Selling Innovation: Fake it Sparingly! Then Make it Right

“Listen with the intent to understand,
not the intent to reply.”
– Stephen Covey
You’re an innovator in your market, always looking to bring your customers new ideas. You’ve secured some government funding through SRED or IRAP. You get really good feedback from customers every time you do an email blast, and your sales pitch includes a couple product features that may or may not be completed juuust yet… In the market for innovation it’s standard to talk about your product roadmap as though it’s already paved, to “fake it ‘til you make it” as they say.
Not surprisingly, your customers are clued in. They know there will no doubt be a couple bugs you need to work out before you deliver the goods. The thing is that if they’re buying a product that will give them a technological edge, they want to be buying it from a thought leader and a company that will bust down walls to get them that edge, not a plodding blue chip that’s putting a new spin on an old record. You’ll either figure out how to ship what you pitched or they’ll find a competitor who can do it better. This is how innovation is bought and sold and it’s tried and true.
But what if you find yourself on a sales call where the buyer’s needs are far beyond anything you’ve ever serviced before? You may have your confidence up, ready to blast through objections and take this deal to the net, but it becomes clear that right now you and the company you’re pitching are not playing the same game.
Awhile back, this happened to me. I was pitching ad-buying services to one of the country’s largest packaged goods sellers and at the time our technology was best suited to local and regional advertisers. Luckily, I realized that instead of closing the gap between our product and these sky-high expectations with words, I really needed to listen to the client’s viewpoint so that I could go away and make the thing they needed.
As an innovator, it’s crucial to know when to pitch and when to interview so you don’t miss a chance to learn what the market really needs you to build next. After that pitch, I started taking a highly consultative approach with sales prospects who are in new markets we want to enter. I’ve taken to actually positioning these meetings to clients as “consultations”.
Some might hesitate with this approach. The fear I initially had was that I would be seen by busy executives as wasting their time if I didn’t produce something they could buy right away. Remember though, as innovators, we represent the future to clients. They haven’t thought as long and hard about the problem we’re solving as we have, and the open-ended conversation will likely stir up their creativity – even it if doesn’t elicit an immediate sale. If we can enroll the prospect in our vision today, we’ll have a much better chance of closing them when we return with the product they truly need tomorrow.
It occurred to me that there is a helpful analogy here for Discover Media House’s clients as well – mass marketers for the most part:
Just as a sales person shouldn’t burst into a buyer’s office assuming they know everything about them, a marketer shouldn’t enter a consumer’s living room or turn up on her smart phone with a one-sided message composed entirely in their head. Instead, marketers can benefit immensely from two-way conversations with their customers.
A&W Food Services, for instance, demonstrated how well this works with a project that garnered them the BCAMA’s 2015 Marketer of the Year Award. The restaurant chain solicited extensive feedback from their customers and had conversations with them to verify that using top quality meat in a fast food restaurant was in fact a highly desired innovation.
On the flip side, in the same year we saw the unfortunate outcome of Target completely failing to understand what millions of new potential customers in Canada might want before opening up shop here. For an interesting example of a company that failed in its first attempt to enter a market and then made a second, conversation-based attempt, look at Uber’s approach to Vancouver. In 2012, Uber started offering illegal rides to jubilant Vancouverites, but was promptly chased out of town by the authorities. They have since come back with more thoughtful appeals to politicians and other stakeholders – circulating a petition and speaking at high profile events in town to draw out objections from the powers that be.
A number of the world’s largest and most successful companies have smartly figured out how to engage with their most loyal customers early in the product development process. BMW and Starbucks both have innovation labs that solicit input from customers. There are numerous other examples of consumer-brand collaborations as well from Frito Lay, Samuel Adams, GM and Estée Lauder.
So where are you at in the conversation with a new market segment you’re targeting? When it comes to the sales pitch, customers are keen to hear the benefits and not dwell on the last couple bugs, as long as you’ve kept their needs at the forefront of your designs. Making the thing they truly want gives you the opportunity to persuade them to buy it.
Discover Media House would love to help you find the media channel that best suits the stage of sales conversation you’re in. Let us suggest a couple options to either solicit feedback from users or to reinforce a proven message.