The Entrepreneur’s Curse: Why Passion Can Be Dangerous for the Small Business Start-up

Most of the stories we hear about entrepreneurs are epic.  Silicon Valley rock stars, massively leveraged IPO’s, black turtle-necks and dazzling technology. But the truth is much more down to earth, because for the most part it’s really about people like you. Someone with a good idea and the passion to start what is hoped will become a successful and manageable small business. But be careful, because passion is powerful stuff.

Now, the entrepreneur can be defined as someone with a vision; someone who is willing to attempt the marshalling of resources that will transform that vision into a viable business reality. At the top of the list of characteristics for such a person is a total belief in that vision, an unfailing commitment to the myriad efforts involved, and a good deal of optimism to cope with the setbacks and unforeseen hurdles that will inevitably appear on their road to success.

Most entrepreneurs develop their vision based upon their own knowledge and experience. They can see - perhaps clearer than others - the need for this specific offering that they wish to bring to the market. They can see its many benefits and the value that it will deliver to prospective customers. And they are often right.

However, in far too many cases, the fire doesn’t light. Their target market stalls or refuses to buy. Yet the entrepreneur’s vision is still burning bright and secure in the viewpoint that the market can truly benefit from the offering. Too often though, and still with unfailing commitment and optimism, energy and resources are repeatedly expended in trying to convince their market to buy.

You will note several references to “vision” and “seeing”, and herein lies the entrepreneur’s curse – entrepreneurial myopia. Now, entrepreneurs would not be who they are without their unfailing belief in their vision, their passion and a fiercely focused optimism to strive towards their chosen goals. Yet these are also the characteristics that can prevent them from seeing the total picture, missing in fact the most important part of the picture - their prospective customers’ buying journey. They too often only see why their prospective customers should buy, without looking to understand how their customers buy, and even more importantly, why they don’t buy.

Because recent research with thousands of customers has shown that time and time again, most prospective buyers “get it”, they totally understand the offering and indeed the value it would deliver to them or their organization. They truly believe in the ROI equation and need no persuasion that an investment of $12 today could very well yield $20 in the near future. Yet despite their belief in the offering, they hesitate and/or fail to buy. So, what’s going on here?

In contrast to the seller, the prospective buyer does not share the same focus on just that one offering. They are looking at multiple, often overwhelming numbers of things that they could invest in. It comes as a surprise to many entrepreneurs that they aren’t simply competing against competitive offerings, but are competing for mind share and resources against a vast spectrum of alternatives including the easiest choice of all - status quo, doing nothing. And finally, they are also having to overcome the many implications that a potential customer must consider before purchasing their offering, indeed any offering. Implications such as change, risk, user-training; tangible and intangible factors that are perceived to be associated with the actual adoption of a new offering.

It is at this point that the entrepreneurial focus would be well advised to shift from “what they buy” to “how they buy”. To look past their own internal issues of positioning and selling their offerings, and look instead to the external reality of how their customers actually buy.

Developing a market in today’s world demands an intricate knowledge of exactly what the prospective customer needs to commit to the full course of the customer buying journey. And there’s some good news here, because that same research uncovered some illuminating revelations. It showed that when buying a particular offering within a particular market, buyers will exhibit a very similar buying behavior and will encounter very similar buying concerns. This then unlocks and opens the door for the decoding and mapping of the actual DNA of that buying journey. Once armed with this knowledge, a market engagement strategy can be developed that will help foresee, mitigate and manage all the hurdles that are sure to be encountered along the way. To realize investment in the offering, especially a potentially new offering, the customer must be supported throughout their buying journey. And any decisions they have to make or anxieties they may have cannot be ignored or trivialized.

The successful entrepreneur must switch viewpoint and see revenue generation from the outside-in. They have to broaden their focus, put themselves in the shoes of their prospective customers and see the world as they do. They may even have to temporarily put aside their passion in order to understand these internal factors, the friction points and roadblocks in each customer’s buying journey. However, once understood and a strategy developed, they can and should go back to that fierce belief, that natural state of commitment and optimism. It’s what makes things happen.


Authored by: Martyn R. Lewis

Martyn R. Lewis is an acclaimed business professional with a vast background in all aspects of revenue generation. He consults globally with Fortune 500 companies across 44 countries, in 17 languages, and his work has impacted over 85,000 sales professionals. His signature theory, the decoding of the Buying Journey DNA forms the underlying basis of his new book How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t