Never Stop Selling: Selling and Validating a Product Without Going Into Builder Mode

We’re in the process of retooling a lot of what we’d built on Valet Up based on some in field testing and conversation we’ve had with customers over the past month. That means we’ve gone into building mode to an extent right now.

Based on what happened last time we went full on into building mode (we built a lot of stuff that’s looking awfully crufty…), I knew that going back into full-on building mode and not talking to anyone while we rebuilt some aspects of the product was a bad idea.

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a big problem, my brain gets all scrambled and it’s not clear what the next step is to move the project forward. There’s too many moving pieces in the problem to synthesize it down. This is usually a great reason to go do my typical default activity of choice – answer email. It makes me feel productive while generally not actually moving anything forward.

So instead I decided to pick a defalut activity – calling customers. I figure if I ask myself in 6 months – “Why didn’t I make as much progress as I wanted to?”

The answer definitely won’t be “because I just spent way too much time understanding and building relationships with customers.”

I suspect is probably a good default activity for 90% of businesses that aren’t highly established. To cite Paul Graham:

Understand your users. That’s the key. The essential task in a startup is to create wealth; the dimension of wealth you have most control over is how much you improve users’ lives; and the hardest part of that is knowing what to make for them. Once you know what to make, it’s mere effort to make it, and most decent hackers are capable of that.

I’ve been reading Running Lean by Ash Maurya of Practice Trumps Theory and he outlines moving from a Problem interview stage to a solution interview Stage. In the problem interview stage, you’re just trying to figure out what the most profound problems your market is dealing with that you can solve.

In the solution interview stage, you’re showing them mock-ups to see if what you’re planning on building is in fact the right solution.

We were somewhere in between the two this week. I felt like I had a pretty good feel for what problems we were solving, but I didn’t want to spend a week putting together mock-ups before talking to anyone again. For psychological reasons, I also didn’t want to take myself too far out of sales mode so that when the product is ready we can get into full speed sales as quickly as possible.

So I was looking for a way to keep taking with prospects that moved them further down the sales funnel and also validated the changes we were working.

I just got done reading Spin Selling and came up with a mash-up between the script Ash Maurya uses in his problem interviews and  the Spin Selling Question Framework of: Situation–>Problems–>Implications–>Needs/Payoffs.

I’ve put together the call script I was using when talking with guys and replaced details specific to our product with general statements.

I’ve also added some thoughts and explanations in italics for clarification.

This is all heavily borrowed and if you find it is useful, I would recommend going for the original sources – namely Spin Selling and Running Lean.


I’ve never identified as the classic sales type, which I think can be beneficial in some ways, so I usually read over the following concepts to get myself in the right frame before I start talking with prospects: (h/t to John Reineck and Sebastian Marshall on these)

The Resistance doesn’t want me to help. The Resistance is trying to stop me.

I’m a professional, I’ve done this before, you can relax, you’ll be fine.

I love solving problems. We’re collaborating on solving problems in your business.

I’m not a salesman, I’m a trusted advisor. I listen and ask questions.

All of this is just a framework for us to connect person to person, to have a meaningful relationship.

I’m a high-level gangster consultant calling a fellow gangster. I am STRONG and FRIENDLY.


Help the prospect create a vision of a dream solution that will solve their problems

Connect the product to their key business issues and dream solution

Focus on spINInvestigate the problem then establish Needs and PayoffsGet buyers actively describing the benefits to you then restate it.

Take Notes

Ash Maurya advocates not taking notes. At least for me, notes have been invaluable. I have a 20+ page google doc with call notes and a CRM full of more that have already proved invaluable. I suspect partly this is because I process information better by writing it down so if you’re the same I would recommend taking notes as you’re on the call.

Deeper is Better – don’t let your voice spike upwards on calls.


I found it was useful to have clearly defined objectives before going into the calls. I think there’s an advantage to having minimum and maximum objectives though I think there can be a tendency to let yourself off the hook and go for the minimum objective. I might experiment with just having one more ambitious objective in the future, but since we’re dealing with a lot of current customers, I was afraid of being too pushy.

Minimum Objective – Set-up a time to do a demo.

Maximum Objective – Get all their billing information, sell them, and schedule a walk through for how to use the product once it’s ready.

The Script

Hi [Propsect Name], it’s [My Name] from [My company]. Did I catch you at a good time?

Even if they say no, I usually keep going. If it becomes clear that it really is a bad time and they aren’t just being evasive, I get their email and a time their available and then email them to set up the call. It’s KEY that you get them to agree to a time on the phone. My success rate with scheduling over email is abysmal and I usually just end up calling them back later anyway.

I wanted  to talk to you about a new software product we’re working on that helps solve [Most Profound Suspected Problem, Second Most Profound Suspected Problem and Third Most Profound Suspected Problem]. Are any of those problems that you’re dealing with?

This is a pretty intro. It doesn’t seem like the intro really matters as long as you get into the questions though. Since the list I’m working off is from existing customer, we already have a relationship with them and they all opened and read an email we previously sent out about the product so they’re highly qualified. If you were to run this same script on a scraped list I suspect you would get a lot of hangups. If I were working with a less qualified list that we didn’t already have relationships with, I would probably find an appointment setter to try and qualify the list through cold emailing.

Situation Questions:

Do you operate at [Early Adopter Locations]

This question will probably be different for you, but should identify them as someone you suspect is an early adopter, generally meaning they have a very painful, acute problem that you’re solving.

Are you using any software solutions now?

I figure guys already using software are more likely to be early adopter

Problems→ Implications→Needs/Payoff Questions

Do you have [Most Profound Suspected Problem]?

How are you solving [Most Profound Suspected Problem] now?

At this point I pretty much know if they’re going to be an early adopter or not and how the rest of the call will go. Regardless though, I’ll keep asking them about all the potential problems we’re solving to see which ones they do have. The key thing seems to be to move from the problem questioning to the impications and needs/payoff questions. At this point. I’m trying help the prospect create a vision of a dream solution

Early Adopter Close:

Right now, we are only interested in working with [Define Early Adopter Segment] who clearly have a need for [Solving Most Profound Problem(s) Your Product Addresses.]. We will work closely with you companies to make sure that it [SOLVES MOST PROFOUND PROBLEMS].

I’d planned to be able to pre-sell some of the people I talked to this week, but only managed to get people to agree to demos. I think in part this was because I gave myself an easy out with the minimum objective. I know it’s possible, though definitely more than a notion to sell an expensive, complex product sight-unseen. I did notice myself spending too much time in the problem questions  and not enough in the implications and needs/payoffs.

Next Steps

The most valuable part of doing the calls this week were that I feel even more confident that the changes we’re making are the right ones and the problems we’re working on addressing are profound enough to warrant our attention. It also clarified another problem that we aren’t addressing that we may build another product for in the future.

I also now have enough people interested and invested in the product that when I get the mock-ups done this week, I have some people to go to for usability feedback.

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  • Chiara Cokieng

    Taylor, it’s perfect how you combined Running Lean and SPIN Selling. Oh, and I love the mindset stuff. I wrote it down in an index card and put it beside me on my desk.

    Did you prepare falsifiable hypotheses? I want to apply the concept in my life but haven’t done a consistently good job…