Dec 162012

I just read a post by Andrej Kostresevic about how to avoid false positive information when speaking with prospective customers.  It’s an important topic and it’s good to highlight the problems caused by a prospect’s natural inclination to express answers in a positive way relative to your questions.

Andrej has a five-step process for avoiding false positive responses from prospective customers.  However, Andrej’s overall attitude appears to be that he doesn’t trust his prospective customers’ answers.  I must take issue with the usefulness of this attitude.  I think it’s wrong and actually causes him to miss important learning opportunities.

Having been on probably over 1,000 meetings presenting new-to-the-world solutions to prospective customers, here’s how I would refine his BS Meter and minimize the false positives feedback:

First, it’s important to understand a few important-to-me guiding principles which I’ve found valuable.  Then I will comment on each of Andrej’s specific steps in his BS Meter. 

DTL Principles:
#1: People are almost always rational within their world. If something they say doesn’t make sense to you, either you or they (or a little of both), don’t have all the key “data”. In other words, beyond being polite, their experience and yours may in fact be very different and you need to understand the difference, not assume they’re BS’ers or “stupid” as was my original reaction to hearing something that didn’t make sense.

#2: Ask for facts before you ask for opinion. More on this below.

#3: Garbage Out, Garbage In — a reversal on the “ancient” GIGO which referred to putting a bad program or bad data INto a computer and you got bad data or garbage OUT. More on this below.

Andrej’s Bullshit Radar Process  which has four steps:  BS, R, E, C, R and my comments:

BS: Be specific. Spot on important! However, if one considers all prospective customers are trying to fool you, then there’s a problem with the attitude of the team or the meeting participants! The problem, as Andrej rightly points out, is the vagueness of how you describe what you offer…which gets to my Garbage Out, Garbage In idea.

If you provide Garbage (Out) about the product (or the problem you solve, the speeds, the feeds, the size, the shape, etc.), you’ll get Garbage In (back) regarding who will use it, when, how many they want, what they’ll pay, etc.  So the more specificity you use, the more useful the reaction data.

R: Ask for a Rating
Again, a crucial step identified by Andrej.  In my presentations, I more typically use “Home Run, Double, Single, Strike-out”, although one must consider the cultural background of the audience.

Where I do not agree is with Andrej’s notion that the team should minimize or throw out the data when the prospective customer indicates that the solution (or feature) is a Nice to Have and they Don’t Care.

This is the prime learning time.  Better to instigate a conversation regarding why your solution or feature got slotted in that particular way. This is strongly related to my principle #2: Facts First, then Opinions (which I go into below).

E: Ask for Examples 
C: Ask for Current Workarounds 
Finally, we’re getting to the facts!!! This is where the conversation with the prospect should start.  What do you do today?  What problem does that solve?  With this information in hand, asking for their Rating is so much more valuable.

By getting facts first, you can more readily spot the disconnect in their opinion later about the fit or your solution or their problem.  And that’s where there’s a chance for real learning. Ask yourself (and then formulate questions to ask them), what don’t they understand and what don’t I understand.

Often a way to get the facts is to have them walk you through the last time they had the problem, as Andrej points out. But you need to probe. Just because they can’t readily remember doesn’t mean they’re BS’ing.

“You said you have this problem just about everyday. Did it occur earlier today?” No

“How about yesterday?” No.

“Hmmm, just a few minutes ago you said this was a daily problem, so it must be bothersome. When was the last time you remember it happening?”

And then, “What did you do about it?” “Is that how you always workaround it?” etc.  “Next time it happens, will you use the same workaround?”

And don’t forget my favorite question which is akin to, “But why even workaround it? Why not ignore it?” In other words, find out what’s the cost of NOT solving the problem?

R: Re-Rate their answers.
Not sure how to deal with this one…first of all, getting good data speaks for itself.  If you think you are hearing unreliable answers, something is wrong…that’s not normal.  Are you meeting with the right people?

Secondly, it almost sounds like Andrej is suggesting substituting the team’s opinion for their “facts”. If you feel like there is a disconnect, probe it in real time while the prospective customer is in front of you and you don’t have to substitute your opinion for missing facts.

Calls to Action:

  • Treat all prospective customers as rational.  Probe for understanding if facts offered don’t match with opinions offered.
  • Ask for facts before asking for opinion.  It’s much easier to spot false positive information this way (and false negative), plus it forms a basis for qualifying later.
  • Specificity is your ally.  Even if you don’t know the exact details on a feature, be specific when you present it so that the feedback you get is meaningful.
 Posted by at 01:02

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