Are You Lost? Going To Market Without A Clue

by Lori Taylor · 2 comments

I think it’s fair to say that most small businesses are formed when someone with a great deal of expertise in something decides they could probably make more money if they did the same thing for themselves instead of for an employer.

Those types of businesses are referred to as product-centric as opposed to market-centric which means that basically, the business owner takes this thing to market, be it a service or product, before knowing whether or not the market wants it.

In my last post I started talking about surveys and how they can really help small “local” businesses develop more targeted messaging by learning what customers actually want instead of going solely by personal beliefs, instincts or assumptions. In this follow up post let’s think about using surveys in a start-up operation or for a business getting ready to roll out a new product or service.

Going back to the product-centric entrepreneur, usually they try to market something they want or need themselves. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean squat if nobody else needs or wants it and more importantly, is willing to pay for it.

I once took a course from a very intelligent gentleman who was making lots of money from a book he had written. He told us that when he set out to write the book all he knew was that there was a market for people who had beautiful babies (don’t we all) who wanted to get them into the modeling world. The problem was he didn’t know what his audience was having trouble with so he didn’t know what to put in the book.

So he put up a website and said, “Ok, there’s this book coming out. It’s being released on suchandsuchadate and I would like to add your story to it. If you send me your story you’ll get a free copy of my book.”

So all of these people sent in their stories and he was clearly able to see what he should be talking about in the book. He could easily see the biggest pain point of his audience so he used that as the title of the book.

By the time he launched, he had a few thousand people wanting a free copy. He brilliantly implemented a referral strategy so his customers would promote and sell the book for him. He made thousands of dollars doing this and he didn’t even have a product when he brought it to market!

Anyone starting a new business should use the same logic as this man did and survey the market first.  That means finding a group of people you believe to be your ideal clients and asking them some basic questions. Find out if they want what you’re selling, how much they’ll pay for it, how often they’ll need it and so on and so forth. Even just one simple question could be very telling like, “What are the three things that keep you up at night?” When you have the answer to that you can craft a brilliant message that hits your customers right where it hurts.

Now let’s revisit the pizzeria I talked about in my last post. Imagine again that you’re the owner and you want to start offering a new specialty pizza now that you know Mama Rosa’s sauce isn’t what’s bringing people through the doors. You’re trying to decide between a pesto pizza, a barbeque chicken pizza and a seafood pizza. All of them will require different ingredients to be brought in and none of them cheap.

The obvious thing to do is to ask your customers. Make use of all those customer email addresses you’ve been collecting over the years and survey them.

I can practically see the light bulbs turn on over your heads from here as you take in all this information!

The beauty is that even though a survey is such a powerful tool it’s very easy to do one. To conduct a survey is really just a simple three-step process:

  1. Announce the survey. Make sure to tell your contacts it will only be short because most people don’t want to part with much of their precious time. You may decide to give people an incentive for participating and if so, this would be a good time to tell that what they’ll get in exchange.
  2. Conduct the survey. There are many different programs online that can facilitate this. Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo are two familiar ones to many people. When doing the survey, promise to share the results with people.
  3. Share the results of the survey. A few weeks down the road go back to the people who participated and say, “Look! You told us you wanted pesto pizza and now we have it!”

Surveys can help you make better decisions while operating your business because you don’t have to guess at what people want. Thinking of changing your hours? Ask your customers. Thinking of changing your prices? Ask your customers what they think. Thinking of adding an expensive new product line?

You get the picture.

Most small business owners don’t have unlimited resources to throw at ideas they think might work. See what the survey says before going further.

Have you ever used a survey to conduct research for your business? Did you have any breakthroughs? Did it change the way you tackled a new idea or an issue you were struggling with? Please share your experiences by commenting below so we can discuss!

Picture Credit

Lori Taylor


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth Merrick December 23, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Hi Lori! This is a great topic, and relevant to everyone from the local pizzeria to the farthest multi-national conglomerate.

My company sits somewhere betwixt the two, and it’s certainly relevant to us. In the Spring of 2010, we set out to rebuild our flagship product from scratch. What was the first thing we did? Send an email to our entire community asking them what they loved most about our product, and what they could live without. We heard every piece of feedback, and kept them all under consideration as we undertook the task at hand.

Fast forward to this Fall. Our product had been rebuilt; it was a lean, mean, streamlined machine that had outgrown the brand it was born with. We knew we had something hot, and that a complete rebranding was in order. What did we do? We asked our community to help us come up with a new name, and offered a small cash prize to the winner. The response was overwhelming, and over the course of 2 weeks and 3 blog posts, we received hundreds of blog comments and thousands of submissions – and the new brand is stronger than it ever could have been without the participation of our community.

A few weeks ago, we launched. Ever since, we’ve kept the line of communication open with the community, and have already fine-tuned our product in response to suggestions from users. It’s been a wonderful. Crowdsourcing is the pinnacle of progress, in my humble opinion.

All this leads, though, to a thought that came to mind as I digested your fab article:

“To thine own self be true.”

In the course of involving a community in the decision-making process, it’s easy for a business owner to, as J.R.R. Tolkien said through Bilbo Baggins, “..feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter, scraped over too much bread…”

For every ten people eager to get their hands on an aromatic slice of pesto pizza, seven want barbeque and five want seafood! The dissenting opinion is just as valid as the majority, no? Even if a business would prefer to let majority rule, those dissenting voices can be haunting when the time comes to make the final call.

Sean Platt recently reminded me on Twitter about Henry Ford’s response to this topic: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

One of the greatest revelations, and greatest washes of relief, that came through our unusually high degree of involving our community in our business’ direction for the future was that, ultimately, WE’RE the target market for our product.

At the end of the day, our product only plays a small part in the lives of each of our patrons. To the entrepreneurs from whence the product springs, we breathe, walk, talk, eat, sleep & dream our product. While we place tremendous value in each fragment of feedback we receive, we’re the only ones with the whole picture, the vision and the drive to push it all forward into the horizon.

All this is to say that, while my feelings about asking customers and potential customers for outside perspective is “Yes! Yes! A hundred times yes!”, I know that o-so-many-magnets can set one’s internal compass a-spinning, and that the final direction a business must take really lies within.

Were I the pizzeria owner, I would always be sure to have plenty of Pesto on hand; but would also offer barbecue & seafood in lesser quantities. But the pièce de résistance on my menu would be a thick wheat-crust slice with a zesty mole sauce, laden with artichoke hearts, fresh baby spinach, chorizo sausage, sautéd mushroom & eggplant – all topped off with a healthy dollop of hot-fudge sundae! Now that’s the kind of forward thinking that only comes from the helm of a ship. Are you hungry yet?

Thanks for shining some light on this topic, Lori. It’s been great food for thought. 🙂


Lori Taylor December 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Seth thanks for such a great thoughtful comment. I always use the Henry Ford quote. And your pizza ingredients are making me hungry! You guys are rare because you DO use your product and you ARE the target customer. But for most, they are not their customer. For example I heard Ryan Deiss say to a bunch of wealthy internet marketers – “Guys remember you want to be rich – the sky is the limit. Most of your customers are looking to make a few extra bucks.” He’s right. Now in your case, you are too smart for your own good! So you might know WHAT people need, but not necessarily WHY. WIthout the why, it can be hard to determine price points which also is very important in the “survey” game. How much do they want it? How much is it WORTH to them. If they’d just like to have it, then you might spend time making things sing that are cool, but no one will pay for, right? I love what you guys did with Frugal – and this theme was done by David Wright using it – I highly recommend it to anyone. And you and Eric – you are the real deal and a pleasure to be around. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


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