The purpose of a business is to create a customer, declared Peter Drucker. How do you create a customer? You provide something – a service, a product, a solution – (referred to as the Product in the Marketing Mix) they need AND want. In the B2B world, this want and/or need is typically to solve a business problem. The bigger the business problem, the more urgent, and the better your offer addresses the more likely and faster you are to create a customer.
Therefore a key part of any business is to be clear about the problem you solve. Creating a solution before identifying the problem can have devastating consequences. Even if you’re convinced that you have the next best idea ever, it is a good idea to validate there is a need in the market.
Do They Need and Want Their Problem Solved?
Determining the need for your offer doesn’t always require sophisticated research. I’ll use our company to illustrate this point. In 1999, a colleague and I were receiving a lot of calls from local firms looking for Marketing help. It made us wonder whether there was an opportunity to build our own firm. We decided to use this conversation to determine whether to pursue the idea of our firm further.
As we engaged in these conversations, we started asking more questions about the challenges they were facing. Was it just they needed more people or did they have real challenges and problems to solve? Topics such as clearer product definition, messaging, and positioning; better competitive intelligence and customer information to improve go-to-market strategy, targeting, and measurement of Marketing; improved and in some cases the development of Marketing processes. Ah, we thought, that’s why our backgrounds in research/data/analytics, measurement, and operations were important. Now that we understood the problem we probed further to try and learn how important it was for them to solve these problems – did they just want it or did they truly need it. Turned out it’s pretty important then and it remains important today. These two recurring themes the desire to be more customer-centric and to make more data-derived decisions persist today.
The point of the story is, as experienced marketers, we understood that successful companies solve problems. For your organization to position itself and develop a compelling value proposition, you must be able to clearly articulate the problem and understand how you are better and different from alternatives, including the alternative of doing nothing.
How Does Your Solution Make a Difference
For us, it was important that we would be able to make a difference. As a member of the leadership team, I imagine that’s important to your company. I truly believe that understanding how you are going to make a difference in the market and create value for your customers is the fundamental question for every business professional. In the words of Richard Branson of Virgin, “Business people have to think about how their business can actually better this world.”
New ideas, good ideas, creative ideas are all awesome but to be worthy they must be wanted and needed by the market. It’s also easy to be lured by a hot trend or the latest cool idea. Your intuition may tell you that your business is wanted and needed but its nice to have the data to back it up. Market and customer research are critical to understanding who your business will serve, the problem you are solving and whether your solution will make a difference. The more you can quantify how your solution will make a difference the better. It is vital you know this before you develop or execute any Marketing.
Key takeaways: Nourish your company with data. Cultivate an ongoing appetite for customer-focused research. Be able to answer these 6 questions in any conversation with customers, prospects, partners, employees/board members, and influencers about your company:
- What is the gap in the market you solve?
- How big is the gap?
- Who has it?
- How many people are trying to close this gap?
- How well does our solution close the gap?
- What is the difference before vs. after they buy our solution?
Your Mission is Your North Star
When you know the answers to the above questions, you can proactively frame your mission and value proposition. These two elements serve as the guide for all of your stakeholders and illuminate your business design and strategy.
Your mission statement which reflects the business problem you solve, should dictate every action you take. If it’s been a while since you reviewed your company’s mission statement, now might be a good time for a review. Take a moment to verify you can answer these three key questions:
- Are we delivering on our mission statement? If so, how well? If not, do we have a new mission?
- Is our mission statement still relevant to our customers? The market? If not, what problems are we truly solving and how should we revise our mission statement accordingly?
- Why does our business exist today?
Key takeaway: Be relevant. Craft mission statements that are customer- and market-centric.
This type of work falls directly into the domain of Marketing, Marketing with a capital M. What we often refer to as Upstream Marketing. Without answers to these questions, it will be difficult for any of your Marketing to be effective. Your demand generation programs, which are the downstream part of Marketing, will face a steep uphill climb.
Solving a Customer Problem is a Daily Mantra
At this moment and hopefully for years to come, we’re enjoying a Goldilocks economy. That will fade. When challenging times return, it is your passion for making a difference and solving a problem that will enable you to survive maybe even potentially thrive. Thinking about how you make a difference to your customers is something that should be top of mind every day. It will be too late if you’re forced to do it when the bottom falls out.
Only by staying connected to customers and keeping a pulse on the market and competition can you continue to provide solutions and services that make a difference.
As a business leader, take these three steps to model the way:
- Make time to listen to customers. Create a customer advisory board. Establish a process for engaging with customers on a consistent and regular basis. Share your learnings with your team.
- Stay in tune with your industry. Join associations and attend the conferences. Be both a student and a teacher in your discipline.
- Energize your organization. Energy and enthusiasm are contagious. As the leader, you set the mood and create the culture. Do you have a culture open to experimentation? Or is it risk averse? Is your culture oriented toward growth?
Marketing with a Capital M is needed more than ever. As data and measures have become more prolific, the challenge of data-derived decisions and performance management increased. It turns out the ability to derive insights from the ever-expanding universe of data remains a huge challenge. As the Marketing Technology landscape continues to explode and customers remain in more control over the buying process, process is more important than ever. As the number of channels expands, the need for strategy and planning escalate.
The market is always changing, customer problems change. An organization that keeps learning and growing with its market will always be relevant.
Key takeaways: It is essential to evolve to meet stay relevant to customers and continue to solve their problems. This requires Marketing with a Capital M. Stay focused on how your company and its products including how you service your customers and the experience you create make a difference. These are essential if you want to be able to continue to create a customer.
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