Meeting customers' real needs

  • Business
  • Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014

It was one of those times again. I call it the “Waiting Time”. It seems everyone spends (or wastes) at least 10% of our lifetime waiting for something or someone.

Waiting is inevitable. So, there I was sitting at the lounge of the tyre workshop, waiting again. It was a very hot day and as I waited, I could not help but fantasise about hearing the sound of “ding-a-ling” nearby.

When I was a kid, we had ice cream sellers who came to our neighbourhood with huge ice cream boxes on their bicycles. The sound of their bells brought great cheer because we knew we would get to eat ice cream that day.

Back to the present, as I sat there waiting on that very hot day, I wished there was an ice cream seller nearby.

I counted the number of customers who were all waiting and perspiring, playing with their phones or wandering aimlessly around their cars — if ice cream was really sold at the lounge, I believe at least half us would be buying.

That made me think about businesses and products being sold these days. Do we sell what we want to sell or do we sell what our customers want to buy?

The chief executive officer of a company where I was previously employed, Dr Jim Goodnight, shared this with me when I met him a few years ago. I was seeking his advice for start-up companies.

“Create products that customers want to buy. When we started the company, we were fortunate that we already had 120 customers. And that is because we are offering something that people really need.”

To me, that statement was simple yet profound.

Dr Goodnight is currently ranked 58th in Forbes 400 richest people in the United States and his privately-owned company, now in its 38th year, recently announced that it had surpassed US$3bil in revenue.

Surely, there are many things to be learned from him.

In the course of providing marketing consultancy to various start-up companies, I have sometimes come across entrepreneurs who start a business just to sell something they like to sell.

They may have developed or invented the product or they may have seen the product being sold successfully elsewhere and want to sell it here too. Well, there is nothing wrong with that.

Part of my job as a marketing consultant is to help them develop a marketing plan. And I normally start formulating this plan by asking some hard questions: Who are your target customers? Why should customers buy your product? Does your product meet a real need or solve a problem? If yes, what? Why should customers buy from you and not someone else?

And many more questions that help to identify the marketability of the product (why buy) and even the readiness of the target market (why buy now).

There are two schools of thought — about creating products that people may not need but may want to buy versus creating products that people need and hence will want to buy.

The late Steve Jobs did the former very well with his range of Apple products. But not many can get it right like Jobs — creating a product and knowing people will want it, at the right time too.

Often, we project our own wants and likes on the product and think what we want or like to buy is what other people want or like, too, which may not be accurate assumptions.

Personally, I believe the safest and surest way is offer something people really need. I may not need to open a full-fledged ice cream shop at the tyre workshop, for example.

Perhaps just a kiosk and I might even save on space rental. Or the tyre workshop can have one of the brands place an ice cream box or even a vending machine for soft drinks.

The haze is also something we deal with on a frequent basis here and when face masks run out quickly at shops, I often wonder if someone will see an opportunity in this. Hoard and then sell the masks at a premium at office areas?

These are all simplistic suggestions of course, but at least they meet real needs?

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Business , Jeanisha Wan


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