In an ideal world, sales is really about matchmaking. When you sell the ideal product to the ideal customer, it’s really just about finding the intersection of a burning need they have, and the thing you’ve built. Easy transaction.
In the actual world, this is far from how it happens. Historically, sales has taken more of a technique-driven approach, leaning the right kind of closes, dealing with objections, and finding any way possible to get your product in the prospect’s hands.
And because of that, people hate salespeople (generally speaking).
And, that’s made it much more difficult to have the kind of genuine conversations needed to drive early-stage product development, the kind of conversations that are required in order to achieve product-market fit.
Getting to product-market fit with a product is something that all early-stage startups have to go through. The first thing you build is a guess. Hopefully an educated one, but a guess nonetheless. Only through talking to customers and iterating on what you have, do you get to something that’s a better fit, and increase your chances of success.
Most companies die in this stage, and shitty sales techniques aren’t helping.
Because of the pushy, traditional sales that we all know and hate, we’re all resistant to talking to anyone about their product. Over the years, we’ve been trained to avoid these conversations, because we know it’ll likely devolve into a litany of techniques designed to coerce us into purchasing.
But, without having conversations with potential customers, how does an early-stage startup get any feedback on where they’ve missed the product-market fit mark?
I’ve seen this first-hand so many times, I’ve long lost track. Calling a potential customer, and pleading that you only want to get feedback or thoughts is, almost always, a failed approach. They sniff a backdoor sales technique, and will flat out ignore the plea. No matter how genuine your intent about simply gathering information, it’s very likely you’re getting shut down.
And so, the startup continues on, blinded by their own lack of feedback, continuing to develop in a vacuum. And, they eventually die from this lack of air.
One solution to this, of course, is to engage in formal research (as a user researcher myself, this is something that comes much more naturally to me than other approaches). With that said, many early startups lack the internal skill, or the budgets, to engage in this kind of research (we can discuss the ROI of said research, and I’d agree, but there are also some real cash constraints).
Ultimately, startups need to find a way around the horrible culture that shitty sales have created, and get into a conversation with their customers and what their problems are, what the product is, and the size of the mismatch. And, if you’re an early-stage startup, and you aggressively push your product into someone where you know damn well there’s not a great fit, you’re just perpetuating the problem.
Finally, if someone reaches out to you, especially in the early stage, and says they want to learn, take the call. Make them promise not to sell you, whatever you have to do, but we can all help change the culture that’s been created, and collaborate together to bring better products into the world that we all want to buy.