The most powerful asset in business.
You don’t want a product looking for a market.
A wise Executive mentor told me — repeatedly — that what you don’t want is a product looking for a market. You want a market looking for a product. You want a market with a dire need. You want a market agitated with a problem. That’s what you want. So, what does that mean? That means what we need to do first is observe people. Observe groups of people, ask them questions, listen and document their answers. We’re figuring out what people want. Or, at least, what they say they want.
Typically, the best way to do this isn’t necessarily to ask them. This is the tricky part. The best way to do that is to look at historical sales data — what have they proven to buy through historic purchases. This is finding out where the money’s going. (I always like to imagine a big stream of cash flowing through the air magically toward a building or an individual product that is selling like hot cakes. This is the money flow. Money’s got energy. Don’t forget that!)
We need to find out where the money’s going by finding out what groups of people are already spending their money on. Then, we need to step into it.
Where a lot of Entrepreneurs, sales & marketing pros, and product managers go wrong is they grab a little bit of market data — by innocently asking whether people in the market would buy XYZ product — and then forge ahead with a tiny data set “proving” that people want this.
“Well, they said they wanted it…! They said they’d buy it!”
If only it were that simple. And it isn’t that people are liars, either, even though they are. Kinda. Sorta.
People often don’t know what they want to buy.
Steve Jobs was right — the secret is that *people often don’t know what they want to buy*. Besides, even if they tell you that they would buy something today doesn’t mean they’re still willing to buy it in 6 or 12 months later when your product goes to market. Remember: markets shift. They are dynamic, not static. They’re never just standing still. We’re constantly in and out of markets similar to a supermarket. We don’t live at Whole Foods; we just go in and out of there a lot. (Or, we order off of the app. We’re going in and out of the Whole Foods & Amazon app all the time.)
You can’t only rely on what people will tell you in survey data or especially in focus groups.
The other tricky part to surveys is you get data only from people who like filling out surveys. (That’s not me but I might very well be your customer!) Strange as it is, people who like filling out surveys may not actually be in your market right now, so their data set, while nice, is noise, not signal.
- Remember that noise + noise + noise + signal + noise still = noise.*
- One signal + a whole lot of noise is still very noisy. Not a reliable data set.
# People who bought…
One signal does not equate to the correct action path. This means that one guy saying he’d buy your product doesn’t extrapolate out to an entire market. Not even close. This is why a list of proven buyers is the most powerful business asset an Entrepreneur and sales & marketing pro can possess. People proven to buy!
Why? Because like my good AI friend, the Amazon Recommendation Engine says, “People who bought this also bought THIS.” Which may be the most powerful sales & marketing sentence / Social Proof statement in the history of business. *People who bought this also bought THIS.* The Amazon Recommendation Engine is making product suggestions based upon historical sales data. Genius!
Yep. A.I. is making product recommendations to your customer. Well, if you’re not doing it, A.I. will. (A.I. is also really good at follow-up, btw. It doesn’t complain at all about following up with prospects and customers, figuring out their needs, making product suggestions, even helping to solve problems.)
There comes a point where a human being gets deflated and tired of following up with leads, sales leads, trade show leads, being rejected over and over and over again in their interactions. Sales day-to-day can take a lot out of our emotional tank. This is why I think it is a good idea to have both — human and AI follow-up. Humans can simply do a customer check-in regularly while AI sends them value-based emails based upon their past behavior and interactions with the company, making recommendations to customers and prospects. Makes good sense. Why wouldn’t you do both? Humans handle the friendly, human check-in. AI handles the 19 point follow-up automation sequence. Both help build the customer journey and act as guides along it.
Despite the fact that markets are dynamic, always shifting about, what we’ll find out is that people tend to order the same things over and over and over again. (Yes, you do, too.)
Doesn’t matter if it is B2C, B2B, H2H, people tend to do what they’ve always done when it comes to ordering. This is why it’s a good idea to have their previous order history handy when they hop back on to shop again. This does a couple of things for them: it proves to them unconsciously that they’ve shopped here before, it was successful, and the company delivered on the goods. (This is very important! Do not undermine this!)
It shows them exactly what they bought. And there is a very good chance that they’ll buy much of the same stuff again. Yes, again, even if you’re B2B. Why? Because B2B buyers buy the same goods & services over and over again just like consumers do. (The distinction is kinda silly, frankly. A buyer is a buyer is a buyer. It’s just that markets can be different or nuanced, always dynamically shifting as stated earlier.)
Buyers want options. Buyers want Easy Commerce.
B2B commerce sellers want to build solid relationships with their buyers, especially as they migrate to online sales. So, the more data points they have about their buyers’ preferences, the better. Buyers want options. And buyers want ease. Your business logic should be designed to match up with your customer’s needs — not your needs. Not SAP’s needs.
Remember: the buyer doesn’t really care about you. Not really. They care about themselves and getting good value for their money and not looking bad in the eyes of others and not upsetting the boss or the spouse. THAT’s what they care about. B2B Commerce online is all about being easier to do business with. Taking care of peoples’ needs with greater efficiency and effectiveness. It is actual, personalized customer centricity — not just lip service to it. Saying we’ll do something and then going and doing something completely different. Or, forgetting to follow-up to an open customer loop.
Historically, buyers have been quite loyal. However, if we zoom way up and out, we’ll begin to see them becoming increasing less loyal in certain industries. As companies fail to differentiate themselves in the eyes of the customer, as companies fail to deliver on promises, as companies fail to be easy to do business with, they will increasingly lose customers who become frustrated with this nonsense. Why tolerate it when you got options? Never forget: people got options. Many engage in hyper-competitive markets. Customers won’t tolerate incompetence for long.
Your widget is very similar to the other guys widget vs. another guy’s widget vs. yet another guy’s widget. Without great relationships in place and solid marketing / product positioning to back up your offering, coupled with creative differentiation, you really are no different in the eyes of prospects and customers. It’s an important lesson to always keep front-of-mind when selling and marketing.
Be different in the best possible way.