One of the first sales jobs I had was selling printing. Working in the publishing industry I had purchased a lot of printing and understood the process well. I thought, “I’ve been the target market for several years, I can sell this product in my sleep.” The truth was that although I had been a buyer of the product I was woefully unaware of the issues that faced most of the people to whom I was selling. They were facing corporate issues, interoffice politics, budget constraints, unrealistic deadlines, and an array of other issues I really hadn’t faced in my publishing experience. Printing to me had been the main product around which budgets and timelines were created. In other businesses, creating printed materials was far from the mainstream business and often understaffed and under-funded. I quickly learned that I didn’t understand my customer as well as I had thought. I met with our marketing people, and we began to gather and document customer information.
Many entrepreneurs enter a particular market because they have expertise in that area. They feel that they already know the target customer. They may even have been the target customer in a previous job. This sense of knowing can tempt young companies to take short cuts, to bet their marketing dollars based on their own hunches.
Resist that temptation. Even if you have been the target market, you are only one person, and although you are of great worth as a person, you are statistically insignificant. By that I mean that one person’s opinion on a subject does not represent the views of the entire market. I would also note, that unless your business is directed at other entrepreneurs, you have values and aspirations that vary greatly from most of the non-entrepreneurial population.
Face it you are unique – just like everyone else. The only way to reach a consensus is to talk to enough unique people that you can identify trends in certain areas. It is through these trends that you can start to understand the marketplace in a reliable, objective way. The path to good marketing is like the path to good politics: you need to build on common ground. Until you know where that common ground is, you can’t really start building an effective marketing strategy.
Marketing research is the way we build a map to the common ground we want to build on. It shows us the obstacles, resources, and paths of least resistance that lead a business forward. Without research we wander up false passes and choose impassable routes. Although wandering lost can be interesting and even educational, it often leads to cash flow starvation. Avoid wandering; build a map.
As you research the market, keep in mind how the information you gather can refine your product or service. We often think of market research as a way to say just the right thing in a brochure or advertisement, but customer-centered marketing impacts product development and product management in profound, and often astounding, ways. Good research will help you refine your product or service, establish prosperous pricing, and see with clarity the pathway to the next stage of your business.