A few weeks ago, the Reese News Lab had a crash course in business administration, which my co-worker Kendra Benner dubbed the “mini-MBA.” In that session with Matthew Davis, the VP of product marketing at Reveal – Mobile Audience Insights, we learned many valuable pointers about sales and marketing. The pointers are best summed up in the concentric circle diagram he drew for us. But what stood out to me the most were three questions he posed towards the end of his lesson: What is life like today? What’s in your way? What happens if you succeed or fail (in other words, what is your goal and what happens if you don’t meet it)?

Matthew Davis' marketing diagram aided the court's team in designating a price for their proposed database.

Matthew Davis’ marketing diagram aided the court’s team in designating a price for their proposed database.

Well at this point my team and I knew the answers. Life today, for lawyers and judges and all other court personnel, was outdated. Walking into the courthouse meant walking into a time warp where we were zapped back to the early 1990s. The technology is so outdated. Nevermind the fact that district court records aren’t available online, the software on the computers in the courthouse were from the year 2000. Life today meant life permanently stuck in yesterday and we desperately want to change that. What’s in our way from making these changes? Money. Time. Politics. But if we are able to overcome these obstacles that means we would have reached our goal of making important systemic changes to the judicial system. That would also mean we have benefitted North Carolinians in a number of ways: by providing digital access to files, improving the public’s understanding of how laws are made and implemented, decreasing corruption and, among other things, and bettering the technological landscape and infrastructure of the judicial system.

But what did our potential customers think about our product? Most lawyers that we have spoken with thought we had a lofty goal. “If you can make it happen, I’d use it,” they’d tell us. In those moments, I thought back to Davis’ final point: “You have to get to the truth faster,” he emphasized. How? What is the truth? “Introduce money and you’ll get to the truth pretty fast.”

So, logically, the next thing we asked lawyers is, “Would you buy our product? If so, how much would you pay?” One lawyer told us that lawyers are already expecting a fee because there’s no other government agency or private company that is providing district court records digitally. Which really means there’s no other company that is providing the type of value that we are providing.

Jonathan Morris and teammate Emily Gregoire scanning court records obtained from their trip at the Chatham County Justice Center.

Scanning court records obtained from the Chatham County Justice Center.

That was the heart of Matthew Davis’ lecture: creating a valuable product. I once jokingly said to the entire lab that our product is worth $10 million. Granted, we’re probably not, but it feels like we are creating a valuable ($10 million) product. If you look to Davis’ diagram, the price of your product is not the next ring after product. It’s because customer support and usability directly reflect the value of the product. Your price should be a reflection of that value.

For us that means providing two different payment options. For lawyers and a few other potential customer segments, including background checking and insurance agencies, a monthly subscription rate that competes with legal research giants (Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, Westlaw, etc.). For all others who only want a to pull a record every now and then a smaller, we’ve provided an individual file fee that is competitive, but still cheaper than the court’s current pricing. We are providing desired and needed material that is both affordable for our customers and profitable for us.

We couldn’t have done it without Davis prompting us to ask the sometimes hard, but revealing question: “How much would you pay?”

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