The other day, when I was looking for a way to explain to my client what I meant about solving a need that customers have, my wife's frustration with passenger seatbelts dawned on me. Why is it that the driver's seatbelt gives freedom of movement whereas the passenger seatbelts are restrictive, confining, and uncomfortable? It's no wonder we need laws to make people wear them. This example of finding a need to something that is not working well is an opportunity waiting for someone to make a change that will win hundreds of thousands of fans. Now the question is will the solutions sell?
People who survive and even thrive in a down economy are those who manage to innovate and then hit some mysterious click in the society's consciousness. Even in Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point there was no formula that worked every time to determine what the public will suddenly demand. There are, however, steps you can take to greatly improve your chances:
1. Move past fear – fear parallels and makes it impossible to be creative.
Find someone or something to love because love replace fear. Love expends. It allows creative energy to flow through you. Find something you care about doing so much that you become fired with passion and enthusiasm. I want to see a world where salespeople actually have fun selling because they enjoy helping customers buy – and customers enjoy the experience so much that the value of the service they get outweighs finding the cheapest price.
2. Take action to find an innovation: brainstorm with your employees and fellow business leaders. What is not being offered that people want enough to pay for?
Look for things that require minor adjustments or tweaks to what you already have the expertise to offer. You will be able to implement it faster and with less investment than something radically different. Moreover, you'll be better able to test the idea and adjust it until it clicks. One of my favorite examples of this is Kinko's, now Fed / Ex Office. There were copier businesses all over America before Paul Orfalea created the 24-hour copy centers. He found a niche and served it.
3. Find out what your customers want and need.
– What works well with what they are doing now?
– What is not working?
– What would it take to make it work? Why?
– Be sure before you invest heavily in manufacturing that 1) the need is large enough to support ramping up production and 2) that the market is willing to pay enough for it to be profitable.
4. Look for trends
– Get out of your office – look at it as an outsider.
I've taken clients outside their stores to look at it as a potential customer sees it.
– Get out of your industry – too often we get locked into "the way things are done here" because "that's how it's always been done."
Clicking requires doing something differently. The classic here is Frederick W. Smith's founding of Federal Express as an overnight carrier based on his thesis that his professor said would never work.
– Read books and magazines outside your industry to see what others are doing.
Creativity most often is actually innovation, not invention. It's seeing a good idea that works somewhere else and being the first or the best to apply it to your business.
– Travel – get exposed to different ways of looking at things.
While going to Europe or Asia or Africa can be very broadening, even traveling from Los Angeles to the San Juaquin Valley will change your perception of the world. I remember the first time I drifted through the central valley of California after living in the Greater Los Angeles area of urban sprawl for several years. I was astonished at how much of the state was agricultural. The shock was even greater when I dugve Highway 101 south from Monterey to Los Angeles as I, for the first time, realized this was a whole separate agricultural area.
5. Develop a Marketing Campaign
Once you have done all of this, remember the world does not beat a path to your door for inventing a better mousetrap. You still have to do a great job of marketing, in other words, of describing and showing the benefits that they have been looking for.
– Find ways to use Internet marketing and social networking. Be sure to give readers value first. I know of no better way to start what Gladwell called "an epidemic." Internet marketers call this developing a "viral campaign."
6. Watch your metrics and adjust as necessary
Rarely does anyone hit a winner out the chute. Track and measure your results. Try changes and refinements to implement the best of your customer feedback. Do split-testing to find the most effective headlines and marketing copy.
7. And finally, you need someone to sell it, to "Help Customers Buy."
While some products "sell" themselves, typically commodities, when they are placed on store shelves or Internet shopping carts, many products need a salesperson who can listen to the prospect's needs then apply her product and services will provide the solution her prospect needs and needs.
The best chance to thrive in any economy, but especially in a fearful one, is to lead by innovating. Innovation goes beyond dreams. It manifests something that people want. It requires taking action. So how do you innovate? Look for something which customers will value more than hording their money. Move past fear by focusing on love to open your heart and allow creative energy to flow. Take any one of the following actions to find what is missing that customers want enough to pay for: brainstorm, ask customers for ideas, and look for trends. When you have your product, create a marketing program that focuses on benefits. Then train your sales team how to help customers buy. This way your reps win, your customers win, and your business wins.