We all know that you should provide a demo of your product to interested customers. This is a way to build trust and, of course, show if your product matches the customer's expectations. But is a product demo enough? What if you're a consultant? What if you are the product? How do you make a "feature-complete" demo of the product and yourself (as a company)? Testimonials and a gallery of finished projects won't tell the whole story. Well, we hit one solution by accident.
Originally, we started an open-source project (app-engine-patch) because we wanted to build a community that would share their work around the App Engine platform. Since we wanted the community to grow fast we tried to reply to all mails and bug reports really fast. In the end it was mostly me answering newbie questions and quickly fixing bugs as they got reported.
Soon, people started asking me if they could pay me to work on their project. This was unexpected because it wasn't our goal. They said they were excited about my fast "support" for app-engine-patch, which I did for free. These people came to me because they liked my work and trusted me. Basically, the open-source project became a simple "demo" of not only my code, but also myself. It's more than testimonials. People in the community get to know you, so you stop being a stranger behind a website. This can change the whole relationship with your customers. It doesn't have to be focused on price, anymore. It can be built around trust. Compare this to doing work on Elance, for example.
We can see something very similar happening around end-products. Companies have started watching social communities for happy and unhappy users and publicly react to their messages. Those companies demo their support by tapping into existing communities, so when potential customers try to find out about a product they could also stumble upon that company's public reactions and get a more complete impression of what they can expect.
What we've learned is that especially as a "small fish" you should increase trust by providing not only a demo of your product/service, but also by showing what it's like to be your customer. Help people in related communities for free and also build your own community to demo yourself more effectively. This helps you get beyond price as the primary factor of your business relationships. Obviously, this process takes time and discipline, so don't expect it to be easy.
You might also like:
- Fascinate: How to make your products/services more desirable with emotional triggers (trust, lust, alarm, mystique, prestige, power, vice)
- Inbound Marketing: How to use social media to build a community around yourself and your products
- Mixergy interview with Luke Burgis from Fit Fuel (now AllStarHealth). There's a link to the raw transcript at the bottom of the page. In particular, the part about screwing up is interesting.