The risk of being dead right

In order to be a great salesperson and/or a great entrepreneur, you have to have conviction.  You have to believe in your own vision, and in your own ability to execute on that vision if you have any chance of success

When I was in my first start-up, I had a particular vision for my product and my company.  I had a particular vision of the design of my software, and exactly how it would and should work.  I had ideas about how it should be priced, and how it should be sold.  Turns out… I was wrong on nearly every one of these points to a particular degree – but the great news is, as a sales person at heart, making the necessary modifications to my thinking, my product, my pricing, etc. was not a hard chore for me.  I found no shame in adapting my product and my company vision over what I learned from the marketplace.

As I engage with more and more non-sales minded entrepreneurs, I find it interesting in how these people think about the market, and how they should react to it.

Its great to have a vision – and to believe you are going to change the world, but more often than not… you are going to be wrong.  Whether or not you succeed is going to hinge very much on your ability to react and adapt to these things when you are wrong.  And… more often than not, its your sales team that will hand you the critical information to make the right decisions.

Yet… what I see often, is entrepreneurs sticking to their plan – sticking to their vision – in such a way as to be obstinate – and its extremely frustrating to the sales team and its most certainly a recipe for failure.  I call this syndrome:  “dead right.” When you are dead-wrong, it usually means that you are so incorrect in your thinking that it leads you to your demise.  Dead-right is exactly the same thing.  It means that while you may be 100% sure that your vision will change the world, and you may be 100% right that this is the way your product should work and be sold, you fail in the mean-time by not being able to react to your market.  You can stand by your convictions, and sometimes you win, but more often than not, you will fail.  What’s more important – being right on everything or being able to survive long enough to deliver your ultimate solution?

When I work with an entrepreneur, I usually can understand their vision, and I can typically see where it is they want to go with the market.  Then, we get started selling their solution.  What typically we find out is that the market thinks about things differently.  Entrepreneurs who work with the sales team to figure out to take slight detours on the path to success, usually find better adoption and growth.  And sometimes we aren’t even talking about a deviation from product vision – but instead a reaction to HOW the product is sold.

For example, a while ago I had two clients that I was working simultaneously.  One, was very market driven.  He had a vision of where he wanted to go with his product and how he saw the world changing.  We worked together closely, and with each sales win and sales loss, we adapted the product and pricing in ways that would make it more sale-able, but wouldn’t compromise too much the ultimate direction.  This entrepreneur was never at risk of being dead-right, and we never lost a sale due to this factor.  We changed and adapted from a large ticket annual price, to a per-user fee, to a monthly all you can eat model, and everything in-between as we learned about the market and what and how people wanted the product.  This entrepreneur is now running a very profitable company.

The second entrepreneur was a very technical entrepreneur and looked at every sales problem as an engineering equation.  He also refused to bend in his thinking about how the product should be sold, and how it should be delivered.  In a pure sense, I think that his vision was correct, and would have loved it if the prospects would have just bought into the vision because they would have benefitted in the long-run, but they just wouldn’t do it.  I could not get him to bend.  For nearly 9 months, sales lagged, and the company struggled.  Finally in despiration when it looked dire for the company and I was nearly ready to give up myself on him, he agreed to try some of my thoughts out, and suddenly we started making sales.  Now the company is doing very well and is back on its original trajectory to delivering the solution in the way that they always wanted to deliver it.

The second entrepreneur came very, very close to being dead-right.  How many don’t make that last final desparate change, or leave enough runway to be able to make those changes?  The entrepreneur and the sales team have to work together to find the ways that the product can sell, and get it sold.  Its so sad to see entrepreneurs that are SO close to success and they can’t see it because they are so stuck on their idea of what should happen, that they can’t get outside themselves to find out what the market needs.  That is what the sales team is for so use them for it.

I know I will get flamed in the comments telling me how people like Steve Jobs stuck to their vision regardless of what the world told them and they changed the world.  Yes, this is mostly true but 99% of entrepreneurs out there are not Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Case, Mark Zuckerberg, or any of these exceptional people and there are more stories of people who stuck to it and failed than those that stuck to it and won.  (And… I would even argue that these people reacted to their markets as well in their path to success.)  So if you really, really believe you are the next person on this list, then by all means risk being dead-right – but understand that it is a very big risk.

Better bet?  Listen to your market and adapt.