It happens almost every day. I'm talking with an entrepreneur about their business idea (say, for example, a new enterprise security software product). And at some point in the meeting, they tell me about the conversations with people they had in their target market (say, for example, 13 CIOs) who all thought it was a great idea and want to beta test the software.
After seeing many of these companies fail to get traction in the market, I've come to realize that the key challenge is not "convincing" your customer -- it's reaching your customer. Customers are inundated with options and choice -- and the hardest part of the "selling" process is not getting the sale. It's getting the meeting. And while marketers have learned that it's all about the "message," I think it's all about the "attention". How do you get your customer's attention?
At my first company, Infonautics, we had built two online reference products called Homework Helper and Electric Library. The main offering was an online service that offered access to over 2,000 full-text magazines, newspapers, books and other resources targeted at junior and senior high school students. While it might not sound revolutionary now, keep in mind that Electric Library launched in 1995 -- this was back in the 1200 baud modem days...around the same time as Netscape shipped their first web browser. And we had to get almost all the content scanned/digitized because it was not available in an electronic format. This was such a big deal that Al Gore gave us a quote for our launch press release.
While the service was targeted at students, we realized that the parents made the buying decision. Everyone loved the idea. Parents loved it. Walt Mossberg loved it. I could spend five minutes talking to a parent -- and I'd get 9 out of 10 to buy an annual subscription for $69.95.
But when we tried to market the product, we failed to get any meaningful traction. We tried online advertising. We tried direct mail. We tried print advertising in magazines and newspapers. We tried email advertising. We tried marketing through groups and organizations (PTA's, American Federation of Teachers, etc). We even tried an infomercial. Seriously. An infomercial!! (I recently uploaded the 2 minute and 30 minute infomercials -- hard to believe that was less than 15 years ago). After four years of trying to market a consumer-service, Infonautics ultimately pivoted and sold site licenses to school libraries.
So, here's my advice:
While it's important to have a product that people want -- that's not enough. In this age of information overload -- you need to find a scalable, cost-effective way to get your customer's attention. You need to find a way to get them to lower their guard and engage in the conversation. Otherwise, you will be filming infomercials that no one watches...