I have closely consulted with CXOs in their planning and execution of Digital Transformation strategies. As much as 2020 was a watershed year in human history, it was also the year in which Enterprise Digital Transformation was put into top gear! The pandemic presented a perfect storm for the CXOs to accelerate their Digital Transformation journeys aided among others by necessity coupled with the entrepreneurial innovation, ingenuity, and initiative of start-ups. In my new role as a Venture Partner, Strategic Advisor, and Mentor, it has been my privilege to share my perspectives with budding entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs as much as I learn every day in my interactions with them. A perspective that I am frequently asked to share is “How do you persuade a customer to say yes?” In my perspective, customer persuasions can happen with (1) Identifying Customer Problems (2) Building Trusted Relationships (3) Delivering Outcomes through Transformational Solutions. In this article, I would like to discuss these perspectives that can lead to a customer saying yes to a product or service and especially when it comes from a start-up.
Identifying customer problems starts with bringing to light the challenges that the customer or their industry is facing and mapping them to the products or services you intend to sell. As much as this can sound to be a pragmatic approach, discovering the customer and industry challenge requires significant secondary research followed by primary research carried out through intense discussions with the customers. The outcome of this research may at times require customizing the product or service and at other times it needs to focus on a certain aspect of the product rather than all its features. This should not be construed as a deficiency with your current product or service but should be looked upon as an opportunity to incrementally enhance the relevance of your offering in the context of the customer. An ideal outcome during the problem identification phase is the willingness of the customer to engage and validate the problems which by itself is a leading indicator from the customer that they will potentially buy into your forthcoming solution. The best products or solutions can sell only after a connection is established between the customer problem and the products or service. We generally call this the product-market fit in the Venture Capital world!
People do business with people they trust. Trust, Integrity, and Transparency during all stages of engagement with a customer can go a long way in establishing confidence with the customer and can form the foundation for a trusted partnership. Establishing trust is easier said than done and is something that needs to be practiced top-down beginning with internal transparency and customer-focused organizational culture. There are several avenues to demonstrate trust, transparency, and integrity during a customer engagement. Accepting a deficiency or shortcoming in a product or service and addressing them not only provides an additional touchpoint with the customer but reinforces mutual trust. Managing expectations with realistic scope and timeline commitments may fall short of customer expectations but the moments of transparency build irrevocable trust with the customer. There can be no better way of demonstrating one’s integrity than providing an early warning to the customer when an inevitable is about to happen such as a delay or a product vulnerability. An ideal outcome of building a trusted relationship is the belief in the customer that you have the sincerity, means, and mission to become a trusted business partner for the customer.
No one size fits all, it takes a product or service significant maturity before it can reach a shrink-wrap state and become a cookie-cutter solution. The time for achieving this nirvana state can be anywhere from 2 to 5 years. Many products and services continue to be always at an arm’s length with the customer and market needs. This is not a reflection of the absence of a bulletproof strategy but is an indication of the vagaries of the business and technology landscape. Hence during the early stages of an offering, the strategy must be agile, iterative, and tailored to address the customer’s long-standing problem. The problem should be quantifiable and the outcome that is delivered should be measurable. For me, a talisman of when your solution is transformational and is delivering the required outcome is when a customer CXO is excited enough to take two pages from the solution presentation to her internal Board meeting to talk about the problem she is solving for the enterprise! As CXOs are embarking upon massive Digital Transformation strategies, myriads of building blocks are needed for achieving the required outcomes from Hyper Scalers, Cloud Management Platforms, AI/ML, XR, IoT, and other emerging technologies. To persuade customers to say yes, I believe that entrepreneurs should identify customer problems, build trust, and deliver outcomes via transformational solutions for businesses.
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