This morning’s coaching session with some talented technical and business entrepreneurs focused around talking to customers. So what else is new? Well, customer conversations are new. They are not a “pitch”, they are not just a value proposition, and they are not about you and your product and your solution.
There’s an anthropology to these discussions.
Customer conversations are hardly status quo items on your business development “to do” list. Except most of these conversations, if recorded and played back to you, sound like yesteryear’s stereotypic sales pitches. And the entrepreneurs and sales people having them end up telling me they are getting status quo responses. No kidding.
We have been “programmed” – by listening to really bad selling, focus group research, and sales spiels at trade shows. So we end up asking the questions that the objects of our desire – our customers or end-users – expect. Yet we are surprised when they give us the type of answers they’ve been programmed to produce.
Gotta stop that kind of stuff. Right now.
Even if you are a university-based researcher, your potential customers are not going to be clearing out their calendars for you. You get the same treatment everyone else, vying for their time, receives. Your potential customers, end-users, mid-tier users, resellers, angel funders, prototypers, designers, you name it, are way too busy running their own businesses. They won’t make time to meet with you – unless you provide relevant value to them.
Although they may be impressed with the rigors of your academic training, your titles actually may overwhelm them. You may intimidate them from “hello.” Showing up and giving them a lecture full of business babble and techno spiel on how intelligent you are, how important your research is and how many post graduate degrees you have from imminent institutions simply will not open doors for you.
The reality of the customer conversation reduces the equation down to the common denominator that all sales people eventually have to face: the conversation is not all about How Great Thou Art. Rather, you’ll be talking non-technical, business shop with them and prove yourself to be a resource and potential trusted advisor to them in the future.
That’s something they didn’t teach you in engineering school, in business school, or in sales school, did they?
Call it what you will. The modern customer conversation is selling. If you feel negotiating a sales conversation is beneath your academic training and dignity, or for some sales person to have, guess again. It’s up to you, the entrepreneur. That thought is daunting, isn’t it?
There have been some wonderful technologies that have been out there for over 20 years, and still are languishing in academic laboratories. Why? Because researchers, end users, academic institutions, and investors do not understand the potential for this technology. So it will never get to be sold by “salespeople.” Ever. Until entrepreneurs un-stymie themselves regarding how to describe their technology.
In simple terms, understood by all parties seated around the non-academic, non-research table. The business table.
Learning to have an elegantly simple, succinct conversation about technology and the practical ergonomics of daily, in-the-trenches usage, may be the biggest “aha” moment you and your technical entrepreneurial team can learn this summer.
After all the funding rounds have been exhausted, and manufacturing sponsorship agreements signed, it is all about selling to real live customers. The ones out there beyond the last academic and investment fence. The ones who will sustain your idea. The ones who will pay real money, for a product that answers an elegant, yet so simple, question.
Elegant, simple questions are right under all of our noses. We are so trained to make things so complex and over-engineered, that we miss these seemingly insignificant situations which ultimately have the largest impact on the viability and sustainability of our business ideas.
Something to think about, isn’t it?
Please keep it simple. Yet elegant.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.