“If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse” – Henry Ford

In the age of the lean startup methodology and with B2B marketing on the rise, B2C is all about listening. I’m a big believer in listening to customers, investors, employees and fellow entrepreneurs but I’ve learned that it’s what you say during the customer discovery process that is crucial. Besides the fact that I just love Henry Ford’s quote, I have learned that you shouldn’t underestimate what you say in your first phone call, presentation and in fact every chance you get to talk about your little dream. You can and should educate yourself on new approaches to people.

One of the most important aspects of our customer discovery process (listening, listening, listening) was figuring out how to establish our market positioning, or rather whether we need to do this at all. Are we willing to do everything for the customer no matter what? And what do we say to future potential investors?

During the last few weeks I have been trying to figure out how and where we need to establish our market positioning and here is what I have learned:

Your tongue can be your best friend or your enemy

Our company is at a point where we are trying to find our first customers. Basically that means we will do almost anything in order to achieve this. I found that if you say: “Hey, pricing is not important, we will do everything for this to happen, just be our customers…” it then makes it very hard for us to charge money for our service.

For some reason, the customers are feeling they can do anything and we will agree. Don’t get me wrong, we will do anything but I found it is crucial to use the right semantics. I had a great talk with Ron, the CEO of The Gift Project where he emphasized the importance of using sentences like: “You are on of our 10 prospects for 2011, our algorithm has indicated that your site will have the biggest added value from our application…” I know it sounds a bit strange but it has made a huge difference.

Positioning is everywhere

Remembering your positioning in every situation is crucial. I’ve learned that in order for our company to be positioned the way we want, we need it to be part of the company’s DNA. When we talk — in board meetings, to reporters, customers and employees — we are repeating the same messages over and over again. What I have learned is that positioning is also in how your website looks, the look and feel of your presentation, business cards and everything the company produces.

For example I have been working with Ariel, the CEO of Kamplye on our one-pager to customers. This is the page designed for a middleman to pass along in an introduction mail to a future customer. The page has been changed 5-7 times and it is still not finished, we are continually rephrasing the message and changing the images because the initial impact is crucial.

Remember that positioning is what you say, how you say it, how you design and basically how you feel it is a key to success.

The line between cocky and not credible

It is quite challenging to maintain both a modest and credible position. Sometimes I think that I sound too cocky and people are not going to believe me. At other times I feel I am too modest and sound under confident. The line, which I need to be on, is a very very thin one and this is quite a challenge.

What I have found very helpful (again, thanks Ron) is being prepared. I listen to what people are saying and what they are asking. I’m preparing a bunch of answers to every question and I’m experimenting. Familiarizing myself with the best answers for every situation helps me to be confident and allows us to be positioned the way I see fit.

A belief is not true because it is useful

If I don’t truly believe what I’m saying, no one will. Don’t get me wrong, when you say to a customer you have 10 other companies in his/her field you are going after and you only have one or two, it is completely ok. You have to believe in the core essence of your message.

You need to believe in how your service will bring added value to the customer and why your company sales will increase dramatically. Whenever I say something that I don’t feel 100% comfortable with, it just doesn’t work. It is ok to try and be more appealing by using those ‘small white lies’ but the core message can’t be even 1% ‘not completely true’. I work on the assumption that most of the people I talk to are smarter and more experienced than I am so the only way to convince them is by absolute truth.

Customer discovery is all about listening but in order for people to give you feedback or agreement, they need to want to listen to you- that is what market positioning is about for us.