Looking Outside

One of the biggest mistakes we can make as innovators and business leaders is to assume that we automatically know what our customers want, need, and are willing to buy.

readysetgrow2I learned that lesson the hard way in 2004 when I came up  with a ‘brilliant’ idea.

CorePurpose, Inc., the company I founded in 2002, would run a 12 month lecture series with thought leaders from across the country.

We were smack dab in the middle of a down turn.  People were looking for answers and strategies to help turn things around.  And of course – I knew who had the answers.  I would bring them to town, one each month, and help all the small businesses by giving them access to ideas and talent as a group that they could not afford individually. I was really excited!

The folks at the Phoenix Business Journal also thought it was a great idea and featured the program with a full page story to kick things off in January 2, 2004.  Doug Brodman and my friends  at AVI Communications created an incredible 12 month interactive marketing campaign highlighting each month’s speaker in addition to the ads (like the one above)that would run each month in the Business Journal .  We had a sure fire hit!

Well, maybe not.  While we had gotten great feedback in designing the program as to the topics of interest, the areas of need, and the program’s price, we failed to ask one key question:

Would they, as business owners, make the investment of their time to attend twelve half day sessions throughout the year?

It turns out that for many in our target market, the answer was no!  Instead of standing room only crowds, the room was half full each month.  Still, we held to our commitment to provide all twelve sessions.  Those that attended loved the program.  CorePurpose got lots of critical acclaim from the economic development community and even won awards.

Through out the year, we kept asking potential customers – many of whom we had talked to during the design process – what we needed to do differently.  In almost every case we got the same answer.

They could not afford the time away from the office when times were so tough.  The perceived benefit did not exceed the perceived cost… of their time!

In the end, the program lost over $60,000 dollars because I assumed I knew the answer to one very important question and did not ask it.

Back then, that was a BIG hit to take.

So what is the moral to this story?

When you are designing products or services, be sure that you look outside your organization and ask ALL the important questions.

Get with professionals to help you design accurate assessments of market needs AND your target customer’s willingness to adopt what you are creating before you commit to investing your time and money to create a product or service that customers may say they want – but may not be willing or able to buy.

And for me – as a personal reminder – this ad has a place of honor on my office wall.  It stands as a reminder to be sure to look outside of the company, to talk to customers and prospects, and to ask all the right questions – FIRST.

Thanks for stopping by.  Stay Tuned…

Joan Koerber-Walker

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3 Responses to Looking Outside

  1. Great advice! These ideas are very helpful especially when you are looking for the right tools in your quest to starting your own business.

  2. Looking Outside…

    One of the biggest mistakes we can make as innovators and business leaders is to assume that we automatically know what our customers want, need, and are willing to buy.I learned that lesson the……

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