by Jim Taylor, Florida SBDC at USF
Ask customers first if they want what you are selling, then pivot.
Forget the grand plans you developed in the shower, or were borne out of business pressures, or from the fact you hate the hard work of selling. Nobody cares what you want to do. Ask customers first if they want what you are selling. Better yet, ask what they need and pivot the business to provide it for them.
In my entrepreneurship class at the University of South Florida, students were asked to come up with a business idea, product, or invention and develop a business model and present it to the class as if they were seeking funding or were going to pursue the idea.
One student had what everyone thought was a great idea, which I need to keep private here. He developed a short business plan, and the reaction was encouraging to the point that he was planning on raising $100,000 to start the business in the real world. For the final project, inspired by Diana Kander’s entrepreneurial novel All in Startup; the students were required to survey and question 25 potential customers about their business or product.
The student returned to class absolutely heartbroken. When he surveyed actual potential paying customers, nearly all of them said it was a bad idea and they would not become patrons of his intended establishment. He even personally met with two successful entrepreneurs with similar establishments and presented the idea to them. They also balked at the idea. Instead of crying and giving up, he took the customer feedback, pivoted the plan, and went back to the same potential customers (and business owners) with the improved idea. They loved it. The student is in the process of now starting a business with customers even before the doors open.
Time and time again I meet entrepreneurs who have an idea to start a new business, or those offer a new product in their existing business, without ever talking to ONE potential customer. This is a path to failure. Customers and the marketplace don’t care what grand plans you have for your business or what you want to do. They have pains or needs in their life and are looking for solutions to those. If your product or service does not address them, there is little chance for success.
Before starting your new venture, interview several sets of potential customers and find out everything you can about them, their needs, and their willingness to buy. Develop a survey that gives the information you need to make sure that enough customers will actually pay you money at a reasonable profit for your product or service. If they won’t, what changes can you make to pivot the product or service to customer needs? Better yet, survey them and develop a product or service that solves the problems for them. If you fail to do this, you may be putting your nest egg or mortgaging your house for an idea that nobody wants, causing the business to fail and bringing potential financial ruin.
The wrong way to approach a new business or offer a new product.
A better way to approach customers, solve their problems, or serve their needs.
Turn this process around for success:
- Survey potential customers on their wants, needs, or pain points.
- Pivot or develop a solution with the feedback from potential or existing customers.
- Sell the product or service to the customer and rake in the cash!
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
Unless you want to lose your business, or never even get if off the ground, continue to survey and reach out to existing or potential customers throughout the life of your business. This will always make sure you are providing what the customer will pay for, not for what you think up in your morning shower.