels management? Is it managing and developing Partnerships?
What are the essential partners to make your business model work?
Setting the right partnerships may leverage your startup’s results by enhancing your capabilities where you may not be so good at, as well as giving some protection to your business by making it more difficult to copy.
Partners might help you to get more clients, more revenues, enhance your value proposition, improve your key activities and reduce your cost structure.
In the business world, we may find an infinite number of synergies between two or more companies. Always search and develop partnerships that are beneficial for all partners (not just for yourself).
Which are the main costs of your startup and what factors influence them?
Finally, you’ll have to face a crucial part of your business model hypothesis which is to consider the structure of your business’s costs.
It’s worth noticing that all the other BMC components will affect your cost structure to some degree.
For instance, if you decide (in your Channel component) to build a sales team, instead of selling just through your website, you’ll significantly impact your cost structure (obviously, in this case, the sales made by a dedicated team might easily offset its costs).
However, while your startup is still not generating revenues enough to offset its overall costs, be extremely careful about the burden of your cost structure, by estimating your Cash Burn Rate and Cash Runway.
The Questions Behind BMC
As you might have noticed, BMC is a powerful framework to help in structuring your business model hypothesis in an objective way.
However, more than just a sum of 9 separate boxes, BMC is better understood when the connections between the components are taken into account.
The word behind these connections is VALUE. Keep in mind that to be sustainable your business must be able to create, deliver and capture value.
Hence, let’s consider the BMC components as the answers to these four questions:
How do you CREATE value? Customer Segments, Value Proposition, Key Partners, Key Activities, Key Resources.
How do you DELIVER value? Channels, Customer Segments.
How do you CAPTURE value? Customer Relationship, Cost Structure, and Revenue Streams.
After completing BMC boxes, your first business model hypothesis should be very clear for you and for your team.
This is the beginning of your journey and the words “first” and “hypothesis” in the previous sentence illustrate quite well the mindset you should adopt from now on.
In the next months, your mission will be to validate your hypothesis in the market, which means you must be prepared to be wrong as much as you’re to be right.
“Learn” and “adaptation” will follow you in every step of this journey. So, be open to learning (and accepting) when many of your assumptions fail and to quickly redesign (adapt) them considering what you’ve learned.
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