Ask for money – and you’ll get advice. Ask for advice – and they’ll give you money.
In this podcast, we focus on asking for advice and building relationships between those who ask and those who give advice. In this short talk, Bolek Drapella would like to share his views on this matter, based on his experience of building up sales and businesses. If seeking others’ advice looks like like helplessness?
In today’s podcast, let’s focus on asking for advice and building relationships between those who ask and those who give advice. An attitude that I often come across, especially among the founders of new businesses (where there are no fully-developed sales processes or competencies), is that asking for advice is a sign of weakness. Since we are asking, we can’t be fully professional, our product or service must be incomplete and that’s why we have to ask others how things should work.
In this short talk, I would like to share my views on this matter, based on my experience of building up sales and businesses. Seeking others’ advice doesn’t expose our helplessness. It’s a symptom of maturity and determination to understand the challenges that we and our customers are about to face. There is a saying I like to quote in this situation, which I fully adhere to: ”Ask for money – and you’ll get advice; ask for advice – and they’ll give you money”.
A WAY TO TAILOR YOUR PRODUCT TO THE NEEDS
This motto is relevant not only in the investor – startup relationship, where founders seek financing. It’s also true in the sales-type relationships when, trying to sell our product or service, when are uncertain if the problem solved by our product does actually satisfy customer’s needs. Or, alternatively, our service or product is a potential solution to a range of problems, but not all of them are equally important to all the customers. Imagine a service or product having 10 key components of and only 3 of them are essential to a given customer. If we don’t learn which components really matter to him, there is a chance that we start our sales meeting by presenting 5, 6 or 7 features that don’t interest him and he will lose interest before we get to the 3 aspects that might sell our product. However, if we begin by asking him what his needs, problems or challenges are, we might get to the point in just a few sentences and present the 3 components that exactly address his needs.
WHICH QUESTIONS WORK
Once we convince ourselves that asking questions does work, it’s useful to remember about open and closed questions. The more open the question, the greater the chance the answer is more informative than the asker expected. On the other hand, closed questions receive only yes/no answers, which does not add much to our knowledge about the customer. Yes/no questions might help us characterize the type of the customer or his problem but will not help us get the broader picture.
LEARN WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO KNOW – QUESTIONS IN DISGUISE
A very good way to disguise the fact that questions are being asked at all is to ask our customer for advice. Apart from being a great way to learn his understanding of our product, it is also a way to acknowledge his professionalism and invite his opinion as a partner. These requests for opinion, advice or expert support often naturally evolve into sales situations. This is by all means desirable. Firstly, the customer’s problems are better defined by himself and secondly, the partnership situation enhances addressing his needs with a well-targeted and fine-tuned solution. Not knowing the customer’s needs beforehand is not unprofessional. If we don’t ask the potential buyer, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to know if the solution we have is any good for him. The conversation might show that it’s not what he’s looking for, so why waste his and our time trying to sell a bike to a fish.
SELL YOUR CUSTOMERS’ OWN DREAMS
Asking for advice or opinion, especially at the early stage of product formation and its market adjustment, gives an opportunity to shape our product before we actually get to building it. It allows us to start selling at the stage of customer research. Not selling in the sense of receiving an order and dispatching it on getting a money transfer, but building up the saleability of something that there is a demand for. With high probability, the feedback we get in dozens of such conversations will only help us develop things better suited to our customers’ real needs.
THE TRAP OF SELF-CONCEIT
It’s also possible that the experts in a given business sector, while building another product, skip the stage of customer research at all. They think they know better. Nothing could be more wrong. For the first thing, this negligence will cost them a missed opportunity to establish a future sales relationship and to deliver a customer-guided, customer-specific product. Also, it will cost them a possibility to publish their consultant’s opinion (with his consent, of course) on the producer’s website, in marketing and sales channels of the product, once it is ready. There will be no leverage of the potential customer’s experience, know-how, brand or position to boost the product in its testimonials. How testimonials work, can be seen in the film or book industry. The customers, being potential distributors and publishers, not having watched or read a new piece yet, rely on expert opinion formed at film festivals or book fairs. In the same way, at early stages of product or brand development, renowned reviewers’ testimonials of prototypes or early models may rightly and successfully support marketing processes.
FLATTERY WILL GET YOU THERE
There’s one more context in which the strategy of asking for advice works. We all know how allergic we can get to sales representatives. It is mainly because they tend to push products on us without even asking what we need, wasting their energy and our time. If only they knew how flattered we would feel if they put us in the position of business buffs who can enlighten them on a given sector or type of customers. We would be pleased to help shape or customize their product and we would gladly become their ambassadors and allies in the future.
I do encourage you to talk with your existing and potential customers, ask what they think and recommend and use this feedback to improve and target your product or service. Don’t dwell on your own convictions, no matter how long you have spent in the business. Be curious to know what your potential customers want you to know.
Come one, ask your potential customer for some advice. Today.
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