The 4 mental stages we undergo on the arc from incompetency to competency for a specific skill.
Marketing's Impact on Technology
Most promising technology startups fail.
What's the largest obstacle preventing so many technology companies from making it beyond promising startup?
I believe its a lack of marketing.
I’m in the fortunate position to know something about this. I’ve invented software products myself, but I was lucky enough to understand that despite the “brilliance” of my inventions, they would still need a serious marketing effort to produce prospects, convince them of my product’s usefulness to them, and then persuade them to become clients.
So why is that most tech companies don’t get this? It seems so basic. No matter how great your mousetrap is, the world’s B2B Buyers will not beat a path to your door unless they:
- Know your product/service exists
- Understand what it does and, more importantly, what it will do for them
- Feel that the price can be cost-justified. In other words, that they can show a reasonable Return On Investment (ROI) to the person who is going to sign the PO
- Believe your hype enough to take a risk on you and what you are selling.
I believe the reason most techie minded people don’t perceive the need for marketing is that their brains aren’t wired for this kind of thinking. Most techie minded people I know are anal, introspective and arrogant. Hoo boy; I can just hear the howls of protest on that one; but I include myself in this category so mea culpa.
Most inventors think they have built something extraordinary and that its benefits should be obvious to any one with half a mind. When they try to convince people of this fact, they most often describe the gadget’s features, as if that’s enough to convince a person of its potential ROI.
But I’ll take this even further: the more able and brilliant the techie is, the stronger these character traits become. And these are the precise opposites of the character traits needed to be a good marketer. To be able to market and sell something to someone else, you have to:
- Be sensitive to their needs – understand their headspace
- Talk their language – not just the one they speak, but the one they use to perform their job function
- Understand that, to the prospect, your product/service is simply the means to an end; it’s not the Raison d'être that it is to you
- Create trust in a person who mistrusts most people (B2B buyers are subject to scams and con-artists, too). You have to be charming, interesting to them and interested in them. This last one can be especially challenging for those techies who think of demos and explanations to lay folks as a duty
- Know that people always have other choices – again something the inventor of a paradigm-shifting technology often doesn’t understand.
It's not just the mindset that's different – it's the knowledge that it has to be different; that a different kind of thinking is required. I think most tech-minded inventors are very smart people, and if they read this article on Wikipedia, they would understand that they, too, could be marketers. It suggests that humans progress through 4 stages while traversing the arc from incompetence to competence in a specific skill: Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence. Thus we, most of us, can learn new skills. But to decide whether to learn something or not, you have to want to learn it, appreciate the effort it will take to master it, and understand its value to you. To an engineer or scientist, the fuzzy pseudo-science on which they assume marketing is based reduces this value to near zero. The effort needed to traverse the arc from useless to wizard is significant: for most tech-startup entrepreneurs, it's too much for too little return.
“What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know; it's what we know for sure that just ain't so”
And so these really smart, driven people make a fatal error I could list examples of startups that failed because they did not create suitable marketing strategies or setup marketing functions. But instead I will simply quote Mark Twain: “What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know; it's what we know for sure that just ain't so”. The high tech startup executive who thinks she's the only person in the world who understands her invention, and is thus the only one in the world who can sell it is following Twain's advice carefully. Marketing? Who needs it?
No matter how brilliant a paradigm shift you dream up, no matter how incredibly useful your device or service is, before a person will buy it, he or she must be convinced of its bottom line impact: Its ROI to their business. And if your marketing doesn’t allow him or her to calculate this, your company, too, will be on that list of the next promising startup to fail.
If you don’t know how to market your service/device – get some help. Give us a call – we aren’t all equipped with two different ways of looking at the world.
Bit-by-Bit # 64, from Eric.