Of course they do. Didn’t we just manage to convince the first 50 customers to buy our solution? Yes, you did. But now ask yourself what the reasons for closing those deals were. What were the parameters involved in getting your customers to evaluate the products in the first place?
In many cases a product convincing a customer to buy it is only the last step in a long row of interactions. For your company to be short listed and considered for a proof of concept workshop or product trial your will have to pass many gates along the way. First of all you will have to get some visibility in the market. And yes, those 50 customers will help you spread the word about your solution but usually this kind of word of mouth marking runs dry after you have saturated your local market. It is very hard to fuel your growths outside your comfort zone with purely recommendation driven marketing. There are many reasons for this. First of all your network (and that of your current customers) will be limited to a certain type of connections. This means you will likely be going in circles when it comes to regional markets, verticals or other customer parameters. You can check on this by looking at your current customer base. If you are successful in a specific niche you can leverage this to saturate that niche. But in the end a niche is a niche and you will need to break out of your niche to fuel your company’s growths for the coming years. Once way to do this is to hire people with access to target groups you want to address. But left to their own devices they will still lack the support and credibility needed to successfully sell your solution. This lack of supporting noise is often the reason why sales efforts fail even though you’ve hired top performers who successfully sold into the same market segment before.
Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty sure that your product has some unique features which will let it stand out among the competition. But this is a claim that your potential customers will hear from most of the vendors out there. Even those features that you believe are unique to your solution might be available from some competitor elsewhere (a competitor who is obviously also relying on his “killer product” to do the selling for him – or otherwise you would have heard of him right?). One way to stand out from the competition and to circumvent the issue of “not being one of the big players with a reputation” is by having known and trusted market experts do the branding for you. This includes convincing editors, industry analysts and other thought leaders of the quality and innovation you are bringing to the market. It is much more likely that your customers will make their shortlist decisions based on an unbiased analyst’s opinion than on what your / your competitors’ sales people suggest. In addition the market reach of those influencers will be much greater than what you can expect to create by yourself in the short term.
It seems to me that the opinion that it only takes a good product to be successful in the market is especially strong in the technology sector. In high-tech markets many companies and solutions are driven by continuous innovation. In addition many of these companies have founders with a technical background who are keen to innovate and improve what they have built. It is very easy for technology start-ups and emerging vendors to fall into this trap. The initial success of their solution in combination with fresh venture capital money on the table make it easy to underestimate the challenges (and costs) of breaking into new markets. So when you are growing your company please make sure that you give your products the chance to get evaluated by the customer. Spending all your money on product innovation without doing a good job in sales and marketing won’t work. Equally just sending out more sales people and expecting them to generate the trust needed for successful completion of a sale is pretty much doomed. Last but not least doing marketing and generating leads without a proper sales team to follow up on those leads and without a product to fulfill the expectations you have created won’t make sense either.
So if you are planning to succeed you should try to integrate your product development, marketing and sales efforts to leverage the synergies and to make sure that you don’t create any bottle necks. Influencer Relations with its sub-disciplines of PR, analyst relations and social media marketing can help you to align your efforts by not only giving you more visibility in the market, but also by providing a feedback channel and a 3rd party perspective on your products. So if you truly believe that you have a killer product I encourage you to give it the chance to sell itself – not only to your customers but also to those influencers out there who will in the end shape the way your solution and your company is perceived in the market.