There’s a never-ending debate in the entrepreneur world: build it and they will come or demonstrate authentic demand first before building it. The first approach — build it and they will come — a.k.a. the “Field of Dreams” approach is the most common. Inspiration for a new idea hits an entrepreneur and they work to bring it to life. Entrepreneurs that study the Lean Startup take a more modern approach whereby customer discovery is employed to truly uncover a meaningful pain or opportunity before building a solution. Customer discovery yields better outcomes but there are plenty of pros and cons with each approach.
Entrepreneurs should start with The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you and unlearn their natural tendencies of leading the witness during customer discovery as well as being too broad with the initial idea. Entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic and eager to get to validation. Most people want to be supportive and say it’s a good idea regardless of whether they’re the ideal customer or having any expertise to back it up. Asking harder questions and seeking objective feedback takes more work, and delivers better results.
Once the basics are in place, it’s time to hunt for authentic demand. Authentic demand represents prospects that want to buy something but have no options — there’s an unfulfilled market need. The hunt for authentic demand is no different than a sales rep looking to build a pipeline, and that’s precisely how entrepreneurs should treat it. Here are a few sales tactics to use in the hunt for authentic demand:
- Cold Calling – Pick up the phone. Call the people that fit the ideal customer profile. Ask great questions. Yes, most people don’t like answering the phone but there are still plenty that do, especially in certain industries.
- Outbound Emails – Email is easy, fast, and effective. People respond to unwanted email when the message resonates and the pain is real.
- LinkedIn InMails – More expensive than email but often more effective, LinkedIn InMail works. Tailor the message. Find the authentic demand.
- Social Media – Follow the ideal buyers. Understand their view of the world. Find a connection point and make the ask.
- Networking – Talk to anyone that’ll listen — friends, family, co-workers, etc. Share the story and ask for intros.
Treat the hunt for authentic demand like a sales process. Come up with a goal — say 100 activities a day — and develop a system. Then, work the system. The more experiments and activities, the more certainty that authentic demand is real (or non existent and it’s time to move on). If there’s authentic demand, and the hunt was a success, the greater the chance of the startup succeeding.
Start with the hunt for authentic demand.