This week I was invited to speak on a disruptive technology panel. I thought about what being disruptive actually means, and what the keys are.
Your Disruptive Technology Has to Work
Whatever the nature of your disruptive product or service, if it doesn’t work, it’s dead on arrival. This is important for any technology, but even more so if it’s positioned as disruptive. The market will be naturally suspicious of a deal that is “too good to be true”… overpromising and under-delivering will confirm that suspicion. Don’t ever sacrifice fundamental quality, even if it means toning down your offering a bit. Focus on value, not glitz. Which brings us to…
Your Disruptive Technology Must Offer Compelling Value
Value is so much more than just price. Price is only one dimension of cost – the other major one being complexity. Offering the same technology at a lower price positions you as a discounter, not a disruptor. Ask yourself this simple question: even if your competitor gives away their technology, does yours still cost less to implement? That’s a good indication of compelling value. Examples may be software products that require less resources, so that even if given away, the competition still needs more expensive infrastructure to deploy. Another good example is technology that is faster and easier to implement – leading to less expensive deployment and operations. Sell value, and sell time to value. This will help you down the road…
You Must Have Plenty of Energy…
…to create and sell disruptive technology. Chances are, you will face entrenched, well financed competition. These companies have an enormous investment in status quo, and will do everything they can to stop disruption. If there are multiple large competitors, they’re likely selling the same general technologies with only minor variations. A major paradigm shift that forces them to react is poisonous to them. At first they will ignore you, until you start seeing traction. Then they start playing dirty – FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) is their initial weapon of choice. This occurs “on the street”, directly in accounts. These larger players will not acknowledge you directly, but expect their salespeople to scare your customer prospects, even if they have to lie to do it. “They’re too small”… “They can’t do what they say they do”… “There are hidden costs”… etc. Sometimes these attacks are well orchestrated, devised at the corporate level despite their seedy delivery. The best defense is to continue to demonstrate value, treat each customer as if your life depended on it, and stand behind your commitments. Honesty and willingness to partner with your customer, rather than dictate your offering, are your best bets here. Expose the dishonesty behind the FUD.
Once you get a bit more traction, the gloves really come off. Your large competitors will try to steal customers by giving away their technology. Remember the true measure of value? This is where it really counts. In fact, resist the urge to discount your offering, but still show compelling value. This is your finest hour. Make it so blatantly obvious that your customer prospect can easily articulate your value proposition themselves, even in the face of your competition giving away their wares. Sure, you will likely lose some accounts here, especially in very price sensitive markets. But chances are, they’ll be back. Make sure you are there to capitalize once they see the light.
What happens next? Your competition starts to copy your offerings. The time they bought fighting dirty means they could develop something a bit more competitive. This is where you really need to light the afterburner. Continue to out innovate them so even if they copy what you had yesterday, you are still one step ahead. But don’t compromise your core values, or forget what got you to this point.
To be disruptive, you have to sell technology that works, offers compelling value (not just lower price), and continues to set the standard in the face of fierce competition. Most of all, you must have the will to “fight the good fight”, no matter how ugly things get. Just remember that victory tastes even sweeter when you have to crawl through the mud to win.