The 4 Questions

We work with a lot of early stagers, companies who are repositioning from services to products, or are launching something new. Many are engineering-driven and some can get a bit myopic (you know who you are ;)).

To get buyers to listen, you need to think “outside-in.” It comes down to what I call The Four Questions:

  1. What problems do you solve (and for whom)?
  2. What’s the broader business need?
  3. Why you?
  4. Why now?

It’s seems simple, but some companies struggle. If you’re having this issue, here’s some direction. Let’s take it step-by-step:

The First Question: What problems do you solve (and for whom)?

This is why use cases matter. It’s is not the same question as “what does it do?” Too often, companies start here. I won’t care what it does until I know why I should listen. The problem has be from their context – and needs to be personalized. (I’ll do another post sometime on “empathetic positioning.”)

In B2B, you need to address the operational, time and financial problems. You could be selling to a single person with multiple personalities (no, not “Sybil”)– or likely, there are different people involved.

Explain how this makes “my” everyday job (or overall department, company, whatever) better and easier. Compare before and after. “I used to do A, B and C…now I only have to do A and C…or instead, I can work on D.” And don’t forget the financial case. Unless you’re in freeware, someone has to shell out money, either directly or they have to ask for it.

The Second Question: What’s the broader business need?

Here, you want to answer – position – in the context of the larger issues. You want to talk about what factors are contributing to the problems you solve – whether organizational, market, regulatory and/or competitive. This shows “situational awareness” of your customer’s world and elevates you from a widget-provider to a business partner.

To do this, read what your customer reads and follow who your customers follow. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just tracking what matters to you as a developer or inside the tech industry. While TechCrunch might be your must-read, it’s likely not your customers’. (This is also a key consideration in press targeting – but that’s a post for another time.)

Of course, read their industry trades. Keep up with analyst blogs from Gartner, Aberdeen, Forrester, IDC and those in your customer’s industry such as Celent in financial services and insurance. Although a lot of their research is only available for a fee, they often summarize key findings in posts and press releases. Check out the blogs and reports of management consultants, such as Deloitte and E&Y, many of which offer “state of the industry” reports.  Investment firms also publish forecasts on specific industries which include both business drivers and technology trends.  Most of these are freely available.  Be sure to source any stats you use. It’s not only an ethical usage requirement, it also shows that you’re keeping up and aligned with the thought leaders and advisors your customers trust.

Knowing what’s driving the need also helps make the case for the Fourth Question of “Why now?”  When you can connect your solution to compliance deadlines, competitors who are pulling ahead, changing economic conditions, or whatever, you can create a sense of urgency.(More later.)

Getting the hang of it?  In the next post, I’ll address Questions Three and Four. (Come back soon!)

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