If You Can't Answer This 1 Question, You Can't Sell Your Technology

10/25/2017 06:55 pm ET

Complete nonsense.

An ambitious entrepreneur once told me: the only thing you really need to build a successful business is impressive technology.

Dangerous idea. I hear the sound of a crashing rocket ship.

Why? Because a real customer simply does not care about technical details.

They paid to get a job done. They want the thing you built to do the job. End of story.

Even worse, customers don’t understand the technology nearly as deeply as you think they do. You suffer the curse of knowledge.

So before you even think about going out to sell your technology, you must answer a simple 2-word question:

Who cares?

First: who -- as in, who's the customer? And second: why should they care enough to pay for it?

If you're a technologist, you might wonder: why answer such questions in the first place? Can't people just whip out their credit cards the minute you unveil your beloved creation?

Would be nice, but it doesn't work like that. It’s a matter of communication.

And to share a communication expert's perspective with you, I interviewed Cheryl Snapp Conner, founder of SnappConner PR and a writer on Forbes, Inc and elsewhere.

She told me cautionary tales of how some of her clients wrote articles solely focused on themselves. Then they cover it up by pointing to their team. As if they say: “Look at how much we’ve accomplished! And actually, it’s all about our team! We couldn’t have done it without them.”

But guess what? It’s still all about them. And hence, nobody cares. Self-centered content goes nowhere.

Compare with Conner's next example:

"A plumber in Chicago decided to evaluate ten shower heads in an article and talk about their different purposes, along with many other things he thought the reader should know.”

“It went crazy viral. In fact, business partnerships resulted from that article."

"And why? Because it was something people cared about!"

See that same question again? Who. Cares. Might I suggest you etch these two words into the interior surface of your skull, so you can read them every time you start to spin a tale about your technology? I guarantee it would help.

And look -- don't picture yourself as the expert preaching wisdom to the masses. Brutal honesty about your failures will serve your audience more than bragging.

Conner says:

"It's more helpful to tell others about your bad days and what you learned from them than to talk about your heroics."

"That's the way to compel somebody with technology. Not by saying how many awards you won."

A critical concept. Powerful and brutally honest stories can entrench themselves into your customer's mind and become automatic persuasion machines for its core message.

But to create a story that resonates takes a lot of effort.

You might as well get it right.

At every point, remind yourself to make it about them, not you. Use empathy to pay for your customer's attention. Make the message immediately relatable to them. Start with whatever’s weighing most heavily on their minds.

And for now, don't even bother to figure out how to get something for it. Go beyond a win-win and take a bolder step. Craft your work such that the only person who "wins" (gains value) is your customer.

Because when you concentrate all your efforts on providing value, suddenly yours will be the humble, supportive voice that drowns out loud, ordinary hustlers.

Generosity must come first.

Case in point: before entrepreneur Clay Collins founded his current company Leadpages, he built an audience of marketers. At a time when most marketers pushed shallow, 90-second explainer videos on social media, Collins created free, lengthy videos to explain marketing concepts in depth.

His generosity built trust -- which grew his audience and thus provided an initial base of customers once he had a product to sell. And now, Leadpages boasts an audience of over 40,000 customers.

The point? Generosity came first. And so it should for you.

Bottom line: don't just push your technology on customers and expect them to love it as much as you do. Instead, create a thing of unquestionable benefit to them.

Say, a video to review which supposedly high-end mattresses are the least comfortable -- instead of a 10 minute snooze about why your mattress review site should wow everyone.

An in-depth article which explains how to load up a virtual machine (VM) on Windows without needing a ton of RAM -- instead of why your VM solution is the best.

A calm, helpful conversation over coffee with a prospective enterprise customer where you provide expert advice on how to solve their database synchronization problems -- instead of pitching them your technical solution.

See the pattern? Make generosity your default behavior. Deliver value first. This causes the other person to care -- not necessarily about your technology, but about the relationship you develop. Much more important. Technology comes later.

Look: fundamentally, all you're trying to do is to communicate.

Conner puts it well:

"I stand up and say boldly: communication is your most powerful strategy weapon. Bigger than your intellectual property. Bigger than your technical skills. Your ability to communicate is everything."

Do it exceedingly well and you earn the opportunity to sell. No further questions.

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