In the beforetime, before I started working in search engine companies, I had some direct customer relations. I didn’t think much about it back then, but I have great memories of the experiences I got from dealing with customers. I tend to be rated extrovert on personality tests, but if that’s true, I’m a conditional extrovert. Granted, I enjoy spending time with friends and socializing, but I’m also quite fond of sitting by myself in front of a keyboard. What I remember from that time was that I was always nervous before meeting the customers, but when we were face to face, everything was fine and I enjoyed their company as well as the learning experience.
During the last years, direct customer relations haven’t been that much of an issue. There was a time while I was working for FAST Search & Transfer that we had fairly regular conference calls with one particular customer. They had valuable deep web content that was unavailable to crawlers. We did a joint project between the two companies to make their content available to our web search index. This whole experience did not have much in common with a traditional customer-provider relationship. I have held training sessions and presentations internally over the years, but while I might be a little nervous before presenting to lots of people, it’s mostly just business as usual. In other words, no customer fronting experiences for me in almost 10 years.
Now that I’m bootstrapping a company, I have started talking to (potential) customers again. I am lucky enough to have a friend as pilot customer so it’s once again not a traditional customer-provider relationship. He is also talking to other potential customers through his network and gathers feedback. Getting that feedback and seeing that it mostly reflect what we expect is great, but I always learn new things whenever I talk to him. These things might seem obvious or minor to him, but it is important for us either for confirming our assumptions or showing that our assumptions are wrong.
As I mentioned in the beginning, I’m a conditional extrovert, but meeting customers again makes me realize that I have missed this. Presenting our plans to governmental institutions before applying for a grant and other potential future investors is fun. I’ll be the first to admit that I may be nervous before such presentations, but when the first page of the presentation is up and I start talking it’s more of a rush than anything else. Answering questions from customers and investors is fun too because I believe we are on to something. Moreover, we are talking about something that no one has told me to do. I am the one airing my thoughts to others and they react positively. It’s a great way of building confidence in yourself and what you are doing.
I remember another thing from the beforetime. A salesman in the company I worked for and I were working together at a trade fair when some potential future customers that he had briefly been in touch with before showed up. He talked them through the things we could do for them and generally spent some time discussing various alternatives with them. When they had left, he almost celebrated and said aloud to himself “I’m so good at this.” and he was. He was extremely good at what he was doing. For me, this was a great learning experience. I observed him during this seance and others and learned (I hope), but most of all I realized how big an energy rush you can get from good talks with customers.