This post originally appeared in Inc.
Recruiting is one of my favorite parts of a leadership role. I enjoy meeting new people, learning about their backgrounds, and hearing about what they want to accomplish — and then seeing how that fits into where we are going as a company, and trying to find a great match.
At Invoca, where I’m CEO, I am generally the last interview in the recruiting process. As I’ve told several candidates, when you “get to me” the purpose of the discussion is not about ensuring you are the right fit for Invoca, but rather being confident Invoca is the right fit for you.
That got me thinking about what is unique about the career opportunity at Invoca and other startup companies like us, particularly in the fast-growing business-to-business space. I often talk to my old colleagues from Salesforce, and they ask about the biggest differences between my time there and my experience at a startup.
The two worlds are pretty far apart, but more of that is due to the nature and stage of the company’s development than anything truly company-specific. In fact, I often get the question, “What excites you about being in a new category like call intelligence?”
So I wanted to share my perspective for those looking at opportunities in emerging categories:
Riding momentum versus creating urgency.
There are subtle but important differences between disrupting an existing market with known buyers and fixed budgets and attacking a completely new category. In an existing category, the buying motion has a momentum of its own — independent of how you perform as a seller, the buyer typically has a budget cycle or contract renewal date that will drive their timing.
In contrast, selling in an emerging category is primarily a function of the momentum and urgency you create. There is a higher bar for crisply articulating the value your solution brings and quantifying those benefits. If you’re a basketball fan, I equate it to Stephen Curry making a pull-up 25-foot three-pointer in transition versus doing it coming off a pick, with a hand in his face. They’re both pretty hard (for most humans) — but one has a higher degree of difficulty.
Explaining concepts and drawing parallels.
Using the familiar to explain the unknown is a well established rhetorical method, and it works just as well in an emerging category sales process. You have to describe your product in a way that a buyer can understand, and ideally, with benefits that the buyer has already experienced firsthand. When we launched the Invoca Voice Marketing Cloud at our customer summit last October, I thought one of the most effective keynote slides drew a parallel between Invoca and more widely known digital marketing platforms like Salesforce, Adobe, and Oracle.
Every modern marketer understands that these products help personalize interactions, track data that is used to optimize campaigns and expand overall reach. By using familiar concepts and applying them to a new product, the pitch effectively became “Invoca does for voice interactions what those platforms do for digital interactions.”
Being in the market, day in and day out.
In mature categories, there is sufficient market data and competitive insight that you can largely run a product or business from “behind the desk.” While it might not be a wise approach, you always have the option of relying on analyst reports and third-party resources to guide your decision making.
In an emerging category, you have to immerse yourself in the world of your buyer or customer. There is no reliable source to tell you what is going on, no expert to validate or counter what you are seeing, and often no quantitative data on which to base your decisions. In this world, there is no substitute for the hard work of getting on a plane, visiting customers, and using your firsthand observations to reach a conclusion.
Emerging categories offer a unique opportunity — the question is whether that opportunity fits what you want to achieve and how you want to grow.