Perchance to Dream (of New Customers and Untapped Riches)
Last night I had a dream. I had a vision of many customers. Not just any customers, but the most coveted buyers of them all…mail order buyers!
And They bought often and recently, and liked to purchase many products at a time. They loved these products so much that they would never consider returning them. They liked to purchase in a specific category – they were niche buyers. A plentiful niche that was easily identifiable, a targeted market – the lowest hanging fruit from the tree!
And I remember in my dream that I felt warm and secure knowing that these were soon to be my customers. It was time to start my dream business and be richer than anyone can imagine. All I needed was the right products for these perfect customers.
But then something happened. My dream became a nightmare! For I had no products to offer my customers.
In my dream, I wracked my brain trying to find product ideas. I contacted various sources looking for products, but to no avail. Nothing! I asked friends and business associates alike, “do you have any products that would fit my market?” Again nothing! I couldn’t come up with one single product that this beautiful niche of customers would want.
And I woke up in a cold sweat, thankful that this was just a dream, and in real life this could never happen.
The truth is, we don’t wake up in the morning with ideas for new customer niches, but sometimes we do wake up with ideas for new products.
And sometimes these new products become businesses. This is the classic entrepreneur beginning: a dream turns into a business because someone thought up a great product idea and had the moxie to take it to market.
In last week’s blog, Bob the Ph.D. posted a comment reminding me that customers come first. Good point. A tad out of context, Bob, but you get an A for effort. Customers do come first when you have an ongoing concern or service problems. But I was answering a question regarding choosing products for a new catalog. Keyword: new!
I also stated that a marketing-based approach to catalog marketing cares less for the specific product, than it does finding the right market (customers!) for those products. To me, that IS about putting customers first.
The following is a quote I give to my direct marketing class on the first night of the semester. It’s by Peter Drucker, one of the great management gurus of our time:
“There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. Companies are not in business to make things, but to make customers.”
My personal version goes something like this (with a direct marketing context): The goals of every direct marketing organization are to generate new customers at the lowest possible cost per acquisition and take care of these customers to maximize customer lifetime value via repeat purchases.
The goals of every direct marketing organization need to be exclusively focused around the above.
But that’s not always the case in today’s modern business world. These business managers know their customers, but, more specifically, they know what their customers want. The emphasis is less on understanding customers better, and more on their own intuition of what customers want. And of course any time you have a company with more than one employee, you have politics, which means that following the above principals can get muddied by other issues.
I see product-centric and politically charged organizations every day of the week stepping on their own toes and chasing their own tails! I’ve also seen some companies with some great products fail for these very same reasons.
Which is why I want to set a different tone for this blog and proffer the thought that the modern entrepreneurial business should be marketing-focused and, by extension, customer-driven.
So to all catalog business owners out there, let me ask you this: Are you product driven? Or customer/marketing focused? What kind of research do you do to better understand your customers? How do you develop new products? Let’s get into this in future postings. As always, please feel free to fire off a comment by using the form below, and I’ll respond.
Jim Gilbert has been creating direct marketing programs that drive superior ROI for almost 30 years. Fluent in consumer or B-to-B, creative, operations, and analytics, he marries the strategic and tactical sides of direct and social media marketing in a seamless fashion that gets results. He's CEO of a multidiscipline direct marketing agency, Gilbert Direct Marketing, Inc., which focuses on direct mail, catalogs, DRTV, telemarketing, print, alternative direct marketing media and social media marketing. Jim has been involved in start-ups, expansions and turnarounds, and is an expert in helping multichannel marketers get to the "next level." He's a former adjunct professor, teaching direct marketing at Miami International University, and is President of the Board of Directors of the Florida Direct Marketing Association. Jim loves to talk direct marketing, and has done many lectures on direct and social media marketing.