One of the hardest tasks—if not one of the biggest hurdles—for new companies is finding that first commercial client, especially the “big one.” You know the client that has the big name, the big reputation, and the big check attached to the deal. This potential customer is significant in terms of proving the credibility in the marketplace for the product and the business. How do you capture that first BIG, meaningful customer?
First and Foremost
The process of getting the first customer begins differently for every business, but there are commonalities. Each and every business gets someone to believe in them and their product; they become CREDIBLE to a key person who can ADVOCATE for them. The journey to capturing the first customer begins not with selling the product directly to the customer. It begins with developing the product and building a capable organization to deliver the product, then making an important connection to a person—not a nameless, faceless entity.
Connections to the Customer and Risk of Unknown Relationships
Success in capturing customers begins with connections made with your product meeting the needs of the customer through finding the right people to introduce the product and your business to the customer. Think about it; who do you do business with? The people you know nothing about, people you know, or people referred to you by people you know and trust? When are you going to take a risk? When the risk is calculated and based upon credible information provided by a trusted resource, or when technology is new, unknown, and you don’t know who you are doing business with (or if anything will work on any level)?
Let Me Introduce You To…
Think about how you do business on something as simple as keeping your car in repair. When you find a really good mechanic that you can trust with your car, your daughter’s car, your Mom’s car … wouldn’t you drive across town and miles out of your way to have him or her work on your car? Wouldn’t you vouch for his/her work and tell your friends about how great this mechanic is?
When you find a really great business that you are willing to invest in, work with, work for, or get involved with as an advisor, wouldn’t you do the same? If you are willing to lend your credibility to an organization, then think what effect that has. Now think what it can do for your business when you can get the same power and influence behind you from CREDIBLE people ADVOCATING for your product and business. That first customer, that first BIG customer, is so much closer than before.
Getting the Advocate
Where do advocates come from? You develop advocates through conscious effort and strategic, thoughtful action. Just as your product requires development, just as the business requires structuring, advocate relationships have to be grown. They are not one-way relationships. They are long-term and all about benefit. The purpose of finding and developing advocate relationships is to gain someone that can not only advise, but also provide critical introductions to key people and entities that you may not otherwise have access to.
Opening Doors and Creating Opportunities
The most successful advocate relationship I’ve experienced has been with a senior executive at a Global 100 company. His experience and insights, in addition to well placed “pushes” into limelight opportunities, have provided openings into venues and forums that would never have otherwise been presented. In the days when we worked for the same organization, things as simple as being included in tours of sites or working on special projects, and sitting in on critical management meetings as an “observer” provided entry into the inner circles and opened doors closed to others.
Capture the Customer: The Ability to Deliver
When you walk through opened doors, be prepared. The credibility conveyed upon you by the advocate must be upheld by what you are delivering—for both of your sakes. When others look around the room you’ve been invited into, you need to belong, and you get asked to stay based upon your ability.
So, the first customer comes from capability. Your capability based in the product you are developing, the credibility you have to actually develop and deliver the product. The first customer comes from combining that capability and credibility to become visible to your customer through making a connection. Then you are viable in the mind of that BIG customer, because you have a product that fills a need, and you can demonstrate that you know what to do and how to do it.
The Journey to Commercialization
The ability to achieve commercialization is a journey with many different routes. Each company takes a slightly different path and may have different scenery, detours, and stops along the way. The destination—the customers—may or may not be reached; it all depends upon the ability to fuel up, map the route, and keep the vehicle moving down the road. Finding a navigator, an advocate or two, to travel with you, can make the journey less challenging by having someone to help find the right roads to take and introduce you to people along the way.
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