STARTUP

Are You a Painkiller or a Vitamin?

Before you talk to even one customer, know the answer to this crucial question. And prepare accordingly.
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The idea has germinated and some code has been written--you’re confident that your business idea has enough shape to be shown to a few customers and friends. Maybe this is day five, or maybe it’s month five. At any rate, you are now ready to take your work outside of the safe confines of your office.

So, what are you going to tell these potential customers? Please, don’t just give them the demo and “see what happens next.” Your meeting has to have a point.

You give it a point by figuring out who you are. I like to view it through this lens: Is your product a painkiller or a vitamin? The differences are critical to establishing your baseline messaging. First meetings, like first impressions, can set a critical tone going forward.

The Painkiller

A painkiller is a product or service that solves a business problem. Painkiller discussions, then, tend to look back. They start with probing questions, including:

  • Do you have the pain?
  • How big is the pain?
  • Do you want to lessen the pain?
  • What have you done to address this pain in the past?
  • How much have you spent on pain relief?

 Your entire talk track needs to be about producing answers to these questions. Why? Because if you don’t ask the questions in some form, your potential customers might not even understand that they have a problem. And that makes you unnecessary. If your customers don’t recognize the pain and want to make it go away, a demo of your wonderfully conceived solution will kill your meeting.

The Vitamin

A vitamin is a product or service that juices some segment of a customer’s business. So vitamin discussions are more of a look forward, and the relevant questions could be:

  • Do you have enough leads for your campaign?
  • Is your website converting enough visitors?
  • Is your management team communicating effectively?
  • Are you leveraging your assets across key selling channels?

Vitamins inspire you to dream of better days. They are innately positive; they send you down “what if” talk tracks.

That’s fun, but it has a danger of its own: A vitamin is more a want-to-have than a need-to-have. And it can be hard to sell something that a buyer merely wants. That’s why your questions need to be designed to reveal everything possible about your potential customer’s strategic goals. Ultimately, it will always come down to the question of whether your solution fits their needs.

So, what are you--a painkiller or a vitamin?

 

 

Last updated: Nov 20, 2012

CHRIS HEIVLY | Columnist | Managing Director

Chris Heivly was a co-founder of MapQuest (sold to AOL for $1.2B), sole managing director of 77 Capital (a $25 million venture fund) and has been an executive at five software companies. He is currently one of two Managing Directors of The Startup Factory, a seed investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year. In addition to TSF, Chris is the founder of the Big Top Job Fair and a national writer and speaker about startups and startup communities.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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