Selling to a Business Requires Conversations that Build Trust

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Customer Development, Demos, skmurphy

I am always interested in having a conversation with a prospect. If you are hoping to infer needs from seeing them press a menu button with an icon or one or two words on it I think that’s a poor substitute for a conversation. I know that people cannot always predict what they need or will use but this “rat psychology” approach (see what parts of the command maze a user explores looking for working functionality) strikes me as trust eroding. It’s a reflection of a deeper belief that your customers will have no memory of prior interactions with you where you showed them something that looked functional but was not actually functional. When they discover it was designed to do just that, look functional but not be functional, it may make them question anything you tell them.

I worry that sampling techniques that work when you are talking to a tiny fraction of a large potential customer base (e.g. someone who wants a calculator tool or a reminder service) are counter productive when you are attacking a smaller market (say 1,000 to 10,000 possible companies that might buy) and disastrous when there are only a few hundred possible customers (e.g. semiconductor manufacturers, pharmaceutical research labs, Fortune 500 IT departments that buy outsourced IT services,…).

I think the thing that excites many developers about some of these impersonal/automated techniques is the belief that they can write code and sell applications without ever having to have a conversation with a customer. If you look at established consumer products companies, folks like Proctor and Gamble for example, they spend a lot of time in structured conversations with prospects and customers.

When I play a computer game I can restart many times, I can try a variety of moves to explore and understand a situation. When I start over the Non-Player Characters in the game do not remember what I told them last time. But in real life I need to exercise much greater care. Everyone I meet in a market niche knows and will talk to other prospects– especially if I treat them poorly or act as if I don’t value their time.

I think tools that allow you to generate a dozen different home pages (because you cannot figure out which market segment to start in) may ultimately mark a team as fundamentally unserious in a  B2B space.  I wonder in a few years if anyone is going to put a real e-mail address into a one page website that has no identifiable people and no physical address mentioned. It’s a little bit like the small ads in the back of a magazine that only list a PO Box and no phone number, you are not really sure if they are real and therefore worth any of your time.

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