The concept of the Lean Startup has been spreading like wildfire throughout the entrepreneurial community. More than anything the idea is to develop the customer before you develop the product. This is the opposite of “build it and they will come” (sorry Kevin Costner).
Companies of all sizes can learn from this theory when developing a new product, business unit, or updating existing products. Part of the challenge of developing the customer before developing the product is that you must actually pitch an idea to a real life potential customer, then refine the idea until they are willing to commit to purchase – all done before you have anything “real” to show.
Of course there are ways to augment this pitch to build confidence in the mind of your customer that your idea can become real. You can do this most readily with good visuals. Visuals may entail blueprints, work flow maps, screenshots (Photoshop only), or other multimedia presentations. The less relationship you have with the potential customer the more you will have to prove yourself with visuals. If you are simply trying to sell a new widget to an existing customer who already trusts your company, then simply discussing the product idea can suffice.
The key is to get the value propositions figured out based on what the customer actually wants to buy, not what you want to build or sell. This means that initial ideas may have to be scrapped or dramatically changed based on what is learned while pitching the customer. For entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs this can be emotionally challenging, as we frequently invest a lot of thought and passion into our product ideas.
I recently had an opportunity to ask a few (very) early-stage entrepreneurs to pitch their products to “customers” to see if they could verbalize the value proposition and really answer the questions posed by the customers. Of course this exercise didn’t include real customers, but the experience was helpful for everyone, especially the entrepreneurs who had to get their messaging down to the details instead of generalizations used when pitching to potential investors and mentors.
You can read a bit more about the Open Coffee event on Insider Louisville here.