Now more than ever, communicating the value of your technology is a game of soft skills.
I have been working in the software business for more than 20 years, and I have never seen anything like the impact the coronavirus is having on the world. Governments are rattled. Businesses are fighting for their lives. And everyday people are wondering what the future holds for them and their loved ones.
Especially if you are a business owner, then right now you are thinking hard about how to keep your company moving in a positive direction.
If there is one thing I have learned throughout my career, it’s that no matter how advanced technology gets, it always requires a human explanation. The person on the other side of the table needs to be able to see how what you’ve built can help them and make their day better. And especially given the current condition of our world, software companies are going to need to be even more specific about how their technologies can be helpful to the people are they selling to.
If you can communicate the problem you’re solving, explain the positive business impact, and how it helps lower their daily grind, you’re in business.
And if you can’t, then you’re going to have a hard time getting customers.
As much as the world talks about how software is automating the planet, I still believe there are a handful of soft skills that tech entrepreneurs will continue to need well into the future.
Here are 5 that have served me well throughout my own career:
1. Before engaging with a client, you need to do some homework and understand (at least at a public level) the core functions and purpose and their business.
What do they do? What do they care about? Do you know someone who has worked there or with the company before?
This isn’t exactly rocket science, but it’s a mistake a lot of firms and individuals end up making. They don’t look for personal ways to relate their technologies back to the client’s unique situation.
Especially if you’re talking with senior C-level management, you always need to make sure you have context around your conversations. You need to be speaking directly to the client’s specific pain points to make your products more relevant to their individual situation. You need to have enough awareness to spot new use cases for your technology to be used by different customer segments. And you need to be able to “speak their language,” to truly demonstrate how your technology can help them.
2. Flexibility and a willingness to adjust is important, but what you don’t want is one or two clients driving the growth strategy of your business.
There’s no “one correct way” to build a technology company.
For example, some technology companies build custom software for a very small handful of very large enterprise companies, and as a result, all their revenue comes from two or three clients. Others build software for one client, see an opportunity to turn one very specific function into a standalone product, and then end up selling that niche product to 100,000 customers with zero customization.
Neither of these approaches is right or wrong. However, what’s important is that you make the decision consciously—and not make the mistake of trying to be everything to everyone. Otherwise, clients that expect individual customization are going to be disappointed, and customers expecting blanket solutions are going to be confused by the versatility of your services.
3. Look for timely situations where you can very clearly show how your product could exponentially help the client’s business.
The best time to present a solution is the moment someone realizes they have a problem.
For example, the types of work we do for companies at Reveille typically has to do with content management and security. Security is one of those things most people are taking seriously, and it usually takes some sort of threat for them to understand why it’s so important to take a proactive approach (as opposed to reactive). For us, this means pointing things out that may lead to a problem down the road and educating the client on the threat—such as a wide variety of third parties accessing or sharing vaulted information within the business. And furthermore, the impact of that information either being slowed down (e.g. a mortgage lender or car dealer not processing document requests fast enough, leading to the end customer taking their business elsewhere).
4. Communication and active listening are crucial soft skills to understand the wants and needs of each client.
You can’t walk into every single meeting the same way.
One of the most under-discussed skills in business is “active listening.” This means asking open-ending questions that get the other person talking and sharing their own wants and needs as opposed to you telling them what your product does and assuming it’s going to resonate. During the discovery process, your number one job should be to clarify how the client/company you’re talking to prefers to communicate, what depth of information they would like to process verbally, and what information they would prefer to see in a follow-up email or video.
Especially in technical sales organizations, management is usually more interested in the business benefits and the problem you’re trying to solve before they are product features and things of that sort. So before you start going on and on about product specifics, it’s best to understand whether their preliminary question is even product-specific to begin with.
5. Conflict resolution, and the way you treat every client (big or small), should be universal.
I am a firm believer that it doesn’t matter who you’re working with, if something goes wrong, it’s your responsibility to help them fix or at least help identify the problem quickly and effectively even if the root cause is not in your realm.
Especially if you’re a small business, the way you handle issues and the speed of your response can be a big differentiator. When anyone is in a challenging situation, they want to talk to someone they believe can impact the resolution of the issue. And second, they want someone to hear their concerns because, chances are, whatever issue they’re facing is causing their own customers or partners to come down on them. Your client might just need a place to vent. But I’ve always found that if you can look past the present moment, and give them what they need (in the way they see value from your organization), the situation becomes a long-term net positive and builds a very strong business relationship.
For example, I remember one time I was getting on a plane in Europe, and I got a management call. I could tell from the person’s voice they were really struggling and needed our help. So, we stepped in, had calls back and forth on the flight until it was resolved, and it ended up being a straight forward fix. In moments like those, it’s all hands on deck—and not a time to go back and look at the contract to pick apart what you’re responsible for and what you aren’t.
This is an opportunity for you to show your client, human to human, what you stand for, and what the business relationship means to you—which usually ends up being priceless.