There are a list of questions I ask entrepreneurs when evaluating start-ups. One of them is "Is your product a Vitamin (nice to have) or a painkiller (got to have it)? Of course everyone wants to think their product is a "must have" painkiller, but very few are.
Many products fall into the vitamin category. Things like productivity tools, collaboration applications, measurement and monitoring tools, in fact anything that is a tool, development or otherwise, is by definition a vitamin.
Pain killer products are products that solve for a specific pain point. Sometimes the pain is measurable in terms of ROI, winning sales that could not be won before, or satisfying a regulatory requirement.
There is another set of products that are "vitamins" (nice to have) until you feel the pain. Then they become "pain killers" (got to have it). There are actually lots of products that fall into this category.
In the past, corporate governance and compliance applications were "nice to have". Then Sarbannes-Oxley (SOX) legislation went into effect. Suddenly these applications that were "vitamins" became "painkillers". You had to have them to comply with the new law.
Back-up and restore products for small companies or individual users are vitamins until the first time you lose a disk or significant data. Then they become "must have" painkillers. I am sure you can think of lots of products that fall into this scenario.
So, the new questions I have added to my list are; "What catalyst or event causes your prospects to actively seek your product or solution?" "When you look at all the sales you have won versus all the sales you didn't win, what was the main reason?" "Did they buy a competitive product, or not buy anything and just continue business as usual?"
Let me give you an example. I was visiting a PLM (Product Life cycle Management) start-up last week and asked my standard set of questions, and the new painkiller questions. PLM is another of those "nice to have" productivity, assessment, management tools. If the customer is not feeling pain you can apply all the sales and marketing in the world and never close a sale. For them the "trigger event" was when their prospect got a "under review" letter from the FDA, or a "supplier containment" letter from their customer. These "trigger events" caused their prospects immediate pain. The prospects would actively seek out vendor solutions. What was a vitamin became a painkiller. It turns out that the FDA publishes a list of companies that are "under review" and trade press publications and blogs sometimes flag "supplier containment" issues.
Understanding what makes your product a "must have" painkiller versus a "nice to have" vitamin is the key to successful marketing. Identifying the key pain points and how your product solves them in a simple value proposition is job one. There are sometimes "trigger events" that cause these pain points. These "trigger events" cause your product to convert from a "vitamin" to a "painkiller" for customers. Qualifying your sales leads by trigger events and pain points will help focus your sales and marketing efforts and result in much higher win ratios.
Think real hard, right now. Make a list of the pain points your product solves. Make a list of trigger events that cause the pain to happen. Now think about how to identify these "trigger events" as they happen among the hundreds or thousands of potential customers. Get this right and your sales productivity will sky rocket. Get it wrong and your sales people will end up "dialing for dollars" and wondering why they are not being successful.