You Sell to People, Not Markets

For your new products to deliver success, your product strategies must be aligned with the critical aspects of your customers’ needs. A powerfully successful product strategy is created when you incorporate the boundaries and strengths of your firm’s operational strategies with those of your current and prospective customers.

 The Market is Never Your Customer

You don’t sell to the market–you sell to people. The “market” is never your customer. The market is a farrago of needs, wants, desires, and expectations. The concept of the market is a gross attempt at creating the “typical” or aggregate customer. Because of this, you cannot blindly apply market data, or indexes to your customer base and expect dramatic results.

You sell to your current customers, and will sell to those prospects you can address, based on the strategic boundaries of your firm. If you want to succeed with your new products and services, get to know your customers, and their customers. Only when you understand their needs, can you develop a successful product for them.

Develop Products for Customers, Prospects, and Their Customers

I’ve seen too many product strategies start with today’s product and use them as the reason, or excuse, for the next product. It is inherently safer, both commercially and politically, to make incremental changes to a product than it is to depart from convention. Safer, at least, until your competition breaks with your conventional thinking and creates your demise.

The safest method for dramatic business growth is to develop products for your customers and prospects, and all of their customers which may not be what your firm has always done. This nonconventional (radical?) thinking is what separates successful competitors from the also-rans and the DNFs (did not finish).

The only way to succeed at this is to know the people in these groups (not markets, remember). You get to know them by doing the following:

  • Talking to them
  • Listening to them
  • Shopping their stores and businesses
  • Calling their customer service
  • Buying something from them
  • Return something, or attempting to
  • Interviewing their executives, managers, and front-line employees
  • Talking to their customers
  • Shopping their competitors’ and their customers’ businesses

You get the idea. Be radical. Go beyond the standard voice of customer interview and competitive analysis–everyone does that. If you want to be dramatically better, then you must think, and act, dramatically differently.

How All of This Affects Product Strategy

I’ve seen too many product strategies start with today’s product, successful or not, and adjust its performance to create a new product. This is the iterative approach discussed in the previous section. This works, for a while, but eventually new technology, the competition, and your obsolete technology catches up with you.

A profitable, sustainable product strategy must:

  1. Address all aspects of your company’s business and operational strategies
  2. Take into account the needs of your customers and prospects
  3. Predict where technology will impact your business and implement it first or second, as a fast-follower

Reward Does Not Require Risk

The final requirement for a dramatically successful product strategy is to be bold. Some product owners, and the companies they work for, fear bold actions because they feel it involves too much risk–in fact, rewards do not require risk. Assembling the right questions, talking to the best sources, and utilizing appropriate technologies are the three methods you use to ensure success and reduce risk.

No credible source will say product strategy is simplistic. It is complex by nature due to the multiple mutual dependencies, and continual change by customers, competitors and technology. However, the creation of a product strategy isn’t complicated or mysterious. Simply address how the new products will support your corporate strategy, your customers, and their customers. Then you can develop products for your customers of tomorrow, instead of yesterday.

©2018 by Doug Ringer. All Rights Reserved.

Doug Ringerhelps senior leaders make organic and acquisitive growth decisions. Follow his work at and @doug_ringer on Twitter.

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