*Generating market pull is like practicing medicine through solving people’s real needs.
Market pull is a scaling force
Market pull happens when the market’s need for a solution is so strong that it draws companies towards it, like gravity. It originates from a genuine and shared market requirement, and is the opposite of traditional product pushing techniques. Without market pull, selling becomes a long and painful process towards a usually unattainable goal. It is trying hard to sell a product to customers who don’t really need it. But with market pull, scaling is history. Customers are buying the product as fast as it is produced and word of mouth is spreading.
Scale-ups generate market pull, they don’t just wait for it. To generate market pull for a specific product, scale-ups pay close attention to market needs and guarantee that the product matches those needs. They also ensure that the market is fully onboarded on the product: the right customers know and understand what the product does.
The analogy for market pull is that of a general practitioner who thoroughly examines the patient’s problems and needs, explains various potential solutions and together with the patient decide upon the optimal solution to prescribe. The solution is never forced upon the patient, but worked out together with them.
Five factors of market pull
To create market pull, scale-ups: (1) educate customers about the problem, (2) are customer oriented, (3) focus on a beachhead, (4) sell directly to their customers, and (5) draw out their customers’ interest. Below we discuss how to perform each activity.
Educate your customers about the problem, not the product
Creating market pull starts with creating awareness on a pressing problem in the market, as opposed to educating the market about the benefits of a specific product. To do so, use any opportunity to attract public attention and to raise awareness about the issue you are focused on, such as media campaigns, public speaking, events, blogs, workshops or training programs. In the discussions you raise, share narratives of world change and transition, in which the problem requires radical shift in order to be tackled.
In effect, you no longer sell a product, but a new-world view. That gives your customers a sense of understanding and control over the complex and uncertain world around. So, before selling your tech product or service, first explain the underlying principles on which your innovative product/service’s value is built.
Scale-ups go much further than storytelling in educating the market. They share technological knowledge, or even intellectual property under creative commons or through open source. The goal here is to allow more and more industry players to contribute to the problem solving. In fact, they collaborate on research and content development with academia and NGOs to further advance the technological insights and share those with the community. And they advocate for policy changes when those are required to unleash demand.
All of those efforts lead to potential customers reaching out to you, and their first landing place is your website. So, your website needs to represent what you find important: the challenges of your customers and how you help resolve them. The emphasis is on building trust. This is critically important as purchasing from any young, unknown, innovative venture is in principle high-risk. Your website is, therefore, the first opportunity to showcase your professionalism, your heritage, your partnerships, your quantified impact, your client base, your patents, the size of your organization and years of experience. Visual design is also important, being the most immediate impression of your brand value.
Be customer-oriented, not product-oriented
In a typical tech venture, engineers distrust sales people and view them as being dishonest, self-oriented and shallow. Sales people dislike engineers and view them as boring, mechanistic and conservative. Both agree in their dislike of managers for being oppressive, critical and detached. These stereotypical views might be funny in sitcoms like the Office, but are highly counterproductive in small ventures, where all core functions -development, production, sales- need to be high-performing and well-integrated, based on a one-team culture of mutual understanding and admiration.
Therefore, let us define sales. The essence of sales is to present a product or a service to a customer that he or she really wants to buy because it addresses a major need, solves a problem or fulfills a dream. This is the aspirational, customer-oriented side of sales: making customers happy by selling a product that delights them. So, for all of those young, tech-driven ventures out there, you want to bring this message loud and clear:
Sales is our first connection to the customer
Sales tells our story of customer delight
Sales brings back customer feedback
and new business light
Sales is where it very much happens
Without sales we can all be dismissed
And eventually cease to exist
In a customer-oriented culture, everyone in the MT is actively involved in sales and service to the customers. As an MT member, you prioritize customer interaction, and you give those that represent the customer voice a stand in internal team discussions and decision making.
You make sure everyone in the organization gets the importance of customers and their needs, everyone is fully aware that your only “raison d’être” is to deliver to these needs. In practice, this means sharing the excitement as well as the insightful stories and discoveries on your customers.
Finally, the information and reward systems you have in place reinforce customer orientation. For scale-ups, these are not only revenues and margin, but more importantly customer value-in-use, customer delight and customer retention.
3) Apply the beachhead strategy, instead of selling to everyone
Scale-ups understand that not everyone will have a genuine need for their product-solution. So, they seek out the right customers. Their first goal is to establish a “beachhead”: a dominant share in a niche segment within the larger market. By dedicating to this niche, they can keep their product focused, and quickly claim an established leadership position (which builds trust in the brand). Once the segment is secured, the main market is open.
What defines a beachhead segment is that 1) there is a perfect product fit- in B2B this means that the customers can quickly earn back the product, (2) there is a sense of urgency- customers must have the product now and (3) a natural affinity, which means that these customers are innovators themselves as well.
Finding the beachhead is a creative act; not simply a selection from a standard segmentation of the market. Scale-ups usually create a new market category, a new space within the market, a new way of delivering value. And they“own” that new market category by being the first to name it. In naming the new market category, scale-ups typically communicate, as mentioned earlier, an “Old World to New World” transition, where the customer is the central hero of the story. Famous examples of category creation are Airbnb, Uber, Tesla, and Netflix.
Scale-ups not only create a new market category, they establish a leadership position in it (“beachhead”). A leadership position in the beachhead segment means being established as the go-to solution in the segment. This often results from happy customers spreading the word about the company to other potential customers within the segment.
But how to get there? Most stall-ups opportunistically say “yes” to whomever wants to buy, but scale-ups say “no” to requests from customers outside the beachhead focus. This allows them to focus on highly specific customer needs, prune their product and tailor their value proposition and sales message. They first target lighthouse clients (i.e. bigger and established players in the niche), who can become potential references, so to use those references in marketing campaigns later on. They invest in spending significant amount of time with those prospective customers to identify their needs, before attempting to sell them anything. In B2B, this means understanding the customers’ strategy, performance and key challenges to personalize and optimize the offered solution.
4) Sell directly to the end customer, not through the chain
For scale-ups, in particular those in B2B, it is best to “sell direct”. Direct selling is a go-to-market strategy which involves direct interaction with the customers without any middlemen (wholesalers, agents, distributors, resellers, retailers). This means that the company’s sales representatives directly, and personally, approach customers to sell the product.
Why is that? Scale-ups are still in the beginning of understanding their customers’ needs. Only by going direct do they have the opportunity to listen to and learn about the customer, their background, their obstacles in becoming successful, what creates value for them, and, therefore, understand how they can help. This gives them the opportunity to adjust the product and service to the exact needs of the customer.
5) Exercise consultative selling, instead of pushing the product.
Most persons have many more problems and challenges than they could ever solve. So, the challenge for salespeople is to find out if the customer has not just a problem but a problem that is a real burning issue for the customer to spend time and money on the scale-up’s offering. For finding this out, the method of consultative selling was developed.
Consultative selling centers on initiating and bringing forward relationship by actively listening, understanding the other’s feelings and reading non-verbal communication. The ultimate goal is to use this discussion as a tool that helps the customer bring their needs to the surface and receive knowledge on a possible solution.
Consultative selling turns around the social dynamic of a sales meeting: from the salesperson being a talkative person promoting their product to being an investigator, asking in-depth questions and critically seeking to find out if the customer could benefit from getting in business with the scale-up. At the end of this meeting, the salesperson can honestly answer this question “Does it make sense to invest more time and effort from my side?”.
The consultative selling method consists of four types of questions, in the following sequence:
- Questions on getting to know the situation of customer, and whether the person/company has the right buying profile.
- Questions that uncover any difficulties or problems the person/company have, and which unmet gains can be identified.
- Questions on determining the implications of the problem; is it big enough to require a solution?
- Questions on unraveling what needs to be done to implement the solution (e.g. costs).
A scale-up knows it has successfully completed the consultative selling sequence if, at the end, it is the customer that asks the sales representative for the order, and not the other way around.
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