Before an entrepreneur can create demand for a product, he must first understand the customer. A common misstep for start-up is to be in ‘stealth mode’, meaning they isolate themselves from the outside world, keep their noses to the grind stone and create the product as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then burst into the market to show customers the magnificent gizmo.  It’s all hush-hush until the surprise party. It’s no wonder first products fail most of the time, they are conceived, designed, and built without input from the customer.

Marketing is about creating demand for the product. Most customers buy that which is most familiar to them, even if the unfamiliar product is technically superior. Let’s look at some facts about human behavior. It still takes a customer 5 to 8 times of seeing or hearing something before it seems familiar. Customers gather 80% of their information about a product and company from an Internet search. The first action we all take when we are looking to buy anything is to ‘Google it’.  Customers want to buy from suppliers who truly understand them and their problems. Customers want products that provide the complete solution, are easy to install, simple to use, and effortlessly continue to operate and solve their problem forever. They never want to think about their problem again. Regardless of whether your product is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, people buy for emotional and non-analytical reasons.

Create demand before the product is ready

First, talk about the problem. People actively and desperately searching for answers are those with a problem worth solving and are willing to pay to solve it. As the old cliché goes, misery loves company. People like to discuss their problem with other people who have the same problem as they are hope that someone else has figured out a solution. One way is to start a blog, create a Facebook fan page, gather a Twitter following, or create a You Tube channel about the problem. Another way is to hold an event or conference around the problem. In my area, law firms hosts meetings about specific business topics and not only are they promoting their firms, but the meetings are profitable on their own.  As always, it’s easier to go to where the customers are already gathering, you won’t have to build an audience. The media has a persistent problem that never goes away. It is “what do they offer their audience tomorrow that’s of interest to them”. Offer to write articles for publications centered on the problem, to moderate or facilitate a meeting at a conference, to speak at a convention, and so on.  I may take some time, but eventually your company will get the opportunity to promote itself as the ‘go-to’ expert on the problem.

Engage the Target Customers While They Are Still Prospects

If you already have customers or an audience, it’s easy to send them an email and ask to interview them about your product and company – about one in ten will agree to a short phone conversation. I do this all the time, even if the people are just free email subscribers or attended an informational meeting. The keys are to have the questions ready and to know what the top three questions you want answered are. It doesn’t take many conversations before a trend develops. I don’t find that surveys work well because the customer can’t tell you what’s on his mind. You need to let the customer give direction in where the conversation is to go, particularly if you are still in the product definition and initial fact finding phase of a project. I will tell you, the less busy the customer or the more the think you can solve a big problem for them, the more likely they are to agree to have a phone conversation.

So how do you get to those busy prospects you really want to talk with, but they don’t have the time for you?  First, don’t bother them when and where their time is the most demanded. Many companies cold call prospects, but you get low response rates unless you know when the prospect is in a mood to talk – for many industries, that’s Monday morning or Friday afternoons. This is a difficult approach. A better approach is to find out what conferences or conventions they attend because they are being paid to network at these events. People are much more willing to talk to you outside of their day-to-day work environment. What if they don’t attend many outside business events, now what? Some people are highly involved in after work activities – some participate in charities or trade groups, and some are religious amateur athletes –  find out what they do outside of work and speak with them there.

In a nutshell, all products are developed for people. It’s people who made the purchasing decisions. You can’t develop a product without the customer’s input. If you want your product to get a good reception when it’s ready, you need to engage with customers as soon as possible. If you want customers to be familiar with your company and your product when it becomes available, you need to start building the familiarity early. Marketing takes much longer than most people anticipate. For a start-up, marketing is not just about creating demand but also defining the product properly so the demand can be created.