I am currently learning about techniques and ways to listen to prospective clients and ascertain what the underlying wants and needs are that may drive them to utilize my services. Instead of “convincing” them to buy my product or service, I want them to be able to recognize how it will provide a solution to something they already know they want, even if they haven’t put it into words yet. My initial goal here is to gain an understanding of the underlying wants and needs that drove an existing client to contract with me to develop a proprietary ticketing system, which I hope to redevelop, “nichify,” and market to other on-site service companies around central Indiana and beyond.

One of the rewards for gaining this understanding will be the knowledge of what drove the company to invest several thousand dollars in two different versions of this product. Once I gain that knowledge, I can record it and use it as a reference as I speak with decision makers of similarly organized companies. I will also be able to look past the “needs” to the underlying “wants” that emotionalized the decision, making it more than just one of logic, but rather one of “we’ve GOT to have this.” I will also practice my questioning skills as I “go back in time” with 2-3 individuals I already have a good relationship with to investigate what drove them to (1) choose me, (2) choose my version of a solution to their problem, and (3) stick with it to completely redevelop it from the ground up at least once.

If I do not pursue and accomplish this goal, I will lose an important opportunity to practice my questioning skills. The men I will be speaking with know me well, and have already stated their willingness to help me in this endeavor and discovery process. Should I still have skills to develop (and I do), being able to use them on someone with the grace to allow me to mess up and start over, or miss the target a few times, is a valuable asset. I do not want to “waste” that on a prospective client that may be turned off if I don’t focus on what’s truly important. Another consequense of not accomplishing this goal is that when I DO go to discover the wants and needs of similar organizations, I will have no place to start other than my own interpretations of what I “think” they want. Speaking with someone who has already benefitted from the product will help me see both things they were looking for ahead of time, as well as benefits that it provided that they may not have thought of initially.

It is important to remind myself of the quality of my product, my discovery skills (even though they are developing), and the way I seek to provide my customers with creative, reliable, and produtivity-increasing solutions. I have developed a product that not only helped a business solve “paperwork” problems, but also increased the efficiency of both office staff and on-site-service staff dramatically. Their business would not be the same without the solution I provided. Throughout the years, I have developed a great relationship with the people at this business. I have the ability to not only provide a solution to a known problem, but to get to know those involved to the point that I can discover motives behind questions, wants behind needs, and priorities behind things seemingly urgent, necessary, and important.

What are some obstacles here? The first is quite clear… I might not set up meetings with the people I need to. There are 2 management staff (1 no longer with the company) and 2-3 on-site service staff that I would like to meet with. My solution is to set up meetings with both of the management staff, and at least 1 of the on-site service staff who has expressed an interest in helping me develop, market, and increase the value of the product for other companies. I have already contacted the management staff and set up meetings for next week. Following those meetings, and possibly even before, I will seek to set up the meeting with the on-site tech who uses the system in a much more “hands on” method.

Another obstacle is that I might fumble with questions and give up. This is one reason I am seeking to accomplish this goal with “friends,” with some people that I already know and that can give me honest answers, and also allow me to tweak my questioning skills. The literature I have also has some key questions, which I will copy down, prioritize, and take with me, ensuring to answer the questions I set out with, and adding additional questions or insights as well.

Another obstacle is that I might get lost in the details of the specific application. The originally designed product was for a specific niche of business that may not be wide open for selling to. I have a larger target in my sights, and while the application my client used it for may be relevant, it may not necessarily match the same things as other clients. Therefore, I believe that as a closing part of each of my meetings, I should prioritize the wants and needs we’ve identified and also highlight differences between the organization I’ve already served and other industries I may be pursuing.

That obstacle brings to light another: I may not know what niche to go after next. This product could fit anything from “call-before-you-dig” companies (it’s original usage) to HVAC service companies to delivery companies. I need to identify the core components of the companies I want to pursue, and then develop a list of initial companies to seek out through introductions via the client, my networking group, contacts I already have, and cold calls to businesses that I truly think could use the product.

Another obstacle I’d like to be prepared to answer in the future is how the value of the product outweighs it’s cost. One of my goals in the development of this product is to produce a sort of residual income, be it through hosting, maintenance, or a combination of the two. I also want the product to be much more than an out of the box solution that does one thing well, and has to be “hijacked” to fit specific businesses. A key component to the software I seek to develop is that it is developed on core components, which can then be customized to particular companies’ business processes. This will increase the cost to potential clients, because every piece of software will be unique. Especially, possibly, to initial customers, unless I decide to “take a hit” in hopes of making the money up later. I need to identify the value of the product I have already identified so that I can make it’s ROI quickly evident to potential customers. To do this, I can directly ask those who I work with… where has this saved you time? And how much? Where has this saved you money? And how much? What would be different if you didn’t have this product? Those types of questions will be key for me as I either bring in initial customers or seek out an investor to buy in to the idea.

I think that’s about it. I need to write all of my results down, organize them, and prioritize my findings. From that point, I can continue to develop a plan to develop and sell the product. I expect to gain an understanding of whether or not I need to have a bare-bones system designed initially to cut down on development time and cost for customers, or if a version “from the ground up” has an ROI worth selling.

One last obstacle I’d like to overcome is to not only use my own words to sell myself, my company, and my product. I will develop some followup questions for each person I meet with and ask them to write a few sentances honestly reviewing or recommending what I have provided them, from product, to service, to relationship. This will give me further details to share as success stories with potential customers.

Well, I think that’s about it. I just took that elephant and broke him down into bite size pieces that I think I can manage over the next week and a half. I am going to set out to achieve this goal within the next 2 weeks, which means Tuesday, October 19, 2010.