Many hats make light work
One of the things about starting a company is that you’ll have to wear a lot of hats. I always had this image of an entrepreneur wearing a bunch of different hats all at once. Kind of like this. They’d be wearing a “Marketing” hat, an “Engineering” hat, a “Finance” hat, a “Sales” hat, etc. I’m sure there are people that can do this — with panache, even — but I’ve personally found that I’m only comfortable wearing one hat at a time. Take consulting and engineering. When I’m a consultant, I talk (and think) about process and organizational change. When I’m an Engineer, I talk and think about zero conf jeos virtual appliances and version control systems. I can switch hats, but it takes a day or two for me to really get into the role.
…make light work
At this point in my startup’s life, we have a v1.0 of our product ready to release and a beta customer that’s been using it for the past 4 months. In order to keep the lights on (i.e., make light work :-)), we’ll have to find at least 3 more customers. That means that I’ll need to take off my “Engineering” hat and put on a “Marketing” or a “Sales” hat — I’ve been struggling with which should be first. Drucker noted that Marketing and Sales are opposites in some sense:
…the aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.
If the product fits the market well, then getting the customer to buy is easy. If the product doesn’t fit the market, then getting the customer to buy is hard — you’ll have to do more selling. This makes sense to me. Since I want our product to sell itself, I’m thinking that I should try the Marketing hat first :-).
When I’ve gone out to demo my product to people, I’d catch their interest but would inevitably lose it again, seemingly at random. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I described the product features in a logical progression that made sense to me, but I wasn’t able to fully engage my audience. I didn’t get it. We have this amazing product that solves some of the toughest and most important problems organizations face, and for some reason I couldn’t get people to see it!
Fortunately, a friend of mine, who works at an innovative marketing firm in downtown Portland, was nice enough to drop by and set me straight. He outlined some useful Marketing concepts:
- Positioning statements: These are brief statements that describe what your company does. For instance, if you go to a networking event and someone asks what you do, this is what you say.
- Value statements: This is the benefit of your product to a customer. When they ask “So what?”, this is what you tell them.
- Differentiators: This is what makes you different (and better) than competitors or competing options.
The key to all of this is that you don’t just have a list of value statements; you have a list of value statements for each type of audience. This became very clear when my friend asked “What is the value an engineer gets from your product?”. I responded, “Oh, they want something that doesn’t get in their way, something that doesn’t have much overhead to use”. Oddly enough, this was the first time I’d ever said that explicitly. I instantly realized that this was why my demos weren’t effective. In describing the product logically, I’d inadvertently emphasized the wrong features at the wrong time to the wrong people. I wasn’t recognizing the perspective and concerns of my audience. Engineers didn’t care about the same features that executives cared about. Why should they? No wonder my demos were hit-or-miss.
Right now, I have my Marketing hat on. I’m going to keep it on until I have positioning matrices filled out for each of our market segments. Once these are done, I’m going to slap on a Sales hat and find customers to talk to. Unfortunately, I don’t really know what a Sales hat looks like. For some reason, I have this image that’s a cross between Willy Loman and Darrin Stevens. I picked up some books to help me figure this out, but I think I’ll just need to sit down with a salesperson on this one. I’ll have to do this soon because my company doesn’t have much ramp left before we hit the road.
As I’ve been writing this, the final scene from Spinal Tap (scrub to minute 4) keeps looping in my head:
Nigel: Well, I suppose I could, uh, work in a shop of some kind or…or do uh…freelance…selling of some sort of…uh…product, you know…
Marty: A salesman, you think you —
Nigel: A salesman, like, maybe in a haberdasher, or maybe like um…a chapeau shop, or something…you know, like: “Would you…what size do you wear, sir”, and you answer me.
Marty: Uh…seven and a quarter.
Nigel: “I think we have that…”, you see, something like that I could do.
Marty: Yeah… you think you’d be happy doing something like —
Nigel: “No! We’re all out, do you wear black?”, see, that sort of thing I think I could probably muster up.
Marty: Do you think you’d be happy doing that?
Nigel: Well, I don’t know – wh-wh… what’re the hours?