You probably heard about a ton of different ways to validate your new shiny startup idea. While some might be good, a lot of them have a common issue. Building a product, iterating on feedback from people who showed interest is awesome in theory, and can be awesome in practice. Before talking about the solution…let’s talk about the symptom.
Here’s the thing. A lot of people have a hard time seeing the difference between someone interested and someone motivated. Here's a simulation: Someone interested will be like that: "Ah, that’s cool. How does that work? Oh, does it have X or Y feature? Do you have a free trial? I would love to try it. Great, I love it. Keep up the great work!" Someone motivated: "Nice! We need this. We’re looking to replace Not So Awesome Competitor right now. How much is it? Here’s my business card, please call me next week so we can try it. Maybe with this little change here and that small thing there. We would love to set all our clients with something like this ASAP." See the difference? The first one acts friendly, is kind. Wants to know more, sure, but is not ready to give you hundreds or thousands of dollars. That person will negotiate your $10 plan because it’s too expensive. Or it might just be an actual friend who think it's cool, and that's all. On the other hand, you see someone that has a need you can address and is motivated to do it as fast as possible and is possibly ready to give you money. They currently suffer, and they want your product to stop the pain. Note that "as fast as possible" has massively different meanings if you speak with a small startup or agency vs a huge corporation. Sales cycles are massively different. Let’s keep that for another conversation, though.
Money. Credit card. Dollars. Euros. That’s the only real validation. If someone is motivated, they will gladly pay for your product and think about it not as a big expense but as an investment for their business. If that’s not the case, then maybe you’re NOT onto something. Do you offer a free trial? That’s awesome! We do offer a trial. An alternative to that, which might sound extreme but that I’ve actually seen work first hand: paid trials. Basically, no trial, or cheaper trials. You can even offer a 1 or 2 months money back guarantee to lower the risk for customers. Spending money will help make sure your leads are motivated and focused on making it work for them. You don't want someone who starts a trial but ends up not using it or barely and can’t see the value. What you need is someone that’s paying you real money and want something out of it. I saw that work really well at my last job.
Let's go even further. I was on a call with Elias from Drift just yesterday morning, and we talked about something. The idea of having someone paying you less, instead of having a longer trial. You don't have a feature someone says they need, but it's almost there or could be there fast? Why not offer them to pay, say, 50% of the price you usually charge until that feature is ready? At least, it is showing commitment. It's so easy to ask features, and finally not use the product once the feature is out. I know, I've done that in the past as a founder. I built features that a big potential customers asked for...and they never even tried the feature and walked away. That's why I am not building all feature request, unless it makes a lot of sense for most of my current customers and that the people asking for it are already paying. So during your validation phase (which should probably be called pre-selling) stop just asking people "would that be useful for you?" and add a discussion about money. It could be uncomfortable at the beginning, but this is what will get you on the path to success in my humble opinion. You can tell them the pricing plans you have in mind, or ask them how much they would pay. I would go with the former, as you can see if you go too far for most people, as opposed to the latter which will never be too much so you can't test what the maximum price someone wants to pay for your product.
Stop talking to interested users. Talk to motivated users and turn them into customers as fast as possible. Start selling day 1. By day 1, I mean before even having a prototype ideally. If you have a hard time finding motivated people, maybe there is an issue with your Awesome Idea™. What do you think?