Okay, I admit, I studied engineering because I like the exactitude. I’m way too literal in my listening. And that’s why I get a good chuckle when I hear phrases like “the whole truth”. #1: I wonder how often this person tells partial truths and #2: Now I know I’m about to hear a lie!
For similar reasons, in customer/problem discovery meetings I counsel against the phrase, “I’m not going to try to sell you anything. I’m just doing research.” ”Counsel” is too mild of a word. I go ballistic (on the inside and after the meeting) when the presenter says this.
First of all, I believe that most people — when they hear the “not selling” claim — immediately reach for their wallets to make sure it’s secure. Then, they are on edge the remainder of the discussion, just waiting for you to really start pitching something.
One of the worst parts of this situation is that if you have selected this particular “target” but are truly not interested in them as a customer, why are you meeting with them? [Alert: there ARE legitimate reasons possible to warrant meeting with them, but if the answer has something to do with coming back later to see if they'd be a customer, then you're wasting your time doing in two meetings what can be done in one.]
Here’s how you should position your customer interview:
“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us. As we told you on the phone, we’re working on helping to solve the problem of <insert problem here>. We’re trying to make sure our solution hits a bull’s-eye for you and understand its value to in your situation. It’s also a chance for you to put your thumbprint on our solution to be sure it solves your problems. Our solution is still under development <or in the final stages of development or in the early stages of development>. After we learn a bit more about your situation and your requirements in our discussion today, we will show you how far we’ve come.
“Although we won’t be asking your for a purchase order today, we would expect that if our product delivered value to you and fit with your circumstances, that we would be coming back here and asking you to purchase it. So please be very candid with your answers. How does that sound? Should we get started?”
And for completion’s sake, here’s my last slide of my presentation:
The last slide in my presentation is usually some form of this:
- How would you describe us and our solution to your boss <spouse, buddy>?
- Where would you use it first?
- Is this a strike-out, single, double, home-run for you?
- Who else do you need to involve to purchase our solution?
- What’s the next steps <or substitute a specific action you “know” is the next step for an interested buyer>?
Of course, if by the time you get to this slide you already know there is something important missing in your offering to satisfy this prospect, you still show this slide, but you may orally modify the wording, such as, “If we added <this functionality>, where would you use it first?”
However, I’d only modify it if you have rigorously discussed a key missing element. I’ve been surprised by not realizing we already had an MVP for this prospective customer despite much discussion of a gotta-have feature. It turned out it was “gotta-have” six months from now.
My experience has shown me repeatedly that you can get buying commitments IFF you are solving an important problem AND the cost of NOT solving the problem is significant. [Careful, you can also get a commitment to trial, which is also different than a commitment to BUY. It might be just what you want, but it's good to recognize it as not the same.]
Basically, these questions are to uncover two things:
1. What prevents this prospect from being a paying customer right now?
2. What is the selling process to this type of customer?
Okay, there’s a third. What do we need to change in our messaging/product to hit a bull’s-eye with this (and perhaps next) prospect?
Frankly, I found that when I hear “sales” or “selling” in a negative context, it’s invariably from the mouth of a marketing or salesperson with little experience (or someone who has been accosted by poor salesmanship). Most professional sales people have learned long ago that consultative selling and appreciative inquiry is the path to success.
As one of the sharper minds addressing this subject, Sean Murphy often writes, “Customer development is sales.” and he points out that you sell complex products with your ears and your questions not provocations and assertions.