Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tap the brains of wise people (without paying them)

Develop some of the credibility you need. When someone chooses to be your customer, she will prove her infinite wisdom, right? The wisest people in your industry are those who boast a long record of success. Some are your competitors, but many more are potential customers. Contact some of them, but don’t worry yet about turning them into customers.

Your immediate goal is to learn from them.
Imagine Lucas has a new ATV that he never drives because he’s afraid he will wreck it. He wishes he could think of a way to drive as fast he wants on the ATV, while guaranteeing it will never roll over. One evening, as he ponders his dilemma, Lucas watches his pet hamster speed across the living room carpet in its plastic ball. Eureka! Lucas says to himself. He will create a large plastic ball big enough for his ATV to fit inside. No matter how fast he drives, the ATV will never tip over. Better yet, Lucas figures a lot of other ATV enthusiasts would buy such a ball. Lucas builds a prototype and decides to call his contraption The Bubble Over. He’s pretty sure he’s a genius, and believes he can sell millions of Bubble Overs.

Lucas is business-savvy, so he wants to prove the practicality of The Bubble Over before he spends a lot of money manufacturing it. He gets in touch with Carl, the owner of the local ATV dealership, to ask if he can pick his brain. From research, Lucas knows that Carl has been selling ATVs for 25 years and that he is well respected in the industry because he understands what ATV owners want and need. Sure, Carl says to Lucas’ invitation. He is always willing to hear about new products that might benefit his customers. Like most of us, Carl loves it when people ask, “Can I get your advice on something?”

Lucas brings his prototype of The Bubble Over with him to the meeting so that Carl can try it. Based on Carl’s feedback, Lucas starts to get an idea of how well the marketplace will receive his product. Carl also offers suggestions on how Lucas might make The Bubble Over better. As Lucas starts a relationship with Carl, he is also starting to show that he is committed to solving a problem in Carl’s industry. He knows Carl’s experience is the most important thing he can tap into at the beginning of his venture. Simultaneously, Carl is turning into Lucas’ prospect. If he should become the first distributor of The Bubble Over, his good reputation in the ATV industry will make it easier for Lucas to land subsequent customers. Lucas has just taken a big step toward credibility.

Because Lucas is a smart guy, he wants feedback from lots of people in the ATV industry to ensure he’s getting an adequate picture of the potential for his product. Therefore, he contacts other ATV dealers, too. The first words out of his mouth when he calls the other dealers are, “You know Carl, right? He’s been advising me…” The other dealers will be happy to offer their input as well. Every bit of feedback Lucas receives helps him better understand the viability of The Bubble Over. As he improves his product and prepares it for market, he’s also building a sales pipeline.

You can probably find plenty of movers and shakers in your chosen industry that can offer you advice on the viability of your business, particularly if you demonstrate an interest in providing a new or better solution to their problems. Nothing is more freely given than advice, especially when the results of the advice may help the adviser as much as the advisee.
“What do you think?” are sweet words that your advisers (first prospects) will love to hear.

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