Wait! You’re doing it backwards!

WaitI get questions from students every month regarding launching a new business idea they have created. Naturally, I take the time to walk them through the normal steps an entrepreneur should take in preparation for launching a new venture, but often students are surprised when I tell them “Wait! You’re doing it backwards!”

I will admit that I have occasionally been guilty in the past of what often gets in the way of creating a viable and sustainable business model. No, I’m not talking about lack of funding or even lack of business experience. One of the crucial mistakes some entrepreneurs make when trying to implement their exciting new business idea is that they sometimes focus on marketing their product or service, rather than taking the time to find out if it is really the solution customers are looking for. Those are two very different approaches, and they typically yield two totally different outcomes.

When we come up with what we are sure is the “next big thing”, we can use a variety of sales and marketing strategies to “sell” our proposed solution to what we believe is our target audience. But a more effective approach is to first approach potential customers with what we are proposing, asking for their feedback and critique. Then, by using that feedback to create precisely the solution customers are looking for, we make whatever changes are required to our idea or approach, and once again seek additional feedback.

This iterative process allows us to ensure that our final product or service offering is exactly what customers are looking for, not something we simply want to push because we think it’s the best. Most of us refer to this customer-centric approach as a “lean” startup. But make no mistake, being lean does not suggest being cheap or producing anything less than what the proper solution to the identified problem actually requires – not at all. It simply means that, for any new business venture, it is always the customer who ultimately decides whether our business model will succeed.

Trying to market what we hope will be what our customers want is often a tough sell. But providing customers the solution they told us they really wanted can be a much more sensible approach.

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