Appreciate Why Prospects Say “Your Baby Is Ugly”

When a prospect criticizes your product, or your suggestion for  a solution, don’t react as if they said, “Your baby is ugly.” Appreciate their candor, make sure you understand their need, and probe for what’s wrong or needs improvement in your offering.

Appreciate Why Prospects Say “Your Baby Is Ugly”

My second job out of college was with an  early EDA software startup, Silvar-Lisco. I was employee #13 and I was a “project manager, marketing and sales.” This meant that I did both pre and post-sales support.  Over time I focused more on post sales  support but in the beginning there were just two of us handling all of the prospects and customers from a technical support perspective.  They hired a third pre-sales support engineer and the three of us worked at common table with one phone. It made for a  lot of informal meetings and a lot of time spend more productively out of the office.

In one demo of our flagship product to a major semiconductor vendor there were two of us technical support folks giving the demo, a sales person, and one of the founders–and architect of the product–facing off against four engineering managers who were trying to decide whether to start a formal evaluation. This was their second demo and we were getting into it much more deeply.

I can’t remember what the exact remark was, perhaps something about how a feature had been poorly implemented and  should have been done a different way. My temptation was to ask  “how would that help you on your designs” but the founder stood up and went into a short but animated speech about all of the really good reasons why the feature had been implemented that way. The demo proceeded somewhat uneventfully from that point with the lead manager from the prospect saying something to the effect of “You have given us a lot to think about, give us a chance to discuss this and get back to you.”

I was not sophisticated enough, or cynical enough, to understand that they would not be calling back. I was talking about it afterward with the other support person and I still remember his critique

“Kim reacted like that guy told him ‘your baby is ugly’ didn’t he? He shut down their interest in working with us.”

And it’s a phrase I have recycled many times about defensive instead of appreciative reactions to customer suggestions or criticism during a demo or a presentation.

Here are some other posts that elaborate in different ways on the challenge of listening to prospect’s criticism.

Dharmesh Shah offers a great perspective in “4 Quick Tips on Raising Startup Funding Without A Plan Or A PowerPoint

Accept That Your Baby Is Ugly: Just like most parents think they have beautiful babies, most entrepreneurs think they have beautiful startups. In reality, just about all startups are ugly in the early days. Don’t spend time trying to explain to others why your startup baby is beautiful. It’s not. Instead, spend energy explaining why your baby is going to grow up into something that’s beautiful. Describe how you’re going to tackle the problem of building the product, finding customers, dealing with support, etc.


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