This blog discusses how to get customer’s attention and convert them into your sales funnel!
Many companies struggle to generate early customer interest. While there a variety of reasons for this, rarely is it because the technology is no good. Most of the time it is because of poor (or no) communication. I have spent the past 5 years generating leads for nanotechnology start-ups, here are a few of my best practices .
Get Their Attention
No matter what your company does, you are going to have to sell to someone. In the advanced materials world, that means a B2B transaction. While the sales process can take a while, the end goal is to develop a long-term relationship and mutually beneficial supply contract. There is little splash or split-minute decision making. Instead, these agreements are based on comprehensive testing and results. What most people do not realize is that signing a contract is anti-climactic. All the work was done before hand. The signatures should be a formality.
Forming these relationships, however, begins with introducing yourself and your company to your target customers. Remember, they do not even know you exist yet. There is no shortcut for generating interest. You need to get out there and evangelize. Evangelization is often an uncomfortable process for most technopreneurs. It doesn’t need to be. If you need to get over a fear of rejection, check out this TED Talk. Others need to understand the four main personality types of selling. While there are a number of pointers and tools to help you sell (or get organized), I have found these two resources the most helpful. Either way, selling gets easier with practice.
The big gap I have found with selling nanotechnology is that most domain experts are not skilled in the art of selling. Selling nanotechnology is not about the technology. Selling nanotechnology is about solving problems for your customers and extracting the value of solving that problem. There are some intricacies around selling into a channel, and delivering a cost effective solution, but those come later. The best way to sell a nanotechnology-enabled product is to remember that it is about your customer, not you.
This article is organized into two sections: Getting in Front of the Decision Maker and Pitching your Technology. While every market, interaction and technology is different, the goal of this article is to give you enough foresight to guide you through the introductory period.
Get in Front of the Decision Makers
In some respects, selling is a numbers game. The more people you talk to the higher likelihood you have of success. With that, some interactions are more valuable than others. While you can talk with anyone, only a few people within an organization are capable of allocating resources or signing a contract. Because the materials space has experienced large consolidation over the past 30 years, this means that your largest potential customers are likely large, multi-national, organizations. In hierarchical organizations such as these there is typically an strategic direction set with annual resource allocations. They have little ability to add or change direction mid-year. If you are want to get company mind-share you will need to talk with at least a Vice President or above. They typically have enough responsibility to allocate resources.
Large organizations are notoriously difficult to navigate; especially if you are not familiar with hierarchical structure. The organizations are designed for command-and-control which naturally inhibit independent action. Directors have the ability to harbor pet-projects and preliminary testing, but to make a big splash you eventually have to work up the organization. Rarely do you get access directly to the CEO or CTO within an organization. But I have had some success with reaching directly out to organizational leaders directly. If they like what they hear, things can happen quickly.
Conferences are a great opportunity to meet with individuals within an organization. Conferences are also cost effected because there are often a number of target customers in one place. The larger companies often have staffed booths so the barrier is low for engaging this with your idea. Usually you can line up a time to talk with someone in sales or engineering. Giving you a foothold into the organization. Warm introductions through colleagues is also a great way to connect with someone in your target organization. LinkedIn allows you to map who knows who and arrange introductions. It helps to get a personal introduction before talking with someone. When you are working with a specific industry, the group of decision makes is pretty small anyway.
Cold calling is probably the most common method I have used to reach out to people. For some people, cold calling has a negative connotation. Like you have become a used car salesperson. This couldn’t be further from reality. You are trying to connect with someone to introduce a technology that can help them solve a key problem in their organization or for their customers. You are offering a solution that they do not yet know about. The call is more about teaching and offering help than anything else.
When I get on the phone with someone, I prefer to keep the first 30 seconds very focused. I introduce myself, my company, and tell them why I am calling. After that I usually ask them a question or two to get the ball rolling. Keeping in mind not to ask for proprietary or confidential information. From there, the conversation evolves naturally, allowing you to provide additional talking points or an in-depth explanation of your technology value proposition. Remember, the person on the other line is interested in hearing about how you will solve their problems, they do not care about the intricacies of your technology or the history of the company. Keep the discussion focused on them. The goal with this introductory call is the open the door for a follow-up email and conference call with the extended team. It is important to be prepared but you are not asking for a PO.
I like to prepare a talking-points template before calling anyone. It helps me prepare and keeps me focused during the call. I will keep a copy in front of me while I talk with someone as reference during a call. These talking points template help me stay on point and not forget anything. See the table below as an example:
The point of pushing your technology is to get mind-share. Don’t waste your time with sending cold emails. Emails don’t get mind-share. Also, don’t confuse technical publications with generating interest. Passive forms of communication rarely generate customer interest. Your target customers don’t really read technical papers. To prime the pump you need to work with people, not digital content. (And yes, I understand the irony of writing a blog to make this point.)
Pointers for your Pitch
Magic can happen when you pitch a decision maker. But a good pitch is hard to find. Here are a few considerations and pointers on how to use this valuable time.
When talking with a decision maker, do not immediate launch into your pitch the second you shake hands. Take time to get to know them and ask questions about what their interest lye. Listening and learning about them before you start talking helps you tune your pitch.
There are usually a couple types of pitches, the quick elevator pitch and the extended product presentation. The elevator pitch is a quick few lines on what you offer and why they should care. The product presentation expands on your value proposition and provides supporting data. Have each pitch prepared before talking with anyone.
The focus of you pitch should also change based on who you are talking to. Knowing who you are talking to helps you better align your value proposition with their concerns. For example, if you are talking with the VP of R&D, your pitch should be more technical. If you are talking to the VP of operations, prepare to talk about process integration, usability, and materials handling. If you are talking with the president of the company, focus on strategic value and long term competitive advantages.
It is also important to use industry standard terminology during your pitch. This tells the audience you know what you are talking about and that you are part of the industry. Too often I see academic terms that are not used or understood in industry. One example of this is an early pitch I gave for a graphene additive for fiber reinforced composites. My research team results show impressive improvement in fracture toughness, represented as G1c values. Going to the first pitch, however, I quickly realized that no one in the industry cares about G1c value. They didn’t even know how to compare our values to their internal standards. I quickly changed the presentation to reflect our value proposition in terms they understood.
In drafting a pitch, I like to use the flow outlined in the image below.
Problem and Solution need to be 1 slide each. Differentiators dives deeper into the technology, but focuses on supporting your claims of customer benefits. You can use anywhere from 2-5 slides on this. Leadership and Next Steps are 1 slide each. The reason for slide limits is to allow enough time for discussion. The best pitches are designed to get the customer talking and interested in your product.
After some practice, you will start to anticipate detracting questions about your technology. This is the essence of selling. I have never had a pitch without some sort of disparaging comment. Knowing them in advance is great, but you should also organize a catalog of responses mitigating the issue. When I was working with a new dental implant adhesive startup I could predict when someone was about to ask a question. Usually the issue was focused on how easy it was to manage the material. First, I agree with them and empathize how competitor Y had a great packaging with built-in mixing tray. Expanding on their concern shows them that I am listening and understand their pain. I then launch into how we plan to not only provide a similar pre-packaged tray but that our material delivered improvements A, B, and C over the competitor. After their acknowledgement, I would return to the pitch. These tangents are solid gold when it comes to converting a potential customer.
Overall the pitch needs to be clear and simple. Don’t be afraid of open space on a slide. Provide just enough information to support your claims. Always focus on your customer’s needs. A pitch is not about talking technology, it is about giving your customer the information they need to decide.
The best response to your pitch is a customer that is willing to take the next step in testing. Only then have you officially converted a lead into your sales pursuit funnel. Working a customer through a sales funnel is important for converting an opportunity into revenue. Reaching revenue is a whole new bag of worms that we will talk about in a later article.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading!
Thoughts on this article? Please post comments and questions below!