I’ve been doing customer discovery interviews of Founders that start off with some demographic questions to place some context around the discovery questions that are the meat of the interview. It’s been interesting to hear the answer the Founder gives. Because it’s usually phrased in one of two ways: self-reflective in language that talks about the function of the company; or in customer-centric language that describes the market that the customer sits in.
Rarely are these two different views the same. Unless the Founder worked in the customer’s market and they now are offering something to assist that market. Why am I pointing this out? Because those of us in Tech too often fall into the trap of describing our company as a technology companies rather than in the market we serve. Describing ourselves as technology companies just sounds way more sexy to us.
To draw an example. A technology company that provides an eCommerce solution that sells clothing could answer the question in terms of saying they are an eCommerce company, but really should say that they are a Retail Clothing company. Or if online is their only channel, possibly an Online Clothing Retailer. The point being that eCommerce is just the channel that they use to reach the customer, but the focus should be on what type of clothes do they sell to who, and why people would want to buy from them. To be an eCommerce company is really to be a company like Shopify that provides an eCommerce solution to online retailers.
So why is this important? Because it shows that you have a real handle on “who“ the customer is and the value you are providing them. Ultimately your company will transcend the current technology, and be better equipped to ride the waves of upcoming disruptive changes in your industry. It is the core essence of your value proposition and branding positioning statement. Defining yourself in terms of your customer enables you to keep them front in center in all aspects of your business.
If you have this down pat then knowing how to describe your company falls out of it. Keeping to the example we’ve drawn. Our fictional founder could say… We are an Online Clothing Retailer. We provide funky millennials with the latest trends in casual clothing at a discounted price. Unlike the shopping mall store alternative, we allow customers to make their purchase anywhere on any device. Maybe not a million dollar business proposition, but you get the point.
So how do you make this mindset change? I believe that is all it is. It’s a change in mindset and a change in language. The best way is to focus on building a customer persona, learning the language of the customer, and describing yourself in their language. It’s moving around the desk and sitting beside the customer, rather than across from them. This type of change in perspective happened some time ago to educators who now often speak in terms of student learning rather than teaching. It’s slowly happening in medicine, where medical personal are being called health practitioners and the doctor’s office is changing into a family practice.
So the next time someone asks you what type of company you have. Think for a minute, and don’t describe your company features, describe the market you serve and value you bring to it.