Why? Because it’s easy to find out what they want – they tell you! Here’s part of an email I got from a potential customer today (used with permission):
So what exactly (in detail) do you do for me? Answer the phone? Test the software? Talk to investors? Save me time?
These aren’t unusual questions for a consultant to get. They are more blunt than usual, and they came very early in the conversation with this potential customer. I like that. I know exactly what she wants – she wants to not waste her time, on me, or on others.
So I responded:
Yes, in fact I can answer the phone for you, if that’s what you want, and if that is how you want to spend your money. I answer the phone for one customer now (when they have elevated support issues). I don’t have a problem with that. I actually like talking to customers. It would be stupid for you to pay me to answer every call you get (and if you ask me to, I’ll tell you that). But if you insist on paying my rate to answer the phone, I will. And I’ll be quite good at it.
I can test your software, or write a test plan. In some cases I can even write some test utilities and scripts. It really depends on your application and environment. Generally I am better at finding you qualified test resources that are more affordable and focused on testing than I am. I have managed testers for customers before – that might be a better use of your money.
I talk to investors every week – either people I am talking with about my own projects, or those that want to talk about my customers (my customers always arrange these talks – I do not talk to investors about a customer without the customer approving/initiating it). I’ve been talking to investors big and small for over 6 years. I understand pretty much what they want to know (what is unique here, how quickly could it be replicated, what is the Achilles’ Heal, what would make it better, how can it fail, how big can it get, and who will buy it) are all pretty common questions regardless of the business type. I won’t lie to them, but I’ll do my best to highlight your positives and minimize your negatives.
Can I save you time? That’s hard to say – everyone is different. I know some of my customers spend a lot more time on the phone with me then they intended to. Perhaps in that case I am wasting your time – unless you find the conversation useful. Some customers turn Program Management over to me almost immediately so they can focus on what they are good at. But the truth is, in my experience most of the people I deal with are Founders of startups – and by nature they are
control freaksvery hands on. I can save you time if will let me.
Of course it was a much longer email, so don’t think she was a pain in the butt or anything – she isn’t. But in this section of the email she was blunt enough that I understood her – she had specific concerns/questions. And in context of the whole email, my responses weren’t as glib and arrogant as they sound here.
45 minutes after sending the response I got an email back from her with an enclosure. The enclosure was a PDF of a fully executed agreement. The only text in the email was, “Do two things – save me time, and save me money. And make sure you tell me if I am wasting either”. Blunt. I love it.
In emails following the one quoted above I did get approval to write this blog post, although she didn’t see the exact text before it was published. But I don’t write anything about customer’s unless they tell me I can – so I wanted her approval.
Anyway, long rambling post, but here’s the key take away: If you don’t clearly tell people what you want your chances of getting it are almost zero. Especially as the CEO or founder of a business – you owe it to your staff (and/or your idea) to make your best effort at success. Don’t be bashful. You don’t have time for that. And don’t worry about wasting my time or hurting my feelings – I would prefer you were blunt and we move things along quickly. My time is money too.