Grok the Customer

If you're in sales or marketing for a startup, you won't be successful until you understand your customer completely at a fundamental level. If you're a geek, you know this level understanding as "groking."

But, if you're not familiar with the term Grok, Wikipedia has the perfect definition for you:

Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man. - Robert A. Heinlein, 1961, Stranger in a Strange Land

Ok, that definition is a little overly sci-fi, but you get the point. It's a total and complete relationship understanding with something. To the point where you can have full empathy and connection without concious action.

When you represent a startup, everything is against you. You don't have brand recognition, you don't have amazing references, and you most certainly don't have the resources that large companies can provide their teams. The only advantage you can give yourself is to better understand your customers.

This is why startup founders are often the best salespeople for their company; they understand the customer, the market, and the product better than anyone else. There's a reason why they founded the company. They grok their customers because they likely were the archetypical customer at one point. It's easy for them.

But what if you're not a founder? How can you get to this level of understanding? It's not easy.

If you're going to grok your customer -- really understand them at a fundamental level -- you're going to have to completely immerse yourself in their culture. Read what they read. Do what they do. Attend their conferences, buy their books, build what they build.

After a while, you won't have customers anymore. You'll have peers and friends who use what you make. That's what makes the difference.

It's not easy. Not many people are willing or able to go to that length. But, if you're with a tiny upstart product, it's the only advantage you have. But, if you truly care about your product and your customers, it won't be hard. You're probably on your way there already.