• Danny Wootton

Seven Questions - Pitching Your Innovation To Customers

In the 1950s, Colonel Sanders would visit restaurants to sell them his chicken recipe. He'd walk in and proclaim to the owner: 'My chicken is better than yours!'

After countless cook-offs, nobody bought the recipe. One day, a bar owner took him to one side and told him: 'Listen, I'm trying to sell beer, not chicken. You need to make this saltier so customers will get thirsty'

The bar owner grabbed some salt, and took another bite. 'THAT'S more like it' he said,. Just add salt to this recipe and I'll take it'

At one time, if you bought a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken, it said on the side : 'When Colonel Sanders added the 11th spice, he instantly knew it was the best chicken he'd ever had'. It didn't mention the spice was salt.

So what does this have to do with innovation, pitching your solution to customers and seven questions?

Well, I've had a few roles now where I've been on the receiving end of hundreds if not thousands of pitches from companies both large and small. Some are great and hit he spot straight away. However many don't and this is usually because they either start with a request to understand my challenges or areas of focus, or it launches straight into an explanation of the company's technology. The former feels like the sales person has just come out of a sales 101 class, looking for a list of scenarios that they and position their solution against - any opportunity will do. The later is also frustrating but something I've been happy to work with them on. Having been an entrepreneur, I know its hard pitching to customers, so I've worked with them to understand their proposition.

My advice to any company looking to 'pitch' their solution to a customer, would be to think about how they answer the following seven questions

What problem are you solving or what new opportunity you are creating for me?

  • This is not what your solution does, but the end result that someone using your solution achieves. This could be cost reduction, increased or new revenue or more effective decision making, but you need to be able to articulate this.

What is your USP and against whom?

  • This is always a difficult one for companies to explain, and I understand that, but its not just a description of your solution, it explains why you are different to anything else in the market at a given time.

  • Its good to be able to explain who your competitors are and why you are different……without overtly criticising the competition. Assume I have met several of your competitors already, so you need to explain why you are different.

What are you doing that is really innovative?

  • Linked very closely to the USP, it is good to understand if and how you have innovated.

  • This doesn't always needs to be a technical innovation, it can be commercial or business model innovation, but thinking about your innovation will also help explain your USP

What is the level of maturity of your solution?

  • Can your solution be deployed now and if so at what scale

  • Do you have any existing customers. Its OK being if you haven't but its good to know, so you can manage risks and expectations.

  • How will you address training, any hardware needed, security, logistics, business change impacts and the other associated elements of implementing your solution.

How does it scale in terms of users / transactions?

  • What is the support model for your solution, and does that also scale.

  • Have you partnered with anyone to deploy or support at scale (you don’t necessarily need to do everything yourself)

  • Knowing that you have thought about these issues will give me confidence in your ability to deliver.

What is your commercial model?

  • How do I pay for your solution: per user, per core, an enterprise licence etc.

  • How much does your solution cost for an organisation like mine. Based upon the cost benefit, does it make sense for me to invest in your solution.

What is the cost benefit of your solution

  • Based upon the problem or opportunity, what is the size of the benefit you can create

  • This ideally needs to be something that is quantifiable as well as large enough to get my interest.

  • Don't forget that, unless you have something truly unique, I'll already have solutions in place that I have paid for and have people trained on. Your cost benefit needs to make it worth the cost and hassle of me replacing what I already have.

I appreciate that companies may not have an answer to every single question for every potential customer and it may need a discussion to tease some of the above out, but you need to go into meetings with a view of the above. Having an opinion and enthusiasm about what you are offering is really important.

You are probably thinking these questions are quite basic, but you'd be surprised how many companies trying to sell their solution cannot answer them.

For those of you who need a little help with creating or articulating your proportion, I would suggest taking a look at the Business Model Generation book by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, which explains how to use the Business Model Canvas which in turn will help you create a value proposition for your solution your own value proposition

Finally, as per Colonel Sanders, be confident about your proposition, but listen to the feedback you get from your customers. You don’t always have to follow it, as staying focussed on your target market is something your investors will want you to do, but don’t ignore it.

Feel free to share any techniques that you use to help develop your value propositions.

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