I had to laugh after talking to a client recently. This software company had just won its very first paying premium client and the funny thing was that the client wanted the system for something that we would not have dreamed of when we scoped and then built the software.
We had shown the software to this company and they had shown the odd positive noise (but were lukewarm in their interest at best). Then they asked, “Could the software do this” and we said, “That is a great idea, we think it could do that” and we now have a software company growing that is focusing on an offering that is not what our website says (yes, we had better update the website!) nor the idea that the founders of the business had on day one.
Since knowing this unexpected use for the software, all subsequent sales pitches have said, “Yes I would like a trial please”! Moral of this story is that sometimes you do not actually know what the biggest impact use of your product or service might be…
There are some classic historical examples of products that ended up being something different from what they were invented to do.
Listerine was an antiseptic cure for the common cold (starting fighting bad breathe about 45 years after its invention).
Play Doh was a magical way to clean wallpaper (wonder if it still works on wallpaper today?).
Coca Cola was invented to treat morphine addiction and to treat headaches and relieve anxiety.
Bubble wrap was invented to be wallpaper (imagine spending lots of nights at home popping your wallpaper!).
Companies had similar stories too like 3M, who were originally named Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (ie. 3 m’s) because it mined and sold minerals.
Nokia started as a paper mill (I do still wonder how they let their pre-eminent position in mobile phones slide 10 odd years ago).
The classic latest one is Google, which was once “just a search company”. So you get the drift…
A starting point would be find out all of the (very detailed) uses that your customers have for your product or service. You might be surprised as to what customers do with your offering.
If I think about my own business coaching and advisory business, the reasons that my clients work with me is definitely different to what I first envisaged when I set up business several years ago. Why?
As your product or service is used over time, you are so much smarter as to the positive impact that it has on your customers. The big challenge here is asking the right questions of your customers to find out the real impact your offering has on them or how they are using your offering.
Then you need to consider how this should be reflected in your communications (including website, sales collateral and in-person sales pitches). It is likely that your communications are not selling all of the great qualities and the impact your product or service has on customers as well as it could.
When you really know why customers choose you, then it is likely that your “customer avatar” (ie. your ideal customer demographic) is different to what you might have seen as your core customer target. So you should update your stereotypical customer to reflect the part of the market who will likely rave about you.
This might mean a smaller market potentially but knowing how you truly impact on your core customer demographic should open you up to a lot larger market share in a potentially smaller market (likely meaning higher profit potential). You will also probably be able to get a better price for your offering too when you totally hone in on your dream customer demographic as they will understand the impact of your product or service so much better meaning they might pay a premium price too.
Of course having some smart scientists or psychologists as part of your team would really help to work out what your product could be but assuming that is beyond reach in the short term, just talk to your current customers who you know love what you do the most and find out from them why they are truly such raving fans and then use this info for good in marketing and selling and in identifying the most profitable customer demographic for you.
And of course remember to innovate. Innovate like Google, meaning have strategic think sessions about your business and products to imagine how people might be using them in the future and then prioritise the steps you need to take to get there, sooner than later. 3M was a mining company… What will you be in the future?
Zac de Silva is business coach who owns www.businesschanging.com and www.accme.co where you can sign up for regular business-thinking questions and build a prioritised action point list. He is co-founder of www.nurturechange.com, the Fiji business retreat in November 2016.