S-E-L-L probably is the foulest word in the vocabulary of entrepreneurs and startups, especially where a technical startup is involved. It conjures up notions of cheesy and sleazy stereotypic sales types. Yuck! Seriously, would you have gone to engineering school if you knew then that you would have to sell now? You figure customer discovery has nothing to do with sales.
The word is prettied up, and called lots of other sweet-sounding names, like customer conversations, customer discovery, and investigational dialogues. When it comes down to it, however, it’s still that four letter word. SELL.
Transacting business, where someone pays you money for your products, services, and platforms, is selling. The goal of the business transaction is to sell something to a customer who is so jazzed about your offering, that they are willing to exchange currency in return for their ability to use or access your deliverable. That entire sequence is called making a sale.
Getting funded by an investor, such as an Angel, venture capital or private equity company, is not the objective of becoming an entrepreneur or forming a startup. These entities aren’t your customers. They are the folks who want a chunk of your company and its potential revenue stream. You aren’t creating your products, services, and platforms to please your investors.
Many entrepreneurs are confused about this point. Think about it. Investors aren’t going to be interested in investing in your company if they don’t think you are going to be able to find customers for your deliverables.
Customer discovery involves a series of discussions with potential early-adopters which result in the eventual finalized design of a product/service/platform for targeted market segments. Trouble is, most startups are too busy collecting design specification data and aligning it with customer preference during customer discovery. They forget to have a business development discussion at the same time.
Customer discovery really is where the potential sales conversation begins. Did you ever think about these conversations in this manner?
Failing to collect business development information represents one of the most overlooked purposes of a customer discovery conversation. It’s fine to talk about functionality, interoperability, integration, and ergonomics with the folks whom you feel represent target markets and user personas. It takes more than that type of customer discovery data to move your product to market.
How many of you have done your homework before you engage a person in customer discovery? Find out more about that individual with whom you are speaking. Gather information about the company they work for. What’s their track record in industry? Does this company lead or follow? Do they innovate or are they status quo and traditional? Will they be your champion or will they be risk-averse?
How are decisions made in this company and who makes them? If you currently are not talking to that identified decision maker as part of customer discovery, find out what it would take for you to have a chat with them.
Where does your venture fit into this company’s top priorities for the current fiscal year? Assess whether your venture could be classified as a priority. If this type of company represents a huge opportunity for your venture, rework your value propositions to align with their priorities.
There’s nothing cheesy and sleazy and sales-y about the processes I’ve just described. Have you been limiting yourself, and the progress of your venture, by focusing on whether or not a particular customer liked your minimum viable concept?
Customer discovery is not selling. It’s not transactional. However, if done well, customer discovery is the front end of the business development cycle. And business development, if done well, takes the translational value of your venture and can result in SELLING.
Something to think about before you schedule your next customer discovery conversation?
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.