Thursday, June 5, 2008

Guest Post: Solving Your Customer's Real Problem

Editor's Note: TVCNet member Mike Fisch of Apropos has written a post for his blog about meeting the needs of the customer. Because of its relevance to consulting, we have reposted it here. Enjoy!

Earlier this year I met with a man who had been president for 8 years of an innovative, fast-growing computer company in Silicon Valley. He was transitioning into the role of co-chairman, which would mean less involvement in day-to-day operations and more advising and coaching. For me it was a great opportunity to talk with an experienced, well-respected business leader and maybe learn something.

Heading to the meeting, I felt a little nervous. But I put on my game face and walked through the door. The man sat comfortably at a large conference table and an assistant, notepad in hand, was at the other end. After shaking hands and introducing myself, I sat down. He asked what I thought about their new products and marketing initiatives. In general I was enthusiastic and told him so. He asked if I saw the issue of green computing coming up frequently in the market. I said yes, though it seemed to be an economic issue, of wanting to save on electricity, equipment and space. "Hmm, I think so too," he replied.

We talked about sales and his philosophy for connecting with potential customers. He related a story about a speech he had delivered in Israel. He said he did not talk at all about the company's products, but rather how his company had weathered the technology downturn after the dot com implosion. The company was selling primarily to dot coms, and when many of them failed, they were left with far fewer customers. A natural reaction would have been to cut back, hunker down and try to wait out the storm. Instead the company invested heavily in developing new products and selling into new customer segments. They went "all in" instead of playing conservatively.

The market eventually rebounded and the company was positioned to accelerate past its competitors, which it did. Major revenue growth followed. The gutsy, counter-intuitive strategy proved to be exactly right. Today it is the fastest-growing major company in its industry.

People were so impressed with the story that they came to talk to him afterward. Some even expressed interest in doing business with his company - without any sales pitch at all. At this point in our discussion, he leaned over, lowered his voice as if about to betray a secret and said to me, "You know, you can really make any technology fit... The important thing is to have credibility that you can solve the customer's business problem."

Technology did not matter!? Such a statement was heresy at a company full of engineers who prided themselves on creating breakthrough technologies. Perhaps he exaggerated slightly, but he was saying something important about sales: What matters is having credibility in the customer's eyes that you can solve their real problem. His story demonstrated to the business people in the audience that he knew how to make a business succeed in tough times. They could relate. Moreover, those people do not buy computer technology for its bells and whistles, but because it can solve a business problem like improving productivity and growing sales. So why not buy from someone who really knows how to do those things?

No comments: