I have a working prototype for an enterprise software. It is basically a very niche product catering a subset of the engineering firm. Now, what I need, is to validate the market as soon and as cheaply as possible.
My software is a boring, desktop based application. Due to the high cost of development ( I can foresee that even though all I have is a prototype), and due to limited demand, the software must be expensive, very very expensive. The price could be more than $10K and less than $100K. As a consequence of being very expensive, selling via online is very hard, SaaS business model is completely not practical given the current technology of the web browsers.
This is an off-the-shelf product, and I can't gradually improve the product by doing consulting.
This niche of customers whom I intend to sell to has the following characteristics:
What can I do to prove that my expensive, enterprise software do have a market?
Your problems are that you are unrealistic about what you can deliver and you don't even have the beginning of a marketing plan.
What does it means for you: A. "bug free" does not exist, deal with it and B. when you deliver your software you must have an update strategy for delivering fixes (and improvements).
By the way, improving engineers productivity saves money - lots of it - because engineer's time is expensive (making an engineer life easier without improving productivity also has some monetary value due to the high cost of hiring and training engineers but much less than improving productivity).
and that explanation should tie in to your customer's business goals - that is making money or saving money (or at least making the customer look good) - example: "save money by increasing engineer productivity by letting them do X faster".
if someone approached you and told you "I have a prototype for an expensive solution that won't help your business goals and I can't explain it in a way you understand but trust me it will be good" what would you answer? probably "wait until you are finished and only then come back to me, till then, I am not interested".
and if they don't give you feedback you should do what it takes to get that feedback - follow up, call the engineers using the program on the phone, spend a week at their office and physically look over people shoulders to see how they use the software - whatever it takes.
Find out how your customers operate and structure your offer according to what you can get them to pay not what it costs you to develop (obviously if cost to develop is greater than what customer will pay you should move to the next project)
By the way, you can combine 4 and 5 - if they buy and start using the early version now give them a discount that will push the price into the range they can buy without approval.
Ideas for enterprise software are validated just like any other ideas: by talking to the people who will be using the solution. Those people will help you determine whether your assumptions about the problem and the solution are correct, which will be your proof of market need. In enterprise setting, you'll also have to talk to people responsible for procurement & deployment of software to make sure that there's the buying power in addition to the need. And when you have those conversations, you shouldn't be asking for feedback on your idea but instead validating the problem you're solving.
You describe your product as serving a very particular niche, which makes me suspect that you have some unique domain expertise and know at least some people in the field. Your network in the industry will be your target for conversations about the problem & the solution.
P.S. The issues with the sales cycle you've identified are very generic to enterprise products. The only unique "feature" of your situation is the potential for no adoption of the tool.
I understand how difficult it is to "thread the needle" in your circumstance. With that acknowledged, please don't underestimate how important and enlightening it can be to just get even two or three meetings with potential clients, just for the purpose of validating your assumptions. Even though most of your potential customers don't like to give feedback, and want to see a fully-working version, find a way to get to talk to just a few of them - make 100 calls to get 3 meetings if you have to - and get the feedback that you can. I've been pleasantly surprised in the past about how enlightening it can be just to get that small bit of perspective from a customer's point-of-view, even if that perspective was "no, this doesn't work for us." If it's the right customer (and if they're accepting the meeting, they'll be willing to share) you can get a lot of value from just one meeting.
I appreciate how carefully you've thought out why you can't get feedback; now be bold, break through those reasons, and get what you need. Shift your perspective: it is possible to get the validation you need. If it's not worth making enough calls to get those few who will take the meeting, then it's not worth continuing the project anyway, right? Just look at it as an interesting and unique mini-project that's required for your circumstance... many software projects don't have this high of a barrier to get feedback, but yours does. No big deal, just see it for what it is and go for it.
Of course, if your reaction to this is: "no, you don't understand, I can't," then, be honest, you've decided that you can't. Your potential customers didn't decide that; you did. Own it, scrap the prototype, and move on. That's not meant to sound harsh at all... it's just that it seems to me that those are your options: dig in harder, break through your reasons; or forget the whole thing. Personally, I'm rooting for you. Go for it.
Practically you denied all the steps that have to be treaded,... yourself.
1) Does not save money that's quite apparent to the decision makers and that tool you want to sell in the range of 10-100K
Ans: Forget about developing this tool
As somebody already told - Just sell this directly to engineers who are willing to pay in subscription. If they are also not ready to buy by not seeing the value, "JUST FORGET ABOUT THIS WHOLE THING". Just move on.
Basically, what you have identified there is exactly how all enterprise software are.
Basically any software or tool for businesses need to do one of these things:
In my limited experience of dealing with business software, the way to sell it is either to partner with an existing company and build it for them as a service at a discounted price with the understanding that you will sell this as a product later.
The other option is to make a working version - which solves atleast some problem of theirs and give it as a free trial. Then prove to the decision maker that its going to save or make money and get a confirmation of the same from the person using it.