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How to get a business to participate in an interview to validate the issue you are trying to solve?

I am thinking about interviewing potential customers to validate the issue but not sure how to approach them.

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Sam McAfee
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Sam McAfee Advisor
Building Popup Incubators for Corporate Innovation Programs
More information would be helpful, but here are some guidelines:
  • You aren't interviewing a business; you are interviewing a person who plays a role within the business.
  • Maybe there are multiple roles (user/buyer/decider/etc.), in fact, and you'd need to talk to all of them.
  • Make sure you've done your homework. Do a persona of the user/buyer/decider roles before you reach out. The persona should include where they hang out. You build this from basic research.
  • Finding these people is just a matter of networking. It's going to take hustle.
  • When you reach out, you either want a warm introduction from a mutual contact, or you definitely want to lead with how it will benefit them, not why it's important to you.
Rob Gropper
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Rob Gropper Entrepreneur
Director at PetHero, SPC - Member at Eastside Incubator - Principal at Tuxedo Technologies Group
Floyd, talking to customers to validate problem/solution is a good idea - crazy how many startups don't do this. This is pretty much enterprise sales 101 stuff so if you know someone with that background ask them for help - this is a big subject to cover here - you will have more questions as you go. but for starters, If this truly is a "problem" then you should have an idea of how to identify those companies that have this problem. The approach all boils down to doing your homework and having a plan, i.e. know what you want from the process and having a process (don't just wing it completely). How you identify the suspects is often opportunistic - you have a contact in the company, the company has an office nearby, you used to work for a competitor, etc. Do your homework up front so that when you do make contact you don't waste their time and they know that you know their pain. I would start with users rather than management unless you are very comfortable in your knowledge of the issues and with talking to executives. starting with users is lower risk and allows you to build your skills. Do your homework on which 'users' in the company have the pain and who wins if you solve their pain - joe accountant may have the pain, but his boss's boss wins big if you solve the pain company-wide. Your plan may be to meet with the CFO eventually so build a plan to get there via Joe in accounting. Once you ID which users should have this pain then go to work to identify individuals. LinkedIn works well for this - search for "accountants at Acme widget corp." When you make an introduction just be authentic with them "hello, I am considering starting a company to solve this problem and from what i know about your company you might be someone with this pain, in fact i suspect you are probably an expert in _____. Do you have x minutes to chat on the phone?" Very low key, don't take too much of their time. Closing objective should be for additional time or additional contacts - your plan should include a 'closing objective' for each call/email/linkedin request, etc. You will need to develop your own script, but the important part is that they know you understand their pain, that you consider their input as valuable and that they can trust you - you don't take more time than requested, etc. Your objective at this stage is to build relationships with 'champions' - individuals who will help you navigate their company. That's it. As Sam mentions, this is all about them and solving their problem, not about you or selling them something. That said, if you truly do understand their pain and you ask the right questions be prepared to answer their questions such as "so how do you do that?". ALWAYS be straight with them. if you don't know, say 'i don't know'. Trust is vital. There are a few thousand more details to get to a sale, which is the ultimate validation, but this should get you going.
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