What you do is not enough; how you do it matters more. You have talent, are skilled in your vocation and have built competitive products, but customer acquisition is a grind and even stalling – Why?
Recently, a vociferous and highly talented founding team convinced me (and themselves) that they had built a globally competitive product. Yet, sales were stalling, and the grind needed to land a new client was bleeding their and their team’s passion dry. As exhausted as they were, so was I until the penny dropped: A great product does not build a great business.
Sometime during the late 19th century, a moment of inspiration came to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American founding father, essayist, and poet. After witnessing a mouse escape a botched mousetrap, he wrote,”Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door”. In the late 19th century, he was probably right. There were relatively few products, and of those in the market, quality varied magnificently.
Emerson’s ghost visited me recently. It was the central thought in my brain as I listened to one of the founders give his take on why their product was exceptional, innovative, and globally competitive. Another founder shared her take on the market problem as one of education. “How do you convince customers of the value of our product when they don’t even know about us or understand how brilliant our product is?” she bemoaned.
It’s a common problem that many company owners contend with. Understanding why and how this problem occurs is essential to scale, grow and dominate niches within your industry. It’s vital to distinguish your brand and build your business into an asset that you can monetise through a premium exit in the future. And a great, world-class product is not enough to get this job done.
Every business has two fundamental parts to it. Both must be optimised, linked and integrated to create the complete experience any winning business offers. One without the other will fail your efforts repeatedly and eventually drain the passion and optimism that feed the drive and commitment that growth demands.
The first part is your product or service suite. And Emerson’s quip remains constant here. Every industry is overcrowded, and out of necessity, most of your competitors have built solid products and services. Trying to attain a product advantage by creating more features for your product or service won’t last or get you into a market on a sustainable basis. The primary job of your product is to solve a problem. A drill that cannot drill a hole will not build a world-class business!
Solving a problem needs tighter definitions in competitive markets. It requires a solid understanding of whose problem you are solving. For example, a drill used by an urban, single professional for hanging the odd picture needs a different proposition to a drill that aims to solve the problem encountered by a professional handyman.
This brings us to the business’s second half, which is essential to scale, grow and dominate. The product or service that solves a well-defined problem for a well-defined market segment must couple with a commercial system led by a motivated team to create relevant, well-defined customer experiences.
The question is, what creates a great experience? This, too, will differ depending on who you serve. Back to the drill. How a young, urban professional wants to learn about a drill, understand its capability, match that to the problem they want the drill to solve differs dramatically from the professional handyman. Additionally, how the engagement, buying, fulfilment and administration process works to deliver the product would differ between the two customers to create a complete and ideal experience.
Curating this experience requires a deep understanding of which customer segment you want to own. Then, narrow it further to understand precisely what experience they want to select your service above the many contenders. This creates the blueprint for your second half. It guides how you design, optimise and integrate your commercial functions into a repeatable, predictable experience. It is the key to accelerating your products and services to that market. This half of the whole business is arguably the hardest to build and the essence of a scalable service platform. Without it, scaling, growing and dominating a segment or three in any industry is a dream.
I recently reached out to Emerson’s spirit to update his coined phrase. “When everyone has a good mousetrap, you’d better beat the path to your customer’s door”. I’ll let you know his decision as soon as he responds. Meanwhile, the founders and their 48-strong team took it to heart. While it has taken some time, they are on a 17.6% annual revenue growth run rate, which seems unlikely to slow anytime soon!