One of the biggest challenges for a start-up technology firm that is introducing an innovation that changes the status quo is gaining early success. Without any brand recognition, buyers are skeptical. This is frustrating.
Geoffrey Moore recently linked to a video he has used in the past to illustrate the scenario for startups as they struggle to gain acceptance and cross the chasm. Definitely take a look—it illustrates with humor a very real challenge. The dancer in the video persevered through the early times when he was being laughed at or ignored due to being “different.”
Without perseverance, here is the typical path for start-ups that don’t reach their potential:
- Startup invents an innovative technology that changes the way things are done.
- The organization, usually marketing, creates messages and materials that illustrate this unique value. They train sales reps on the value. Everyone is energized.
- Sales goes out and starts engaging with prospects. These prospects have limited experience with the innovative technology. As a result they ask questions based on things they know–looking to evaluate it v. something they understand.
- Rather than reinforce the value of the innovation, sales adjusts their messages and approach to talk about the things the product does that are like other products. The innovative change becomes a secondary part of the story.
- Sales tells marketing that a less aggressive form of messaging is working. They ask for new materials that emphasize more traditional features and benefits, since prospects are more receptive to those.
- Marketing adjusts the messages.
- Sales engages with more prospects but find that, while they are talking more, they are closing less.
- Sales goes back to marketing, saying the new messaging is not working. They work together and find that they are winning deals when prospects care about the original innovation that was emphasized.
- The org returns to the messaging that is close to what was originally used, but often finds that their innovation has been copied by others–resulting in slower growth that they were expecting.
While it is important to listen to customers, it is also important to understand where they are coming from. In step 3 above, the customers shift of the conversation was driven largely by a desire to have more control and to engage from a position of understanding. That makes sense. But, instead of just accepting that, what sellers need to do is relate their innovation to things the buyer understands and use that additional context to continue to explain the value of their innovation.
This requires perseverance. You have to continue to emphasize value and improvement in the face of questions. It is not easy and often requires other things–like customer proof points–to work, but it is the path to success.
I will be discussing this challenge and other differentiation ideas in a FREE Webinar next week (January 7 @ 11:00AM Eastern). More information and registration options can be found here. I hope you can join me.