Last evening’s University of Michigan Student Venture Showcase underscored that today’s business development and startup environment is, indeed, global and competitive. The student teams had completed the TechArb8 program which is part of the Center for Entrepreneurship. Each team was assigned a mentor to assist them in assessing the viability of their product concept, how a pivot in their thinking might move their concept forward, and determining next steps for their venture.
As a mentor in this year’s Showcase, I find that ventures and mature manufacturers each can take a lesson out of each other’s respective playbooks. Mature manufacturing and service companies often are in the same position as second stage start-ups: stuck in the space between early adopters (or having a loyal customer base) and mass or larger market attraction (having the marketplace pull your product, service, or platform into it). Entrepreneurs, especially the technical ones, are at a loss for how to have the customer conversations that even your customers didn’t know they wanted to have with you. Sound familiar?
What are the common denominators running across both worlds?
1.) Evaluate the viability of your product and service before you rush to the marketplace. Validate frequently and concurrently with customer input and marketplace perceptions. The marketplace is littered with products no one really wants. These products are designed or sold by companies who think they know better than their customers, in the hope that enough “push” can be created to entice (force?) folks to buy what you are selling.
2.) Start-ups aren’t miniature versions of mature companies. On the other hand, is your mature company bogged down by the status quo? Are there aspects/areas which can be run in a more nimble, responsive, and therefore agile manner with broader implications for your revenue stream as a whole?
3.) Is everyone rushing towards the goal line (VC funding or consummating the sale) without going through the processes and practices which might make the difference between a short term tactical solution and a longer term, more lucrative contract? Are you short changing yourself by doing business with anyone who will throw money at you or sign a contract when, in fact, they may not be your target market or represent your sweet spot over the long haul?
Today’s globally competitive selling environment favors the individual, and the company, that can think like a start-up, and sell like an enlightened professional. Selling like a pro involves your devoting more time and attention to the context into which you will place your product, platform, or solution. Think what happens when you perform less like a commission-hungry, quota-seeking sales hunter who is off to the next sale after closing the preceding one.
Why do I propose this?
Selling is a continual learning process. Insights and experiences gleaned from doing your homework about prospects create the opportunity for you to turn yourself into a thought leader in your particular area of core competency. That’s your entrepreneurial aspect. You are the CEO of your business, your job function, and your output. How are you going to monetize your thought leadership – not just your company products, services, and platforms?
Investors put their money (or not) on their perceptions of the entrepreneur’s ability to be that CEO-thought leader. How capable are you of understanding, and running, all aspects of your business or startup? It’s not necessarily the concept as much as the combination of concept and leadership that provides value in today’s market spaces.
Your customers buy you, not your company, or your products, or your services. How many times have you heard that one?
If you not only think of yourself, but position yourself as an entrepreneur in today’s selling environment, you may find that you will differentiate yourself from the pack. Just as investors will put their bet on the entrepreneur CEO who understands their value, so your customers will willingly do business with you.
Why? Because of the anticipated return on investment that YOU bring to their businesses.
Now that’s something to think about.
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.