In my last post about pitching your company to investors and not your product, I half-jokingly concluded that my next post was going to be on pitching your product to customers and not your company.
A few readers have since asked (thanks mom and dad) when I’m going to share some insights on how to properly position a product with a customer. For clarity sake, let me stress that I’m specifically referring to sophisticated business customers. Until I can figure out why someone would pay an exorbitant premium for a thermostat connected to the internet, I’ll refrain from opining on consumers.
Step one in B2B sales is to stop believing your own marketing and the warped lingo of the startup ecosystem. Excluding a few utilities and other living essentials, the markets need nothing. No really. The markets have existed from the dawn of time and have survived this long without your product or service. Harsh as it may seem, even if no one ever learns of your product or service, the markets will continue to exist. If you’re ever in a meeting where the discussion begins with an analysis of what the market needs, leave. Starting the discussion with a faulty premise is going to lead to a suboptimal outcome.
Other common traps that entrepreneurs can buy into and maybe even perpetuate to their detriment:
- There is no such thing as a product or service that sells itself. Sales are hard, full of rejection, and frustration. Some people enjoy sales. Some don’t.
- No company is an overnight success. Especially in the Silicon Valley, urban myths run rampant about how easy it was for a friend’s uncle’s cousin to get funding from the biggest name on Sand Hill Road. Similar myths also exist around landing big customer accounts, record setting acquisition valuations, time to IPO, etc. They’re myths. Ignore them. Even if they were true, it doesn’t help you. Focus on your own path and plan for success.
- All investors and customers get it. Not really, but you might as well condition yourself to think this way. If you pitch your company or your product and you walk away thinking that the audience of your pitch just doesn’t get it, it’s your fault. No matter how sophisticated your solution is or how unusual the market dynamics may be, if your audience didn’t get it, they are not the ones that failed. Simplify, refine, or completely rethink your messaging. Then try again. Continue to rinse and repeat until your audience not only gets it, but also can tell others about it.
Even for sophisticated technical buyers driven by exacting performance and quality specifications, you need to appeal to the part of them that wants your product. A simple illustration comes from the world of implanted medical devices. Cardiologists can choose from several manufacturers of pace makers, for example. Yet, they usually develop some level of brand loyalty. Why? There’s something about that particular brand that the cardiologist wants.
Presuming the product or service meets the minimum performance metrics required by the industry, a key to efficient sales is determining what the customer wants. The only way to find out what a customer wants is to ask open ended questions and then listen. Let me say that again, because it’s the hardest part of the sales process: listen to the customer. Seek to understand and contextualize the messages the customer sends. Watch for the non-verbal cues that tell the rest of the story. Understand what’s important to that customer – they will give you directions on how to close the sale. Then, and only then, should you tell the customer how your product solves their problem.
Warts. Don’t advertise. Don’t hide. No product or service is perfect. Life is about trade-offs and nowhere is that more apparent than in technical sales. Even if your product is the world’s first, most powerful, least expensive widget available; it will still have warts. If you don’t tell your customers about those warts and a customer finds them for herself, you’re never going to repair that relationship. Trust is something that’s earned over time, but can be destroyed in an instant. Obviously, don’t highlight your warts. Depending on how big a potential issue could be for a customer, think strategically and in advance about when the right time is to disclose it and how you want to disclose the issue.
Well, that’s it. The key to properly positioning your product is to listen to the customer, internalize the customers motivation and incentives, then highlight the aspects of your product that maximize the value to the customer while minimizing the shortcomings.
Thank you for reading. Please join me for my next post about how to create the very[sic] most[sic] impactful marketing messages.
Read more about the author, Angel Orrantia: https://www.advantary.co/team/angel-orrantia/