The One Question Your Business Must Answer to Survive

….notes from my own entrepreneurial journey.  Walk with me!

It’s been a year in my business thus far.  It’s been a hard year and one that has taught me more than almost any other year in my life.  Some lessons I wish I hadn’t learned but every one of the lessons are valuable in some way.

My initial planning was great. I knew how to build a business plan.  I was an engineer and loved to dig into details.  I took several months to create it.  It had all of the right elements in it.  I had defined what the business was, how it would operate, what services would be offered, how it would be sold and marketed, what the operating costs would be and how much we would make in the first year.  I even included a competitor analysis, growth plan for expansion and customer profile analysis.  I had all the information I needed.

After I put the business plan down, I began to work on the business case.  Why? I knew that selling my service would be difficult.  First, my potential customers didn’t know they had a problem.  So, I needed to define that before I began to sell anything.  My first attempt at this was from the financial perspective.  To define the issue, I identified the amount of money my customer should be getting from their efforts.  I was hoping this would prompt my customer to look at how much they were getting and compare it to what they should be getting (my analysis).  This should have launched salvos in their brains but it only worked for a very few.  Some saw the huge delta and realized there could be something they could be learning.  For most….nothing happened.  I thought it might have been that they didn’t trust my assessment.  This made sense as I realize they didn’t know me.  So I changed the assessment to reference all of the official sources of data that I used.  It identified the authorities in their field.  The data and analysis were solid.  I used the data and mathematical methods from the experts in their field.  Easy sell, right?  Unfortunately, it did very little for the customer but it did solidify the case.

So maybe they needed to see the business case from a cost perspective.  The financial perspective essentially said that their processes were inefficient and that they could make more money if they did things differently or better yet, let me do it for them.  Perhaps they needed to understand what the cost was for their inefficient process.  I prepared a benefit cost analysis that illustrated their cost to perform the same functions that my company does.  Yes, you would expect that we were less expensive.  And, we are.  Our processes are automated, electronic and keep track of everything.  These are the benefits I shared with them, along with the fact that we are a fraction of the cost they are.

I took this new analysis and threw it in front of potential customers.  It was met with disbelief.  I soon realized they had never seen any analysis like this before and weren’t sure what they were looking at, although they realized that it didn’t paint an efficient picture of their process.  Eventually, discussions would go off track.  Once I started to see that customers were getting a little emotional about the topic, I realized that this discussion no longer hinged on the merits of the argument.  We had transitioned from the idea of what’s good for their company to what’s good for them.  It was clear that this was becoming a personal decision.  More importantly, my customer is apparently struggling with the “what’s in it for me” question.

I’ll have to admit that I should’ve seen this coming and that it should have been the first question I should have addressed.  No matter who you talk to, you must be able to convince them that your efforts are worthy of further discussion.  The challenge always comes with figuring out what interests they want to serve first: their own or the company’s.  Never assume any one is looking out for the greater good first.  Also, this is a never ending process.  As you move up the chain from contact to contact, you have to keep asking that same question.

Now, I’m embarking on a journey to figure how to assess what personal needs people are most interested in.  Do they want to look like a hero, avoid embarrassment, etc?  This will probably be the most difficult part of my journey as I’m sure to meet all kinds of people with various interests.  The challenge comes in developing a process to filter contacts into specific categories where I can have a process on how to deal with them.

Stay tuned!  This will be fun.

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