Press is not Traction

When we launched Distil, none of the founders had any enterprise sales experience. Jonathan knew the VC funding landscape, Steve knew the training and certification world, and I knew the technology. Our go to market strategy relied heavily on generating buzz among the markets we knew. That buzz, we reasoned, would translate into sales. Let me tell you now, press is not market traction. Winning awards and kudos does not bring in sales.

Steve led the campaign for the hearts and minds of the training world. We attended 2-3 trade shows a year, had a booth on the exhibition floor, presented 1-2 talks at the conference, and ran contests. I guess we did an OK job because we won a couple of “Best in Show” awards for our products. We received positive coverage from several training journalists and were invited to submit guest editorials in some of the leading periodicals.

But none of that translated into sales.

Without sales, we fell back on the awards, articles, and positive buzz as proof of traction. We talked about this great traction with every one that would listen — investors, journalists, customers. Plastered our web site with banners and logos announcing our success — “Winner! Best in Show!” Still nothing. Zero sales came from this activity.

What generates sales? Talking to potential customers. Listening to their problems. And then helping them solve those problems. Press coverage and awards may feel good, but they do not lead to meaningful conversations.

I see many startups trying to convince others that press is the same as market traction. Their websites are full of links to news articles or logos of press outlets that have covered them. “We’ve been featured on ABC, FOX News, and TechCrunch!” That is not traction — customers are traction. Show me the logos of your customers. Great your can get someone to write about you, but can you convince a small business to part with their money?

With our next company, we are deliberately eschewing the press, awards and the deafening echo chamber of social media. All of our attention is focused on winning customers. Anything that takes time away from that is considered superfluous. We have only one measure of success — how many customers are paying for our product.

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