Perchance to Dream (of New Customers and Untapped Riches)


 

Jim Gilbert

Jim Gilbert

Last night I had a dream…  I had a vision of many customers.  Not just any customers, but the most coveted buyers of them all…mail order buyers! 

 

And behold, they bought often and recently, and liked to purchase many products at a time.  They loved these products so much that they would never consider returning them. They liked to purchase in a specific category – they were niche buyers.  A plentiful niche that was easily identifiable, a specific targeted market – the lowest hanging fruit from the tree!

And I remember in my dream that I felt warm and secure knowing that these were soon to be my customers.  It was time to start my dream business and be richer than anyone can imagine.  All I needed was the right products for these perfect customers.

But then something happened.  My dream became a nightmare!  For I had no products to offer my customers. 

In my dream, I wracked my brain trying to find product ideas. I contacted various sources looking for products, but to no avail.  Nothing!  I asked friends and business associates alike, “do you have any products that would fit my market?”  Again nothing!  I couldn’t come up with one single product that this beautiful niche of customers would want.

And I woke up in a cold sweat, thankful that this was just a dream, and in real life this could never happen.

The truth is, we don’t wake up in the morning with ideas for new customer niches.  We don’t wake up saying “I think found a great list of buyers, now what can i offer them?”

But sometimes we do wake up with ideas for new products.  

And sometimes these new product ideas become businesses.  This is the classic entrepreneur beginning: a dream turns into a business because someone thought up a great product idea and had the moxie to take it to market.  Your classic “started around the kitchen table” story!

In the past, I’ve stated that a marketing-based approach to direct marketing, mail order and e-retailing cares less for the specific product, than it does finding the right market (customers!) for those products.  To me, that IS about putting customers first. 

The following is a quote I give to my direct marketing class on the first night of the semester. It’s by Peter Drucker, one of the great management gurus of our time:

“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer.  Companies are not in business to make things, but to make customers.”

My personal version goes something like this (with a direct marketing context):

The goals of every direct marketing organization are to generate new customers at the lowest possible cost per acquisition and take care of these customers to maximize customer lifetime value via repeat purchases.

The goals of every direct marketing organization need to be exclusively focused around the above. 

But that’s not always the case in today’s modern business world.  Many business owners and managers know their customers, but, more specifically, they know what their customers want.  The emphasis is less on understanding customers better, and more on their own intuition of what customers want.  This attitude of “I know my customers and what they want“,  makes too many assumptions.  Assumptions that don’t fit with today’s modern business practices – especially when you consider the wealth of information you can find out about your customers just by talking to them.  With the adoption of social media in the last few years, and the explosion of web 2.o, there is no excuse for not being customer-centric.  Right?

But of course any time you have a company with more than one employee, you have politics, posturing, agenda’s and egos – which means that following the above principals can get muddied by other issues. 

I see product-centric and politically charged organizations every day of the week stepping on their own toes and chasing their own tails!  I’ve also seen some companies with some great products fail for these very same reasons.

Which is why I want to set a different tone for this blog and proffer the thought that the modern entrepreneurial business should be marketing-focused and, by extension, customer-driven.

So to all catalog/multichannel/e-retail/mail order business owners out there, let me ask you this : Are you product driven?  Or customer/marketing focused?  What kind of research do you do to better understand your customers?  How do you develop new products?  Let’s get into this in future postings.  As always, please feel free to fire off a comment by using the form below, and I’ll respond.

I look forward to a lively discussion on this topic.  What a great way to close out 2008 and welcome in 2009!

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One Response

  1. Jim, I can’t disagree with your marketing evaluation but I think the first problem in to ‘why’ businesses aren’t always market driven is fear.

    I hear a few things on my end. 1) “I’m happy with how things are so why change.” Which to me means I didn’t explain the market orientation concept in a language that they understand or that they really fear change and I didn’t build trust with them.

    2) “I can’t afford the risk.” The rational may be similar to (1) but on top of trust, it becomes a matter of education and a demonstration through successful cases.

    3) I get this from business people with a science background (Doctor, pharmacist, etc.) “Yeah, that’s just a theory.” Selling the market orientation seems difficult but the high level of rationality of the “science mind” usually means giving them them numbers in dollars and probabilities.

    I’ve always wished to dream the perfect sales pitch, the one line that always sold all-things all-ways. :) Happy New Holidays!

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