In Silicon Valley, there is no dearth of seemingly great ideas. However, as tech founders our creativity, vision and drive often prevents us from effectively communicating our idea’s value to our target customers. Becoming an effective communicator is not only helpful — it is essential for taking a startup from incubator conception to widespread success.
Wear your customer’s shoes.
To change your frame of mind, start thinking like your customer.
OK, so you have a great idea. You’ve logged hundreds of hours coding with your engineering team, hashing out its functionality. Now you’ve launched, and you’re expecting customers to excitedly purchase your product — but instead your would-be customers aren’t buying it and maybe even seem confused by it altogether. Sound familiar?
The underlying problem is that you think your great idea is also a value proposition. It’s not. What creates value is understanding your client’s needs — not your engineer’s ideas — from the beginning of the process. For instance, imagine that your product predicts the buying patterns of shoppers at retail stores. If you pitch your product by emphasizing its data mining capabilities, new technology features, innovative processes, etc., the potential customer won’t understand how that is valuable to his or her business. You instead have to think from the customer’s perspective — in this case, business bottlenecks, such as inventory lags. Lead with questions, not tech geek enthusiasm.
According to University of Florida’s MECLABS — the world’s largest choice-theory research institute — your value proposition argument needs to lead with “because” in order to answer this central question: “If I am your ideal customer, why should I buy from you instead of any of your competitors?” If you cannot answer this question with “because,” you are thinking from your developer’s perspective, not your customer’s.
Have a high-touch relationship with your customer.
Working in your comfort zone won’t attract customers — engaging with them on their terms will.
Spend time with your customers because knowing your customer creates a valuable feedback loop in case there are issues with your product. Ben Silbermann, the co-founder and CEO of Pinterest, considers this approach the key to his app’s success. According to a recent New York Times profile, he “dedicates an outsize amount of time to meeting with Pinterest users, going on six tours a year and holding weekly lunches at Pinterest’s offices.” While that may sound counter-intuitive to productivity and innovation, Silbermann insists that if he consistently addresses the concerns of Pinterest users, the business will continue to thrive and grow.
I experienced this firsthand when I launched my current company. I did the account management myself at the beginning in order to ensure that RankSense would be successful. By talking to my customers early on in the process, I was able to anticipate problems and better streamline the development process. Staying siloed with my developers wasn’t the key to my success — one-on-one conversations with customers were. In fact, I still go on some calls today.
Put what you learn from customers in writing.
Writing and collaboration allows you to to get better at relating your product to the customer.
To better market your product, write about the problems you are already solving for customers. Strengthening your ability to do so will force you to be clear about your product and its purpose.
A fantastic way to improve your writing skills is to simply collaborate with editorial directors and marketing teams on articles, PR copy and promotional materials. In my case, English is not my first language, so I had a major hurdle when I started out. Fortunately, 11 years ago, I teamed up with Benny Zadik from iBabbleon.com to better hone my language, message and delivery. I would dump my raw ideas on him, and he would edit and shape them into really compelling articles. Our years-long collaboration helped me improve my writing because I seriously reviewed and internalized the edits. Now I write a regular column for Practical Ecommerce and articles for Entrepreneur.com, The Next Web, Quartz at Work and other top publications. All of my editors have been instrumental in helping me polish my ideas.
Writing requires you to think like your customer. And when you do, you will be persuaded to act on the objectives you communicate.
Engage in public speaking opportunities.
Challenge yourself to be the public-facing promoter of your vision.
Public speaking offers the opportunity to both directly and indirectly promote your company through face-to-face interaction with your customers and potential ones. I already know that many of you reading this article are rolling your eyes, thinking, “Me, speak in public?” but trust me, it is a necessary skill. I suggest taking a class so that you can get feedback on how you present yourself. Do you express your ideas in an engaging way? How is your body language communicating your vision and building customer trust? Once you are comfortable speaking publicly, you will be forced to be compelling about your company and your product.
I would know. When I started going to trade shows and speaking about SEO automation, I realized that my pitch was too technical for most people. Instead of spending my time selling the product, I was using my time to explain the terms. I realized I had to change my approach. But, as an introvert and native Spanish speaker, I recognized that I had to learn how to speak to customers in a way that sounded natural and engaging.
I noticed that people relate better to stories than specs, so now I create an outline of my key points and try not to memorize my speech. Then I practice my delivery. For RankSense, I tailored the pitch to be analogous to the way Google Ads works, which was a process that our customers quickly understood.
Knowing how to effectively communicate your ideas to anyone will help set you apart from competitors. Communications with the consumer need to be ongoing and engaging, and when they are, you will find better success for your product, company, and vision.