March 25, 2023
The Magic Wand question
When you’re trying to choose a vertical market to niche down on, a great first step is to ask your family, friends, and colleagues if you could pick their brain about their industry.
Before long, you’ll have a few calls scheduled. You’ll want to prepare some very general and open-ended questions to ensure a productive talk.
- “If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business or industry, what would it be? Never mind if it’s possible... just anything.”
- “Is there anything that has been at the top of your to-do list forever?”
- “Is there anything about your business that keeps you up at night?”
- “Is there anything on your radar that has the potential to revolutionize your industry?”
Practice asking each out loud a few times in advance. If you need to, tweak them to fit your speech pattern, so they sound natural. Have them on a piece of paper for easy reference.
Once you get on the line with your interviewee and the small talk is over, I would ask the magic wand question without much preamble, like this:
“Ready to get started? Great! Here we go. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about your business or industry, what would it be? Never mind if it’s possible... just anything?
Once you ask this question, your job is to SHUT THE HECK UP!
Seriously, shut your trap.
Let the person think about your question.
There will be some silence. Resist the urge to fill that silence.
Let it stretch.
Eventually, the other person will be done thinking and can answer.
Hopefully, the interviewee will start brain-dumping after your initial question. If so, perfect! Follow wherever they take you from there. If the conversation stalls, ask the next question on your paper.
Unless the person is exceptionally laconic, the odds are good that you’ll only get to two or three questions in the allotted time.
Keep in mind that this is not a brainstorming session, it’s an interview. The person on the other end of the line should be doing 80-90% of the talking, and you should be FRANTICALLY taking notes.
As your contact is talking, capture as much EXACT language as you can - especially if they use unusual or incorrect terms for certain things... eventually you’re going to want to use this language verbatim in your marketing to speak to the audience in their own familiar terms.
Don’t “lead the witness” with overly specific questions based on things you want to sell or answers you want to hear.
Here are some examples of leading the witness:
- “Don’t you wish you could easily migrate from Heroku to AWS?”
- “What if there was a way to automate the generation of your monthly reports in Excel?”
- “Wouldn’t it be great if your website was more mobile-friendly?”
The problem with leading the witness is that most people want to be encouraging. If they get the sense that you want them to answer in a particular way, they will do so just to be nice.
That’s not useful and is something you want to avoid by asking very general open-ended questions and then shutting up and listening.
Don’t go into an interview wanting to reach a particular outcome. Just be genuinely curious about their business, how things are going for them, and what their big challenges or opportunities are.
You may discover an overlap between their problems and/or opportunities and your skill set.
If you don’t, don’t sweat it. Just move on to the next interview.