Theodore Zeldin gave a series of six lectures on conversation that were collected in slim book called “Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives.” I found it offered a number of insights on what is needed for a serious conversation. And since serious conversation is one of the primary tools for early market exploration and customer development; I have curated a list of nine excerpts I think entrepreneurs will find useful.
What seems natural, artificial, or supernatural is a function of familiarity. Nature is the background or context for innovation. The challenge is that we live in a world and culture formed by millennia of innovation so that some incredibly advanced technologies seem natural. The difference between technology and magic is not that one works more reliably than the other but that technology is part of the adjacent possible–seemingly impossible but comprehensible. Magic breaks our existing paradigm and is initially incomprehensible. As entrepreneurs we need to present our innovations as technology not magic.
My interview with Gabriel Weinberg was originally published Sep-8-2010. He was doing research for what became his fantastic book Traction. We talked for the better part of an hour and a half and I can remember he kept returning in different ways to what was needed to close your first dozen enterprise customers.
We recently helped a client frame the exploration of an opportunity for acquiring a small software firm. Here are some questions to consider if you are contemplating the sale or acquisition of small software company.
Q: My software consultancy has reached the point of needing to hire someone to help manage the sales pipeline. I’ve hired all kinds of technical related folks, but never for sales.
While asking for a letter of intent may seem like a useful shortcut to assessing prospect intent, it normally causes many more problems than it solves.
It will be twenty plus years before there is a 3D printer in most homes due to limitations of the cost of the machine, material, obtaining software and learning how to use the software. Other fundamentally problem that prevent 3D printers being adapted by the public are to understanding of design, physics, and material science and a change of behavior of making things at home.
These excerpts from The Verger by W. Somerset Maugham highlight some practical truths of entrepreneurship. Many a successful has been started based on careful observations, in particular seeing what’s missing.
Entrepreneurs who limit themselves to what they could learn if their prospects lacked the power of speech adopt what I call a veterinary marketing model. It’s not a viable approach to market exploration.
Any innovation effort is a painful struggle punctuated by false starts and dead ends. Your efforts are met with lack of interest even when a basic invention is working and active resistance when it starts to replace the tried and true. Like any childbirth the trick is managing the pain long enough to deliver.
When I first went to work for Monolithic Memories my boss, Ivan Pesic, told me, “It will be rough for the next two months and then it will get easier.” He was still telling the team that a year later when someone else offered that advice during a problem solving session and we all broke out laughing because we realized it was never going to get easier. We kept working on harder problems. Ivan went on to found Silvaco and despite a few legal setbacks built a company that has endured more than three decades.
Trust is built over repeated interactions between people. If your business requires long term relationships then you have to make sure that investments in automation are not deployed in a way that undercut your ability to have real conversations. Unfortunately, some uses of email automation tools are pushing sales conversations into the “Uncanny Valley” because they strive to simulate–but miss–a genuine personalized touch.
Q: We have a product for bloggers but I am having a lot of trouble getting leads. I have met bloggers from popular media companies at events, I have cold called them, e-mailed them, and e-mailed to on-line groups that I am a member of. None of this has worked. How do I interest people in my product?
I have a couple of suggestions:
I remember first learning the principle “leaders eat last” from John K. Russell, an advisor on a summer Presbyterian workcamp in Westpoint Mississippi. He had been an officer in the Army and talked about how the officers had nicer silverware and napkins but it was the same food and they ate after the enlisted men. Simon Sinek uses that principle as a point of departure–leadership as a combination of higher status and service. His description of leadership reminded of Goethe’s maxim “A man is really alive only when he delights in the good-will of others.”
Here are some of my key take-aways from this talk:
Customer discovery interviews are essential to testing key B2B product hypotheses and understanding your target customers’ needs. Broadly there are five ways that you can reach out to potential customers to have a discovery conversation. All of them assume that you have a clear picture of who your target is and a few key questions that they will be willing and able to answer that will indicate they have a problem or need your solution may address.
I signed up for a mailing list a while ago from a reasonably famous entrepreneur and he sent me this mass email in late November promising to share “Silicon Valley Secrets.” I don’t know if it’s because I have worked in Silicon Valley for more than three decades but I found the whole thing kind of sad (of course, he’s probably laughing all the way to the bank).
Michael Fern, Edith Harbaugh, Steve Hogan, and Sean Murphy discuss the Innovator’s DNA experimenting skill.
Tristan Kromer joins Steve Hogan and Sean Murphy to discuss networking as a key skill to develop to foster innovation.
Jeff Allison, former VP of Engineering at Cisco Systems joins us to discuss observing.
Sarah Gray, Ethan Thorman, and Mark Cook join Steve Hogan and Sean Murphy to discuss lessons learned asking questions to foster innovation.