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Episode 194: Validating and Selling a Product for Your Consulting Business—with Suzy Haber Wakefield

Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So, this is part two of a two-part episode where we're talking about how to develop a product as another way to generate revenue for your consulting business. I've got Suzy Haber Wakefield back on with me. And in the first episode, we talked about what the product would actually be, and I actually coached her through that decision-making process. So, on this episode, we're going to talk about how to actually sell it so that you can get revenue coming in and you can use it as another way to serve the clients that you most want to help. So, let's get started.

So, I want to welcome back to my show Suzy Haber Wakefield. And this is part two of a two-part episode where we're talking about developing a product. And this is where we're having some fun because we're just doing it together as we're thinking through it. So, if you missed the first episode, you need to go back and listen to it because we answered some of the most important first questions that have to be answered on the way to developing what a product might be.

So we reached the point where you've sort of started to answer the questions about what a minimal viable product would be, and you've thought a little bit about what format it would actually take, how it would be delivered. And you know that it can't just be do it yourself. It needs a little Suzy love added to it. And you've come up with a play price, which obviously we didn't come up with the actual price, but you've thought about the price.

So, now we're going to talk about how to validate it. And the one thing I want to point out before we dive into it is you haven't created a single thing yet, so there is no jumping to let's build something and hopefully someone will buy it. There's a whole bunch of other steps that you want to take before we get to actually spend your time and energy and life force actually creating something. So, I teased a little bit on the last episode. We're going to talk about validation.

So, you've come up with the details behind your minimal viable product, and now it's about asking people who either are your buyer or know your buyer detailed questions to validate whether or not this product is the right product. And the form that you're delivering it in is the right form, and the play price you came up with is the right play price.

So, what kind of questions would you go out and ask people who were your buyer to try and get at? And we can play with this together a little bit, but to try and get at, is this the right thing at the right price for the right people?

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Do you think it would be helpful for me to ask people who were current or previous clients so that I could get a sense from them of the comparison?

Deb Zahn: I would say so because... So, I wouldn't only ask them, but I would definitely ask them because what they can do is say one, "Oh, wow, I wish you had that before I did this." But they would also be able to say, "The thing that was most helpful to me was when you did X, Y, and Z, so that's got to be in this offer somehow because that's what really got me the transformation." And so then you would have to go back and think about, is that one of the do-it-yourself things that they do and I have a tool that they used to do that, or is that something they get in a session with me? And you can ask them, dig in a little bit and ask some probing questions to find out, was it helpful because you knew what questions to ask, or was it helpful because we had a conversation about it?

Suzy Haber Wakefield: It's funny because in what I do for corporations or now, anytime that we create a product, we do wear tests. So, before it's produced, there's the wear test and wear-test questions, so it kind of feels like this is a little bit of that kind of mindset. Am I right?

Deb Zahn: Yeah, totally right, totally right. Some companies might do focus groups on things, but this is where, yeah, you kind of want to get at enough nuance that it's going to help you refine your product to be more market ready. And so I would even validate the result. I'm thinking this is the result that the product gets you. Is that something that you think would be meaningful? If you had a product like that when you first started, would that be helpful? And the reason that's important is they might blow your mind and say something that you hadn't thought of. So, I was looking to develop a product because I'm a healthcare consultant, still practicing, and I was going to develop a product that I thought was just a fabulous idea. And I called one of my existing clients who would be somebody who would ultimately purchase it.

Now, she'd experienced customized consulting, but now I was going to say, "Hey, what do you think about this product?" And she blew my mind, and she said, "Nah, that's not really that helpful.” “But what would be helpful?" And that's the conversation that you want to have. So, existing or past clients for sure, but also anyone else that either could be a buyer or knows your buyers pretty well because they've had other experiences with them. I would try and get a cross-section of them because you might hear different things. This is also where I'd look at competitors a little more closely and see, getting down to what results are they promising, what features are they offering in their product, what are their testimonials saying, what's the language that people are using in those testimonials? I would dig into that as well.

So, you validate the result, you want to validate the details, the features, how it would be delivered, but you also want to dig into the price. Would they pay that for it? And I actually was helping someone I coach develop a product, and I knew people in her market, so I sent something to them. And I said, "Here's what the thing is, here's how it would be delivered, here's who's delivering it, here's the price. What do you think?" And that was really helpful, to have people come back and say yes for this buyer, but no for this buyer. And so then the language when it got sold changed because then it was going to target a specific buyer, and the person who was developing it thought for the folks who couldn't afford it, do I think this is really helpful, and do I want to market this to them? And then the answer was no, they really need something different. I'll handle that later. This product should be for these folks. So, it helps with refinement.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: And do you think that to get people to answer questions about this, not previous clients, but the new possibilities, would you incentivize them in some way by giving them a tool of some sort to answer the questions, to feel like you weren't just trying to get free information from them?

Deb Zahn: I think most good people would just answer the question, but I love generosity. It's like one of my favorite things. So, yeah, if you've got something that helps them, or I've done something where I've said, "I'd love to talk to you a bit about an idea I have," or I've bought lunch, I've bought dinner. Or I'll say, "First half, I'll ask you questions. Second half, you got access to my brain. You can ask me anything I want"

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Oh, I love that.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And then it's this beautiful reciprocal situation where they get value, I get value.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's terrific.

Deb Zahn: And that's the only time I let people pick my brain for free, unless we're doing a podcast on it. But then it's an exchange of value, which I always like.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's great. OK, that's super cool.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, or I might even say... When I talk to them, if they get excited about it, I might say, "Let me put you on the list, and as a thank you, I'll give you the first-wave rate," or something that gives them a discount on it or something like that just to say thank you. I always love layers of generosity. I think it's a good way to be in the world.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: I agree completely.

Deb Zahn: So, the other thing you're listening carefully for is when people are giving you feedback, you're also listening for what language they use to describe how they feel about things, and you're particularly looking for emotional language. So, if someone gets animated, if they use words like, "That just drives me crazy and it frustrates me," or "Oh my gosh, I wish I had that," anything that their pulse goes up a little bit, you want to record it, you want to have that language because that's language you're going to use when you do marketing and outreach later.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Because that's the pain point.

Deb Zahn: That's the pain point, that's the gain point, and that is also going to tell you what you need to emphasize when you're developing the product because that's telling you what results really matter to them and how to convince them that they're going to get those results with you. Helpful?

Suzy Haber Wakefield: This is incredibly helpful. From the time that you do the research to the time that you come out with it, is there an expectation, do you believe, with the new people that you're talking to that they would expect you're going to come back with something?

Deb Zahn: I wouldn't worry about that too much because I think quality is more important. So, I wouldn't rush delivery because I also wouldn't go talk to tons and tons of people. I would start with a handful of folks. And if you start hearing a pattern, you're good. You got the basic information. I might go back a couple times. I might say, OK, I just talked to four people and they're all saying the same thing. Let me go back, let with this, and then let me go talk to another five people. I don't think it's talking to 50 people plus. I think you want to hear some commonality. And then maybe there's an outlier or two, and you're like, "All right, well, you're not who I'm going to be selling to. That's OK. Thank you. You've helped me clarify that." And I think that's it. And I might do it a few times until I feel like I got it right. And then I still don't go build it yet.

I know. It's like you just want to get to the fun stuff and build it. This is where I would do two things, and one we're going to go through together, but I would think about how I'm going to sell it. So, we're going to talk about the sales funnel, but I would also, before I built it, and this was not, by the way, my idea, I can't take credit for this, I got it from Pat Flynn, I'm sure he got it from someone else, is to pre-sell it before I even develop it. For example, when I was going to do my membership, I could have asked a bunch of people, which I did. A whole bunch of people were like, "Oh my god, Deb, you should totally do the membership. That'd be awesome." And that's great, but that doesn't mean they'll buy it. And so what I did is I offered it for sale.

I had a founder's rate and anybody who came in would be locked into that rate for a lifetime, and I'll tell you the people who did a really happy about that because they told me I totally underpriced it. Once they got the value, they're like, "Oh, you got to be kidding me. This is awesome." But I pre-sold it and there was an incentive for the folks who were going to come into pre-sale. And I told them, "If I have enough people to buy it, then I will make it available on this date." So, they knew. So, I had to have time to create it. I already had done the work to figure out what the “it” was, but that was the true validation in my market. Is this the right thing, such that people are willing to actually spend money on it?

And if no one spent money on it or not enough people spent money on it, and I sort of had a number in my head, I had to have at least this number, and it wasn't a high number, then I felt like it was validated in the market, and now I could really build it and offer it.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: That makes sense. And was your product a one-to-many or was it individually you were working with them?

Deb Zahn: That's part of the decision of what you offer. So, I had done an early product, which was a course, and I realized, after I sold it, that the course was necessary but not sufficient, and so I had to add some coaching to it. And I learned that by offering some free coaching to people who took it who had some surgical questions. And as soon as I started talking to them, I realized in order to implement what they've learned, they got to get past these things, and so I knew I had to add something to it. So, that's one thing you also can gain through experience, but that's also why validating it ahead of time always makes a lot of sense, is I probably could have figured that out if I had done more work validating it. But in terms of how you sell it, that's part of the sales funnel process.

So, sales funnel, for folks that don't know, is essentially the step-by-step path through which you get folks from becoming aware of what you offer to actually buying it and using it, and then hopefully telling other people how fabulous it is. That's basically what a sales funnel is. And you get a lot more people becoming aware of it than who ultimately buy it, but that's OK. That's part of what the numbers game is. So, then for you, again, before you buy it or before you build it, I would say think through how you're going to generate leads. How are you going to get folks aware of it enough that now you've got some folks who might become buyers? And I would always start with what has worked with your other services? So, you have a thriving business right now. How do folks find you?

Suzy Haber Wakefield: It used to be through previous colleagues, and now it's often founders will recommend me to each other. So, I think that is probably the biggest way. People also find me on LinkedIn. I'm in a couple of communities that are founder centric. So, I work with a business consultant. We're colleagues. She recommends me for things, I recommend her. So, I think we have similar audiences.

Deb Zahn: Fabulous. And I love the fact that you're like, at the beginning, it was this, and then it's become more this. So, that's really helpful to know because there's no reason you can't leverage that knowledge to say, all right, what's working today? And then how do I leverage that for people who this is going to be the thing that they would buy? So, when I would then come up with the plan for generating leads, I wouldn't ignore marketing to people who don't know me today necessarily, but I would emphasize the stuff that's already working.

And if there are folks who have an email list. It's funny, I've seen folks develop products and they spend all this time marketing, but they have an email list of people who cared enough about what they do to give them their email and they're not sending them anything. They're not telling them anything. It's like, no, these people already said, "I dig your stuff. Here's my email." Let them know, and let them know multiple times so that they can chew on it and they can decide if it's for them. So, you'd want to plan for getting people aware of you and generating leads. Emphasize what's working for you today. Also consider other strategies, but only if you have reason to believe that that's going to work for your buyer. So, if your buyer is on Instagram but not LinkedIn, then make that choice. If they're in forums, then make that choice. Deliberately think about where are they already, and then you can think about how you present yourself because you've thought through what their pain points are, you thought through what their gain points are.

You've talked to them, so what language they use. And that's then becomes some of the language you use when you're trying to generate leads. So, the next thing you know is coming is, how do you cultivate those leads so that they actually turn into perspective buyers? And you want to think about what works today. So, you get referred by people who already know you're fabulous or that you have relationships with. What converts people into actually now wanting to have a conversation with you about help you might be able to provide them? How do you get people on a call?

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Well, usually people are really eager to be on a call, and I give anyone a complimentary call to begin with.

Deb Zahn: There you go.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: So, I think what gets people to want a proposal is after we've had a discovery discussion, do they realize there's a lot of things that I can solve that they're concerned about?

Deb Zahn: Right. So, if that's the process by which you get people to your other offers, and I would guess you've had some people who are like, "Oh my gosh, I so want it, but I can't afford it."

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes.

Deb Zahn: So, now you have... The language I like to use is they are not rejects; they are redirects. That's the t-shirt that I want to have. And so now, lucky them, you've got something to redirect them to. So, the get on a call and have a conversation with folks is a slower approach that's going to be hard to scale, but I still think it's part of the strategy because it works so well for you now. And reaching back out to the people who couldn't afford you before is also a really helpful thing to do. But then you also want to think about more of those scaled options of, do you do a webinar or training that gets people another, again, not a fake one that doesn't really get people a result, but gets them something that's meaningful to them and helps them in their journey? But now you can make this offer. I have found that tremendously helpful for my membership. I do both of those things

For a product I did, my first product I ever developed for a particular healthcare sector. We asked ourselves do we go to the individual providers and try and sell it? Well, we didn't. We went to the trade associations. This is valuable to your members. Do you want to buy it on behalf of your members? And so we got creative like that, and we thought about are there sort of bulk purchasing sort of options that we consider? But you want to think through the details of how you get folks to that next step where they move from awareness to now they're interested and now they're kind of getting hungry at the idea of buying from you, and you want to know what that plan is.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Sounds like... Tell me if I'm on the right page. It could even be something that would be a monthly call in to me that I just give and could get multiple people that might be interested, have curiosity, and would possibly share that curiosity with their friends who they know are interested in starting something.

Deb Zahn: Absolutely could be that. And as long as they get on and they get to experience some value because there's nothing that makes people hungry for value than a taste of it, the taste of real value, yeah, that's a great thing. There are people who do sort of office hours, or I like doing trainings. I have three trainings that I do that are meaningful to different audiences, and that's a way to get people to learn about my product. But my operating principle is very simple, which is anything I do, whether it's a social media post or a training or anything, I want somebody to get value from it even if they never ever consume anything that I ever do again. And if you have something like that, then yeah, you're going to get more people who are interested because they'll note the difference between that and other folks out there.

But yeah, so that's where you can get creative in it then. So, you have a plan before you build it. So, you don't build it and then you're like, OK, now I got to figure out how people are going to buy it. So, have the plan first, knowing that you're also going to experiment. You might try your monthly calls, and you realize quarterly is just as good, or I need to have some structured content when people get on. It can't just... A free for all is not working. Let me do a little mini-training, 20-minute training, and then people get asked questions. On one aspect, what's the first decision, the first two decisions you have to make if you want to have your line of bandanas out in the world? Something like that. But you think through what that is, that thing that ultimately gets people interested and gets them to want to actually convert.

And then the next question is, what type of things do you do to get them to convert? I personally don't like fake scarcity, where you're like, "This card is closing and your life will be ruined it." I hate that. I think positive scarcity isn't so bad where you're like, look, I want to reward people who act fast because that's a good sign for being a consultant. And so yeah, I'm going to give an extra freebie, I'm going to give a discount if you answer by this time, so I'm not artificially pretending like the world's going to end on a certain date. That could be good, but also social proof. So, if you have a product, you might give it for free to a few folks who are going to test it out. That helps you make sure it actually works. And in exchange for that one, they have to give you feedback, and two, they have to give you a testimonial.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's a great idea.

Deb Zahn: And then they get value. And I have done this. They get value. And you get somebody saying, "Oh my gosh, this is what I've been looking for." And you have your system set up to make that super, super easy for them to do that. And then you look through your process to make sure you've taken out any friction. Don't make it hard for them to give you money for the thing they want.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's great. That's really a good idea.

Deb Zahn: And again, the conversion, you may not hit it exactly the first time. Some things might work; some things might not. It's going to be an experiment, but you're going to pay attention to the data, and you're going to say, "I did this thing and here's what happens." So, I tested... For one thing I do, I tested ads, and the ads performed really well. And then I said, well let me test it without ads, and I had... The first conversion rate of getting people on my training was the same, but the conversion for actually people buying the product was higher when it was all organic. Super helpful to know, but I had to look at my data to know that, and I had to experiment to know that.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: And do you think that's because people felt like it was more authentic as an organic, or do you have any idea what that-

Deb Zahn: Well, actually I talked to because I adore the person who helps me with the ads and we talked about it because he's very honest, and he said it might have been that the ads helped build brand awareness, and now you have high enough brand awareness that you didn't need..." So, do I know exactly why? I don't know exactly why, but we're actually continuing to experiment to see where should I put my resources that is going to have the result that I want and is going to have the conversions I actually want. And I ignored the vanity metrics. I don't care if people click on social media. It's a nice dopamine hit. I appreciate if I get a hand clap or a heart, that's even better. But that's not really what matters. What really matters, am I actually giving people value and are they paying for getting more value from me?

So, you think through all of that. When you step into your market with this fabulous new product, what am I going to have that I think is going to help me sell it? And it may not be what ultimately, I'm doing, but I got something.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: I love that because then you really get real-world feedback. Is it useful? Is it interesting? Is it moving the needle for them?

Deb Zahn: That's right. That's right. And I got my cat in the background who's super excited about that approach. You may be able to hear. She's like, "Yeah, yeah, what she said." That's not who you need to validate it with, but it's helpful. And then as I said, the pre-sale. I mean, you just can't do better than true validation. Are folks going to buy it? But also as you're thinking about cultivating prospects, as you're thinking about conversion, that's also, again, where you're going to emphasize what the result is. People always emphasize the features, and people generally don't buy features. They buy the result. They buy... The Apple product does these amazing things. I don't know what a retina screen is. I don't know what it is. I don't know if I should pay extra for it but show me something that shows. I'm going to be able to watch a movie and it's going to blow my mind. I like that. That's the result.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Yes.

Deb Zahn: So, you also... Again, that's why you go talk to people in your market, is they're going to tell you what that language is. But that's generally how I say develop a product, and then pay attention afterwards to what are people telling you that they also want? And you can either augment that product, you can offer another product that satisfies either a different need, you can have an escalation product that lets them get more value, and here's the next step. So, that's why you have this beautiful thought-out process of how someone goes from dream, an idea, even if it's a half-baked idea, to fruition. You might think about maybe the first product is this stage, but subsequent products are going to be other stages if this product does well, and based on the feedback I get.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: That's a really good idea because then it catches up to where I am and they are.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, exactly. And it's always about your buyer. So, again, someone I was helping develop a product recently offered something. It was a really intensive product. It was this big transformation and had slots for, I think it was like 40, 45 people. And 97 people tried to buy it. And so the question was like, OK, so you wanted to know about demand, there you go. You found out about demand because it wasn't a low-ticket price. And so then the question had to be, do you figure out a way to make that available in a different way so that you could satisfy all those people, or do you offer an entry level product? In this case, that was the decision to redirect them to something that wasn't as big a transformation, but it still got them.

So, that's where you, depending on the response, you can think through from a place of what's helpful, what's going to be helpful that I can also deliver, and I feel like I can deliver it well. And I feel like I could actually develop it well? Yeah. And that's it, and that's how you get into the wonderful world of products as a consultant.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: It is amazing. I mean, you are magic in the industy. You found what I'm saying and think about it through that lens and just keeping in mind for me what I keep in mind for clients, is it's all about them. It's all about them, what's easiest for them to use, what are they telling you they want, how are you going to be specific and different and really give the value. I love it.

Deb Zahn: And you're exactly right. It's what you do all the time for people. Now, translate that into your product process.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: And that's what you are so good at, is taking the, for lack of a better word, ickiness out of what that product kind of journey is that sometimes I don't want... Snobbery is not the right word. Everything works for everybody thing things.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: What works for different people works for me. I have always had a block of saying, but I want it to be authentic of what I'm doing for people already, just in a more bite-size affordable, value-driven way. And you've shown me that I can do that. I just have to think with that lens.

Deb Zahn: And it's another way to serve, and that's how I truly think about it. And if you think about... So, I know when I have bought some products, particularly products that help teach me something I don't know how to do today. I'm an introvert. I love courses. I really do. And do I necessarily want to interact? No, I'm tired. I'm cocooning. But give me a course, and that works for me. There are other people that it doesn't work for them, but I don't want to be left out because I don't want to consume it that way. So, truly, truly think about it as this is another way to serve for somebody who maybe, for whatever reason, my other offering isn't the right form or format for them or the right price point, but gosh darn it, I'm not going to leave them out. But this has been so much fun. I can't even tell you.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Deb, I love it. Thank you so much.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Well, I got one last question to ask you because of course, I always have to end on one question, which is... So, you're living this fabulous consulting life, but how do you bring balance to your life, however it is you think about that?

Suzy Haber Wakefield: I have a kind of process in my day that gives me peace of mind. I wake up, I meditate, I have time to myself, I read a little bit, I exercise, and I'm really lucky cause I love what I do. And to your point, I think I'm a bit of an extroverted introvert, so I really like working on my own, being able to work with clients one-on-one, develop these connection points, and it gives me way more balance than working for other people, not for the sake of working for other people, but for the sake of being in the hustle and bustle. I like bringing that in.

Deb Zahn: Love it. Well, Suzy, this has been so much fun for me. Thank you so much for joining me.

Suzy Haber Wakefield: Thank you. I really appreciate it. I've loved every minute of it.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything.

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