Sell value, not benefits

March 11th, 2011 → 5:40 am @

We’re in San Diego, meeting with potential business partners. We’re holding court in a hotel, and doing 2-3 meetings per day… that doesn’t sound like a lot, but these are multi-hour strategy sessions, which require preparation and post-meeting follow-up.

Today we met an industry insider who’s looking for a piece of our company. He said, “Don’t worry about getting meetings with big players; that’s easy… the important thing is to have a value proposition which makes them a buck with relatively little risk.” His next move was, of course, to point out that his position within the industry left him well placed to help us to prepare a more powerful value proposition. But, regardless of his motives, his statement was absolutely correct.

Start-up companies frequently focus on getting the big meeting with the company they hope to work with, and neglect to prepare their value proposition adequately. They arrive at the meeting with a long list of benefits, and hope to inspire the target company with the same enthusiasm the start-up has for its technology. Occasionally that approach works. But a surer way is to examine the target company’s strategy, and work out how the benefits brought by the start-up can be gained by the company at relatively low cost, and with relatively low risk of negative fallout (bad press, internal strife in the company, dissatisfied customers, political interference… and so on). Then draft a financial model for the target company. Now, when you walk into the meeting with the company’s managers, you can show them the return on investment they can expect, as well as how all the downside risks will be mitigated. If you’ve really done your homework, you’ll also be able to show the target company how your offering fits into their current strategy, plus why and how they can roll it out right now. That’s much stronger than just promising a raft of benefits, and leaving the target company to ‘fill in the gaps’.

The industry insider was right; it’s easy to get meetings… the hard part is to be properly prepared to bring real value to the target company.

Start ups

Knowing when to sell, and when to not sell

March 7th, 2011 → 9:45 am @

It’s a clear, slightly chilly day in Washington DC.  The Washington Monument and the Capitol Building are creating iconic views from my hotel window, and I’m thinking about the meeting I’ve just attended.  I accompanied the founder of a Health IT company to confer with some of the USA’s leading thinkers on ‘patient-centric’ health.  The meeting was inspirational as the participants spent the morning clarifying the issues and, incidentally, verifying that my founder had a unique, and needed, solution to many of the problems they face.  But we didn’t try to sell at the meeting.

This founder has already built a couple of start-ups.  Although we’d travelled 14,500 Km to be here, he knew that this was not a time to be selling.  Sure, he showed them what his product could do, but he focused on learning more about the participants’ priorities, contributing to the discussion, and building relationships.  As a mature entrepreneur, he won’t sell until he’s sure his offering will meet real needs, as the buyers perceive them… until then, he talks with potential clients about their concerns.

By the end of the meeting a couple of people who ‘got it’ had emerged as champions for our product.  That was a nice bonus.  But many of the people in the room were decision-makers with millions of constituents , who would not have been swayed by any slick pitch.  They won’t buy anything unless they’re sure a product will meet real needs and provide real value.  And they won’t be made to accept those needs by any ‘concept sell’ from us.  They’ll define their needs by conferring with colleagues, as they did at today’s meeting, and only look for product solutions when they, and their peers, are comfortable that they have the issues well mapped.

For us, it was a privilege to be part of that discussion, and for the founder’s work to be recognised as thought-leading.  We hope to have the inside running when it comes time to sell… but now is not the time.

Mentoring entrepreneurs

You’re Not a Real Entrepreneur

March 2nd, 2011 → 6:11 am @

Posted on June 10, 2010 by steveblank

Who is an entrepreneur really? It turns out that there are four distinct types of entrepreneurial organizations; small businesses, scalable startups, large companies and social entrepreneurs. They all engage in entrepreneurship. Yet entrepreneurs in one class think that the others aren’t the “real” entrepreneurs. This post looks at the differences and similarities and explains why there’s such confusion. (more…)