I've been doing some market research around my idea for a few weeks, and I thought I'd share a bit of what I've learned so far. My philosophy here is to hopefully provide some value back in return for their time. Here're my consolidated notes from my first five interviews.
The first person I interviewed about my idea was the co-founder of a technology services company that utilizes offshore developers to help customers build product ideas without having a large engineering team. She is an engineer, and describes herself as "not good at sales", and that she doesn't know how to find customers (or have customers find her). I also got the impression she's not super comfortable asking people for money, although she and her business partner have had success with some clients.
She was very interested in hiring a coach, or otherwise trying to get someone to do the sales for her. We talked a bit about whether or not she wanted to learn to do this herself or bring in someone to do it for her. In general, it sounds like she's inclined to learn how to do it, and agreed to become a beta tester for an information product. My big insight here was that this type of knowledge can be packaged up for multiple different personas, so I should be cognizant of that as I build out my offering.
The second person I interviewed is someone who recently jumped from more of an internal engineering role into a field role. Originally he was supposed to be more of a hybrid pre/post-sales engineer, but because he comes off as a post-sales person he's gotten pigeon-holed a bit into that post-sales role. He's struggling quite a bit with the pre-sales to post-sales handoff, which is on my list of topics I'm exploring in a training module. We also talked for a while about his specific situation, and I gave him some advice on how to resolve his current issue.
He was interested in learning more, and how he specifically could help bridge the gap for his organization. This, and his general issues, highlighted the need for a couple of modules, including a path to production and a module about communication styles. He agreed to become a beta tester for me as well.
The third person I interviewed was a former customer of mine from a past job, who is now leading a field engineering org (both pre and post-sales) for a startup. When he was an individual contributor, he was "that guy" who was good at all of it and is completely self-taught. He's struggling somewhat with transferring a lot of his skills to his team and is looking for help in that area. This is part of what got me on this topic to begin with. Since his product is open-source, he has some added challenges around self-competition and he needs the sales engineers on his team to learn the art of selling the value of their paid product.
What he wants is someone to come in and train his entire team and help him put the systems in place they need to be successful, and he's willing to pay $$$ to make that happen. We talked about what that would look like, around a "get well" consulting engagement and then a "stay well" recurring revenue stream to keep them on the straight and narrow. If I ever decided to turn this into a full-time thing this is a great idea. He did agree to beta-test my information product when I'm ready, which is exciting because I know he's going to tell me if it sucks.
My fourth interview was with someone who's in a post-sales role currently and has dreams of being a sales engineer. What he's seen of the job makes him think he'd enjoy it. Oddly, he seemed to think he was far away from "being ready" when it was pretty clear from the discussion that the only thing that was holding him back was his fear of failure. He even has a standing offer to jump to the SE team at his current employer any time he wants.
If there was anything obvious to me about this discussion, it's that I need to spend a decent amount of time talking about the soft skills someone needs to have to be successful and to help people overcome the fear that they won't be amazing immediately. He did agree to beta test for me, which is exciting because I think he would make an excellent sales engineer if he decides that's the way he wants to go.
My fifth interview was with a former coworker who'd gone through this the same way I did, but a lot more recently. He had some amazing insights that I need to make sure I cover, including:
- Experts are bad at explaining things to laymen
- There's a difference between being the sales person and supporting a salesperson
- Clever is NOT a recipe for more sales
- Focus on the understanding the other person is going to take away, not on what you're saying
- Learn how to give and get coaching from a coworker
- Know when to stop talking
There's more, but there wasn't anything he was saying that I disagreed with. If anything, he'd given this nearly as much thought as I have recently. We also talked about how to plan for a sales engagement, the difference between a proof and a pilot, and making sure the customer isn't taking advantage of you. All great stuff.
I didn't ask him to become a beta tester (although I might later), instead, I asked him to refer me to a few of the folks who got him fired up on this topic so I could include them as beta testers. He agreed to reach out to some people for me so I can include some people that I haven't directly worked with in the past.
I know, it sounds like every research interview I do goes super well. That's partially because the folks I know are highly likely to have experienced this issue at some point in the past, but also probably because I'm in a bit of an echo chamber.
I did have a chat with one person who didn't think this was a good idea. Or rather, he told me instead of doing this, I should write a book about startups. It's a really solid idea, so I'm going to explore that option as well. But unless I want to self-publish (and self-market), I probably need to build up a larger audience before I tackle that one. I didn't ask him to be a beta tester, but since I helped him through this one-on-one in the past, he did agree to do a testimonial for my product when I launch. Which is still pretty great!
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