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#3  Backwards Thinking Moves Business Forward

Are you tired of making the number one mistake small business owners make – i.e. trying to find customers to grow a business.  Bet you are and don’t even know it.  Sound ridiculous?  Not really.  Successful small businesses don’t start with a product or service and try to sell it, anymore.  Instead, they find a customer and tailor their business around the needs and wants of that customer.  This is thinking backwards and it works. 

Suppose, among all your knowledge and skills, you have a special strength and desire to work with engines.  There are all types of engines in the world in a wide variety of applications - car, boat, airplane, earth-moving, agricultural, and so on- and all types of people who own and operate them.  Which ones you select to tailor your business around should depend more on the type of people you can build a working relationship with rather than the particular type of engine.  Did you grow up on a farm and have a particular affinity for and understanding of farmers and their equipment for which you create a mobile maintenance service?  Or might your best target market be in maintaining equipment for lawn and landscaping services with instant turnaround and while-you-wait repairs?  Or maybe your business should be built around machinery used at construction sites where you provide special safety inspections?  Different customers – different businesses.

But, what if you already have a business – successful OR struggling?  You can still think backwards.  You just have somewhere to start, which the startup does not. That can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.  It’s and advantage because you already have a group of customers to mine for information about needs and wants as well as a direction that can help point the way.  It is a disadvantage because it is far more difficult to wrench your thinking our of your current pattern, and even more so to change the way you do business.  But your future just may depend on it.

Here are 5 ways to kick-start your backwards-thinking process:

1.   You’ve got customers.  But what do you know about them?  Who are they?  What do they have in common?  Why do they buy from you now?  What frustrates them in their own businesses?  What would help them do their job better?  Ask them.  But clearly define what you are asking and what the answers mean.  Don’t make assumptions that

2.   You’ve got competitors.  But what do you know about them?  What makes them different from you?  What do they do better?  How do they do it?  Where are they heading for the future?  Study their catalogs, their web sites.  Visit their locations.  Mystery shop.  Observe them in action at trade shows, events, in the marketplace, etc.  Remember, without this information your business is essentially a marketing illiterate.

3.   You’ve got prospects.  What can you find out about them?  Ask the same questions you did of your customers, but you also need to know why they don’t buy from you. 

4.   Be your own customer.  Mystery-shop your own company.  Just because you think your business projects a particular image doesn’t mean that there is follow-through all down the line.  Do you promote “customer service” but your reps are curt with complaining callers?  Do you sell special billing services but your software won’t actually support it?  And most important, try to verbalize what’s in it for you to buy from a company such as yours.

5.   Forget all the features of your products and services.  Starting from your customers’ point of view, write down what results your customers get from those products or services that fills a basic human need.  Need a list of those needs?  Look below.*

You may think this process is a waste of time since nobody sees it and it doesn’t sell anything.  Right?  Well, nobody sees your underwear either, but it sure has an impact on how you look.  Nobody sees the engine of your car, but how well it is built and maintained is what keeps your car on the road – not the body style or the leather seats or even that gee-whiz audio system.

* 15 Fundamental Human Desires and Values

Curiosity -- desire to learn

Food -- desire to eat

Honor (morality) -- desire to behave in accordance with code of conduct

Rejection -- fear of social rejection

Sex -- desire for sexual behavior and fantasies

Physical exercise -- desire for physical activity

Order -- desired amount of organization in daily life

Independence -- desire to make own decisions

Vengeance -- desire to retaliate when offended

Social Contact -- desire to be in the company of others

Family -- desire to spend time with own family

Social Prestige -- desire for prestige and positive attention

Aversive Sensations -- aversion to pain and anxiety

Citizenship -- desire for public service and social justice

Power -- desire to influence people

 From a 1998 Ohio State University study, co-authored by Dr. Steven Reiss and Susan havercamp



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Revised: July 04, 2008 .