Being Better Is Not Enough To Get Customers

getting customers does not have to be an uphill battle

A good entrepreneur is aware that the best way to know if there’s a market for something is to see if people are already buying it. A market with no competition probably doesn’t exist. Once you pick a market with existing competition you start to thinking how to improve the existing products or services. The goal is to build a better mousetrap, which may seem like the best way to get customers to switch. However, unless the competition is incredibly horrible in comparison to your solution you’re in for an uphill battle.

You Know Jack, But Need Joe

You know Jack. Jack is the ideal customer of your competition. The customer that is sufficiently satisfied with what he has. Sure maybe not everything is perfect, maybe there are a couple of things that could be improved. There is however insufficient reason for this customer to scrap the status quo just to switch to a slightly better solution.

Jack is a tough cookie to crack. In order to win over Jack, you will have to create something so amazing that Jack will feel like an idiot for not switching. For instance if Jack is driving a car that gets 20 mpg and you create a car that gets 100 mpg then switching is a no-brainer since fuel costs will go down five fold. However in real life such incredible gains in value are effectively impossible to accomplish.

Now let’s meet Joe. Joe is also a customer of your competition, but his problem is not being solved well by it. In fact, Joe lives in a subset of the market that your competition is focusing on. The needs Joe has are slightly different. Not so different that Joe needs a completely different product or service, but different enough that the existing solution is not cutting it.

Don’t Build A Better Mousetrap

Once you get past the trap of creating a product with no market, you fall into a second trap: planning your product or service by looking at the competition. While it may seem logical at first it creates a big problem because you end up defining yourself in terms of your competition. When you make a better mousetrap and the existing ones are good enough, you have an uphill battle to sell it.

If you use your competition as a starting point for your idea, you end up with a product that targets Jack. Unfortunately Jack is already fairly content with his current solution. You might make a car that can go 100 mph but Jack already has a car that can do 70 mph and gets Jack where he needs to go. While something faster may be nice it’s not worth the hassle for Jack to switch.

Instead of focusing on the satisfied customers of your competition, you need to be focusing on the unsatisfied ones. Unfortunately there is no way you can do that simply by looking at your competitor’s features. The only way to find out what unsatisfied customer Joe wants is to find Joe and talk to him about it.

Sell Ice To People In Hell, Not Eskimos

There’s a saying that a good salesman can sell ice to Eskimos. However, unless you are endowed with the reality distortion field of Steve Jobs then you’re better off selling ice to people who actually need it. When your product solves a major pain for a customer it’s analogous to giving an ice cold drink to a person in hell. This is ideally where you want to position yourself in regard to your potential customers.

Our friend Joe is the proverbial customer in hell. He is using your competition’s product and it’s not solving the problem he has. Your competition in turn is more interested in catering to Jack because Jack is their core business. This is exactly the kind of opportunity you are looking for. Instead of an uphill battle to convince Jack he should switch from “good enough” to “better” you will have Joe running after you to give you his money.

The key here is that the pain Joe has with his current solution is far worse than the pain of uprooting it and switching to a new one. Jack on the other hand sees the pain of moving to a new solution as much worse than staying with the current one. Which of these customers would you rather be selling to?

It is not hard to tell Jack and Joe apart. When you ask Jack how he feels about his current solution he may say “it’s great” or “it’s OK”. You may think that “it’s OK” is a sign of a customer that can be converted, but ambivalence is not a sufficient motivator. When you ask Joe he will tell you that the current solution drives him nuts, doesn’t do what he needs, and he would love to have something that solves his problem. When you meet Joe you’ve hit paydirt: a potential customer.

This post includes Formula 1 by Jose Maria MiƱarro Vivancos used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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