Tips for Tech CEOs to grow their business in uncertain times - Part 5: Surprise

Value PropositionThis is the fifth in a series of short inspirations to help tech-entrepreneurs weather the uncertain times and come out stronger as a consequence. 

In the previous posts, we’ve discussed four core criteria to make an impact in uncertain times: Sniper focused segmentation and positioning, a strong ability to cut through the noise, and finally, making your offer a no-brainer. But that just the beginning. Up to now, we have focused on doing the essential: Eliminating waste so your business can focus on delivering its best work, to an audience that’s most ready for it, to make a difference worth making a remark about. Now we switch to doing the part that makes people talk about you. And one way to do that is by doing the unexpected i.e., surprise.

Remarkable software businesses don’t stop by being crystal clear and making their offer hard to resist. They know their momentum grows when people talk about them, not because you (contractually) ask them, but because they want to. This works for them in good times but possibly works even better for them in times of crisis. It goes back to the power of trust: In times of crisis, trust erodes – we shrink ourselves, are more protective, risk-averse, and only trust our inner-circle – our peers and friends. But once a peer shares his positive experiences, we listen – and often act.

That’s where the power of surprise comes in. Surprise is subtle though. It’s only a surprise if it’s not expected. Surprise is extra. It’s a gift. Ideally of course the surprise is part of the DNA of your product already. How to achieve that is what I spend much time on in my book ‘The Remarkable Effect.’ Making surprise part of your DNA creates a strong foundation to stand out. An example that illustrates this is from Senzing. Jeff Jonas, its CEO, told me how their design goal to make their product (Entity Resolution) ‘dissolve under your tongue’ has become the fuel for their momentum. “We’re not really marketing. It’s kind of interesting; customers and partners that are interested in our technology are finding us, and the customers that are using our software are telling others about it. So right now, it’s kind of all word of mouth and referrals. It’s fascinating. I really had anticipated having to spend a significant amount of money for people to be able to discover us, but I’ll tell you, more and more people are just showing up.”

If surprise isn’t part of your product DNA yet, it doesn’t mean you’re too late or that you can’t adjust rapidly. On the contrary, the good thing about ‘surprise’ is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot or take much time to create either. We only have to be open to embrace it. We know our customers best; we know what they value; we know what they hate, and we know what’s the norm in our industry i.e., all the familiar things our competitors are doing as well. That’s a powerful spectrum to play with to find areas to surprise. And to get you going, here are a couple of things you could consider:

1.    Revisit what your customers fear or hate most, and then do the oppositeRitse Klink, Co-founder and CRO at Beezy, shared with me how they are making it easy for their customers to move to their solution by including free deployment services in addition to offering flexible payment terms. This surprising extra helps their customers shorten their time to value considerably, which is a welcome and unexpected benefit when the heat is on. 

 Another example is coming from Sachin Dev Duggal, CEO of, one of my podcast guests. Their Builder Care service is all about creating ‘peace of mind,’ as it “proactively updates your app so you’re never blindsided by 3rd party changes that could easily bring it all down. Even if that means an app needs to be totally rebuilt.”

2.    Where can you create savings, because you are creating savings as well? 

 An example to take inspiration from is what the insurance business is doing: Simply because people drive their car less due to the crisis, they now give rebates. 

This is not all charity work – insurance companies are seeing the upsides as well due to the fact they see a significant dip in claims. But that’s not the point. The point is to see the opportunity and use it to make a difference for your customers – a surprising difference.

3.    Remove the word ‘marketing’ from your vocabulary, and replace it with ‘a helpful conversation’ as Bernadette Jiwa coined. You are the expert. You know what your customers are doing to survive and thrive in this period. Just think whom you can surprise today by sharing some of that wisdom. So who can you call today to have a helpful conversation?

 Be creative – Surprise is a subtle thing. A simple call can do miracles. Everyone can do that. 

 On another note – consider this: Together, we are stronger – that’s why I established the Remarkable Effect tribe for Tech-Entrepreneurs-on-a-mission. If you are such a tech-entrepreneur, on a journey to do something big and meaningful: you’re invited. Find your peers, explore new paths, test your assumptions, and sharpen your thinking. Become part of something larger than yourself, surprise more often and weather the storm together.